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'The price of freedom is eternal vigilance'

By David Fisher and John Töns - posted Monday, 17 August 2009

In a recent article by Scott Prasser and Nicholas Aroney in On Line Opinion the thesis was advanced that an upper house in Queensland would be an effective bulwark against corruption. The argument that we wish to advance is that regardless of what form a government takes unless voters are well informed then democracy remains a dead letter.

Legislators in a representative democracy should take into account the wishes of their electorate regarding the issues of the day. The voters on their part should be aware of those issues and be involved in discussions and have available information which will inform them on those issues.

But that is not the way it is in Australia.


Members of parliament campaign on the basis of what goodies they have obtained or will obtain for their district. In parliament they are unable to follow the wishes of their electorate even if they know what those wishes are. The decisions of the party room take precedence over the wishes of their constituencies, the good of Australia and their conscience.

On their part the voters in general don't raise issues. Even if they have an interest and knowledge of those issues they know the parliamentarians are really not interested in their input. Wisely they don't waste their time.

If the electorate has largely given up on the system then the situation is ripe for corruption. A key part of the problem lies with the media. One of the reasons that democracy flourished in the 19th century was that tyrants and corrupt politicians were confronted with a fearless press - there was nowhere to hide. But just take a look at your daily paper today. Apart from the incisive reporting about some nondescript celebrity, or a detailed analysis of why a particular sporting team is failing to live up to expectations, is there anything of substance? What political reporting there is, is little more than a rehash of the latest press release that has been issued by either the government or opposition.

There needs to be a popular journal devoted to changing the political culture to produce a representative democracy: to dealing with issues of war and peace; a journal that challenged corporate culture, whether private or as part of government; one that addressed the issues associated with building a sustainable economy; and was prepared to challenge the intrusion of church in politics. Then we would have the chance of at least having better informed voters.

To change the political culture it is necessary to change the rigid party discipline of the major parties and provide a mechanism by which the electorate can be informed on the issues of the day. It is also necessary for Australians to question their respect for authority. In fact we are easily intimidated by the idea of authority. One only has to read some of the posts in On Line Opinion to realise that people are looking for leadership but are reluctant to take on leadership roles for themselves.

However, there are many in the democratic world who can be roused to action by issues of the time. There were massive demonstrations against both Gulf Wars by many in the United States and other countries. Most politicians did not respond to this outpouring of public feeling. We have free speech but who listens? There are probably many who would-be concerned citizens who have now turned off because of the lack of reaction to protests. Democracy is poorer for it.


It is necessary for the media not only to nail the lies of politicians seeking to sell the public a bill of goods, but also to press the point so media releases and other propaganda cannot drown out the truth.

Lies fueled both Gulf Wars. In Gulf War 1 George Bush wanted to get the approval of the US Senate for his action. Initially the US Senate did not approve his proposed adventure. A nurse, who was called as an eyewitness, gave an emotional account to the Senate of the Iraqis removing babies from incubators in Kuwaiti hospitals and leaving them writhing on the floor so the incubators could be shipped back to Iraq. Five senators consequently switched their votes to approve Bush's invasion of Iraq.

Later it turned out that the PR firm Hill and Knowlton had hired the witness and the story had no factual basis. An alert reporter could have picked up the lie, and an alert reporter did. Max Watts of Sydney noted that the number of incubators in Kuwait was that required for a much larger population. He did his analysis by finding out incubator use in Australian hospitals. However, Watts is an obscure leftist, and the general media did not use his analysis.

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About the Authors

David Fisher is an old man fascinated by the ecological implications of language, sex and mathematics.

John Töns is President of the Zero Carbon Network a network established to promote clear thinking about the issues associated with climate change. In addition to operating the only zero carbon boarding kennels in South Australia he is also completing a PhD at Flinders University in the area of Global Justice. John is a founding member of a new political party Stop Population Growth Now.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by David Fisher
All articles by John Töns

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