What real democracy could look like

Liam Flenady at a marriage equality rally in Brisbane.

Liam Flenady is the Socialist Alliance candidate for the Brisbane seat of Griffith and a member of Resistance. This is an extract from a talk he gave to a forum titled: “People and planet before profit: A plan for a democratic Australia.”


You might ask why we need a plan for a democratic Australia. Don’t we already have one? We elect our representatives at local, state and federal level, don’t we?

There is no ban on any groups running for parliament, there is a proliferation of minor parties, and we even get the occasional referendum on critical issues. We hardly have the authoritarian government that some countries have.

On the other hand, while our political system is a step forward from feudal times, there are serious limitations to the democracy we have in Australia.

It is increasingly obvious to the people of Australia that the choice we have when it comes to major parties — that is, who runs the country for the next three years — is not really a choice at all.

While the ALP is not as brutal as the Coalition, and is not as fast-paced in its neoliberal agenda, no matter who wins the federal election it is clear that both parties will deliver severe cuts to the public sector, both parties will continue Australia’s involvement and support for US-led wars, both parties will continue the demonisation and torture of refugees, will continue the oppression of Aboriginal people, and will continue discrimination based on gender and sexuality.

Both parties will be 100% behind the mining corporations, and both parties will do next to nothing to halt climate change threatening humanity.

So, that’s not a real democracy, in the sense that the people rule. It’s a false choice, like Coke and Pepsi, or Coke and Diet Coke. They’ll both kill you, just one quicker than the other.

To quote Noam Chomsky: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”

Now, sadly, the undemocratic nature of our system goes deeper than that. A central issue is what could be called the “revolving door between business and parliament”. The closer you get to the top, the more you have to take on the interests of the ruling elite to be allowed entry.

It’s much easier to get away with radical ideas at the local council level, and it is much easier to get away with radical ideas when you’re lower down in the party apparatus.

By the time you’re prime minister, there are extreme pressures on you from the mining and banking lobby groups and other big business sectors, from the unelected state bureaucrats who want to maintain their privileges and who really call the shots.

There’s pressure to keep your own privileges too — your nice salary, the nice car, your nice corporate lunches with the lobbyists. By this time, it’s likely that you have sold your soul for the position you are in — that’s if you had one in the first place.

Another important component of our lack of democracy is our media. Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited controls over 70% of print media in Australia. Between News Ltd and Fairfax, the share of the market is about 90%.

Television and radio are also dominated by these monopolising private interests. Only the internet has a bit more freedom, however, the majority of people still source their news from mainstream websites owned by the big media corporations.

The interests of these companies are the same as the those of all big corporations — the continued expansion of profits for big business, for the capitalist class. This means on a political level they’ll happily spread misinformation and undermine democracy to get their way.

Murdoch has gone on a campaign to get rid of the ALP, and he is winning.

Most importantly, and this rarely gets raised when we talk about democracy, the vast majority of Australians have no say over what happens to our economy.

We have no control over what happens to our resources, no say over what gets produced, where investment should be directed, or where the wealth generated by our labour and from our land, and the Aboriginal people’s land, goes to. Like the profits that are generated from all this, these decisions are privatised.

The Socialist Alliance argues that there cannot be a meaningful democracy while human need is subordinated to greedy profit-seeking by the capitalist class.

A plan for a democratic Australia must simultaneously be a plan for a people-powered and people-centred Australia, not a profit-centred one, which we currently have. Right now, it is not possible to have a meaningful democracy in Australia while the biggest and most influential sectors of the economy — the mines, the banks and the energy sector — are under private ownership.

While the wealth and decision making of these industries is monopolised in the hands of the few, we simply cannot call Australia properly democratic.

It is because of our understanding of all these limitations of our democracy that, while the Socialist Alliance runs in elections, we see the main agent of social change as ordinary, working people of Australia, and other oppressed groups.

Even if we elect a bunch of great, principled people to government, people who have every intention of putting people before profit, even if we do that, without the masses of Australian people getting mobilised, organised and fighting for their own interests, every step forward we take will be built on sand and will be taken back.

A democratic Australia would be an Australia where the majority of people take part in the day-to-day decision making of the country.

The Socialist Alliance is involved in everyday movements and struggles because we want to build this protagonist spirit and break the pessimistic apathy that has been forced on us by mainstream culture.

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