The pulse returns for prodigal songs… Does Australia lack a constitutional imagination?

Prof George Williams wrote an opinion piece for The Australian about the need for constitutional change in Australia. The problem with the article is that the most interesting part is the part that is developed the least:

Australia needs a circuit breaker when it comes to constitutional change. One option would be for parliament or an independent body to hold a review of the Constitution. This has been done roughly every 30 years since Federation in 1929, 1959 and 1988. The next 30-year review is overdue. This could be one way of educating the community and drawing them into a conversation about how the Constitution can reflect their aspirations for the nation.

I generally roll my eyes whenever somebody proposes an independent body to review the Constitution.  Independent bodies are proposed when we don’t trust democracy.  The public simply cannot be trusted to vote correctly — see, for example, Donald Trump and Brexit — and therefore we need an independent body to fix our Constitution, make decisions for us, and scrutinise our political representatives.

But, perhaps, there is a different role that an independent body could perform: public leadership of discussions about constitutional issues.

Continue reading “The pulse returns for prodigal songs… Does Australia lack a constitutional imagination?”

To the heart and mind, ignorance is kind… Political centrism, tribalism, and jingoism (a response to @DrCraigEmerson and @GrogsGamut)

There is something to be said for metapolitics: the analysis and critique of how we do politics.  And it’s a difficult task because the intuitively obvious ideas is often intuitively obvious for ignoble reasons: they tend to be those ideas that are dogmatically repeated because it suits those in power.

We always need to engage in the debate about how we debate.  It’s how we draw the lines between the legitimate and the illegitimate in public discourse.  It’s how we ensure that we are not rendering invisible the systematic oppression of the voiceless.  It’s how we make sure that political debate is achieving the sorts of noble goals that we think that we want.

When the metapolitical debate goes mainstream–as it has done with recent op-eds by Craig Emerson and Greg Jericho–it is disappointing to see it explored uncritically, with a lot of finger pointing and unexplored assumptions.  Emerson reduced the discussion to the concept of ‘tribalism’, in which there is a moral parity among those who are ‘extreme’ or ‘unreasonable’ in their views; Jericho reduced the discussion to something he called ‘centrism’, by which he meaned a kind of political approach where two opposing views were entertained not for their merit but for the fact that they were in opposition.  It is worth noting that there’s something idiosyncratic about Jericho’s version of ‘centrism’, so the idea is worth unpacking in detail as we go through.

Fundamentally, at the heart of the debate is the role that political parties have in Australian politics, leading to the idea of partisan jingoism: ‘my Party, right or wrong’.

Continue reading “To the heart and mind, ignorance is kind… Political centrism, tribalism, and jingoism (a response to @DrCraigEmerson and @GrogsGamut)”

I love the country but I can’t stand the scene… On policing, protests, and politics

I’ve argued before that we need a better theory of protest.  The context for the earlier piece was the woeful public discussion about whether or not vegan protesters were ‘entitled’ in a democracy to disrupt the ‘rights’ of others.  I noted that often the arguments advanced offer little more insight than whether or not the speaker agrees with the message of the protesters.  ‘I don’t care about the wants or needs of others, we really do eat too much meat and only a Police State would shut this protest down.’

The public debate about that protest was whether or not we like vegans.  The Extinction Rebellion protests over the past few weeks, again, has reduced to whether or not we like environmentalists.  The framing of the debate has made it very easy for politicians to express (quite worrying) legal ‘crackdowns’ on environmental protests.

The argument I advanced was in very broad terms: we can be more analytical in our approach to discussions about protests within a democracy that get us away from unworkably absolutist positions.  By separating discussions about message from methods, we can look at the impact that particular protest activities have on others, and then do a kind of proportionality analysis on whether or not we think the protest is justifiable.

The protests at the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Melbourne provide an opportunity to explore some other dimensions of protest.

Continue reading “I love the country but I can’t stand the scene… On policing, protests, and politics”

Oh, I’ll build you a kingdom In that house on the hill… Is Australia the most secretive democracy?

Look, no.  Not even close.

Prof George Williams, Dean of Law at the University of NSW, wrote an article claiming that Australia is the world’s most secretive democracy.  I’d like to share a link to the article, but it’s behind a paywall.  It’s almost the perfect example of the self-serving nature of the media’s ‘Right to Know’ campaign: media companies want to make more profit.  News Corp posted a $200m profit; shortly before it was bought by Nine, Fairfax posted an $80m profit.

Continue reading “Oh, I’ll build you a kingdom In that house on the hill… Is Australia the most secretive democracy?”

I’ll wait in this place where the sun never shines… Anyway, so I went to see ‘Joker’…

When somebody tells you that Rick & Morty is their favourite show, or that Ayn Rand is their favourite writer, or that they want to be a horror writer like H.P. Lovecraft, your red flag detector should go heywire.  Don’t get me wrong, I quite like Rick & Morty, but every 16-35 year old guy who loves the show tends to idolise Rick.  In a sense, we’re not watching the same show.

Joker will soon fit into the same category.  The 16-35 year old guy who loves the film won’t have watched the same film as the rest of us.  They’ll have watched a film about an anti-hero who has ‘one bad day’ and becomes a figure for the violent expression of the real, authentic, and justifiable rage that 16-35 year old boys have because girls don’t pay them enough attention and all their man-baby desires aren’t immediately satiated.

My conflict with the film is that I’ve seen most of the best elements in other films.  I spent a lot of this film wishing that I was watching Taxi Driver instead.

Continue reading “I’ll wait in this place where the sun never shines… Anyway, so I went to see ‘Joker’…”

Fate, up against your will… indignities and welfare

In 1942, one of Robert Menzies’ radio speeches was dedicated to ‘freedom from want’.  In it, Menzies revealed the complexity he saw in welfare policy:

The country has great and imperative obligations to the weak, the sick, the unfortunate. It must give to them all the sustenance and support it can. We look forward to social and unemployment insurances, to improved health services, to a wiser control of our economy to avert if possible all booms and slumps which tend to convert labour into a commodity, to a better distribution of wealth, to a keener sense of social justice and social responsibility. We not only look forward to these things, we shall demand and obtain them.

To every good citizen the State owes not only a chance in life but a self-respecting life. But this does not obscure the fact that the State cannot and must not put a premium on idleness or incompetence. It must still offer rewards to the enterprising. It must at all times show that security is to be earned, to be merited, and is not to fall, like manna, from heaven.

I know that it is or was fashionable to speak of the new order which is to follow the war as if it will represent a sort of golden age of long life, reduced effort, high incomes and great comfort. It is a pleasing picture, but truth requires us to admit that it is probably false. Long years of the ruin and waste of war must be paid for. We shall work harder than before the war, not less. Most of us shall carry burdens greater than those we were accustomed to bear before the war. Materially we may well – as a nation and as a race – be poorer.

But all this will be more than compensated for by the facts that our sufferings and victory will have preserved our spiritual freedom, that our goods will be more justly shared, and that a better recognition of human values will have quickened our sense of human responsibility.

In 1945, he delivered a speech at the Inaugural Federal Council again expressing his views on social security:

Social Security, which is of itself a great stabiliser of business and therefore of employment. The purpose of all measures of social security is not only to provide citizens with some reasonable protection against misfortune but also to reconcile that provision with their proud independence and dignity as democratic citizens. The time has gone when social justice should even appear to take the form of social charity.

Continue reading “Fate, up against your will… indignities and welfare”

My makeup is dry and it cracks round my chin… Certainty and family law

Parliamentary inquiries are something of a joke.  Although they’re good at considering proposed legislation (it’s a way for experts to have direct input into parliamentary deliberation of bills), they tend to produce endless unread reports.

The Greens, in particular, have a habit of calling for inquiries into whatever was the topic of the latest episode of Four Corners.  No matter how obviously the journo clearly misunderstood the topic, the Greens will call for a parliamentary inquiry.  But they’re not alone in their call for parliamentary busy-work.  There’s a parliamentary inquiry into ‘effective approaches to prevention, diagnosis, and support for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder‘ which definitely sounds noble, but we might wonder what expertise politicians are going to bring to the topic.  There’s an inquiry into the ‘impact of feral deer, pigs and goats in Australia‘.  And one into ‘nationhood, national identity and democracy‘.  For afficionadoes of seismic testing, we have the inquiry into the ‘impact of seismic testing on fisheries and the marine environment‘.

Endless, endless reports that nobody reads.

And it’s clear that nobody reads the reports.  The decision to have an inquiry into the family law system should, one would think, have been redundant given we very recently had an inquiry into the family law system.  Unfortunately, nobody remembers that inquiry because nobody read the report.

Inquiries are for individual politicians to get their fifteen minutes on a hobby horse.  That’s it.  People need to calm down.

Continue reading “My makeup is dry and it cracks round my chin… Certainty and family law”