More than 25 years ago, Tony Fitzgerald QC headed an inquiry into police corruption in Queensland. Of late, there have been rumblings, not so much of corruption; rather, a government that seems to be bypassing democratic processes to instigate new legislation. Breaking a silence on Queensland government practices and the issue of democracy, Mr Fitzgerald has written an article exclusively for brisbanetimes.com.au, which he titles "Power and the Inconvenience of Truth". The article runs unedited, and in full.
For what it's worth, my impression is that most Queenslanders don't want to revisit the dark days of political caprice and corruption and "don't you worry about that"
In practical terms, democracy for most Australians means little more than a periodic obligation to choose between two major parties which, according to the Commonwealth Parliament's Education Office, "exist to represent the interests of different groups and individuals in society; their ultimate goal is to have members elected to represent these interests." The public interest isn't mentioned.
Voters, most of whom aren't members or supporters of any party, often have no real choice because one major party has so disgraced itself that it's unelectable.
After each election, one or other oligarchy rules for a period, during which its power, including power to advance the interests of its adherents and supporters at the expense of the general community, is effectively unlimited.
It's "not nepotism, .. just the way the world works." The arrogant, the ignorant and bullies thrive in the absence of enforceable rules.
Political parties use common advertising techniques to "sell" themselves to voters. Although the internet is producing major changes, most political advertising is still conducted through the mass media, which is expensive.
Public funding favours the major parties and obstructs others unless they're extremely wealthy. Each of the major parties also has affluent supporters. There's a risk that, over time, a significant imbalance in funding between the major parties will distort the electoral process as extremely wealthy individuals and corporations finance the party which represents their interests.
The media causes another major distortion when it takes sides, which is a significant concern in Australia where media ownership is highly concentrated and some - for whatever reason - is ostentatiously biased.
Advertising seeks to persuade. Propaganda seeks to deceive and is most effective when the truth is hidden.
When in power, politicians routinely use spurious excuses to deny or restrict access to information: "Cabinet-in-confidence", "commercial-in-confidence", "operational matters", etc.
In trade and commerce, deceptive conduct is prohibited and heavy penalties apply. There is no similar restriction on political propaganda, euphemistically (deceptively) called "spin".
With prejudiced media support, politicians regularly denigrate their opponents and falsely blame them for every problem, exaggerate the supposed advantages of their own policies and promise improbable results and fanciful financial benefits, reduce policies to simplistic, misleading slogans ("war on terror", "war on drugs", "stop the boats"), associate their policies with ordinary people ("battlers" on "struggle street") in contrast to impractical, "elite" dissidents who live in "ivory towers" in isolation from the "real world", appeal to emotion (jingoism and especially fear), claim public support (their assertion of "what the people want"), extend their influence by partisan appointments to public office and foster disdain for potential critics of political excess, especially the judiciary and independent media.
The inevitable loss of respect for essential institutions, public office and authority generally is, like truth, dismissed as immaterial.
Effective, functioning democracy is unachievable while the public is uninformed or misinformed. Australian democracy is now not merely or even substantially a contest between political parties and their policies but an invisible struggle between the general public and an increasingly professional, deeply cynical, "win at all costs" political class.
Although the public has the numbers, the political class dominates public discussion and is firmly in control.
Not for the first time, Queensland is at the forefront. It is again effectively a one-party State controlled by a group who seemingly don't know, or don't care, that the use and abuse of a large parliamentary majority is not true democracy irrespective of what they claim "the people want".
For what it's worth, my impression is that most Queenslanders don't want to revisit the dark days of political caprice and corruption and "don't you worry about that".
To me, it seems much more likely that "the people want" to live, and have their children and grandchildren live, in an orderly but free, ethical, tolerant society which is governed in accordance with established democratic principles which have evolved over centuries.
A government which behaved in that way wouldn't be able to indulge itself and its cronies but might well find little difficulty in implementing any substantive policies which are genuinely in the public interest.