John Howard and the Shutting Down of Australian Democracy

Great discussion in The Age from Peter Gebhardt:

3 replies on “John Howard and the Shutting Down of Australian Democracy”

Is the Australian electorate really being dumbed down by John Howard? This is one of the few countries where voting is compulsory. It seems Aussies have a tradition of not caring about politics.

The key paragraph seems to be:

In the push to make us “relaxed and comfortable” we have been desensitised, and any questioning is regarded as “un-Australian”. There has, moreover, been a progressive “dumbing down” of those institutions that dare to probe and doubt.

But I don’t know what he’s referring to. Has that been your experience? Or is this guy just annoyed that the political flavour of this country is not his preference at the moment.

I think ‘dumbed down’ is not quite the right term (although the author used it) – ‘shut down’ is better. Things like stacking the ABC board with his own people to influence its programming and direction and muzzle its traditional role of questioning the status quo come to mind as ways Howard has reduced the important discussions in Australian society. Labor has not been immune from that same malady when it’s been in power, by the way.

I also think the author is perhaps over-stating the case for Australia because, like me, he is horrified by the rate at which the process has happened in the US, with things like:

* promotion of torture and ‘extraordinary rendition’ and disappearances and ‘black sites’
* suspension of habeas corpus
* Guantanamo
* Abu Ghraib
* ‘free speech zones’ that put protestors in small fenced areas miles from where their protest would be relevant
* ‘if you’re not with us you’re with the terrorists’ rhetoric
* firing of US attorneys on political grounds
* concentration of media ownership and the vanishing of media that challenge the government

He sees how sycophantically Howard supports Bush, and how eagerly he takes plays from the Bush playbook, and is decrying the beginning of some of the same trends in Australia.

I don’t think it’s just that Peter Gebhardt doesn’t like the Libs, although I’m sure it’s easier to see the faults of those you disagree with than those you agree with. I think he has a substantive point about the importance of debate and a pluarality of viewpoints receiving an airing in a democratic society.

Yes, I think Gebhardt is probably inspired by thinking if we follow Bush in foreign policy, maybe the domestic stuff will follow suit.

I am worried by the narrow ownership of the media world wide. That makes it easier for any govt to manipulate it. But traditionally in the Australia the media are more left leaning, I think, so a Liberal govt stacking things its way might lead to less bias. Not necessarily a plurality of view points, just less unchallenged criticism.

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