Friday 20th of September 2019

If citizens are consumers... (Russell Marks.)

..then John Howard is the product. Indeed, he's the 'product' of Australian voters, most of whom, I still believe, are staunch party loyalists, and many of whom are naturally influenced by popular media. After all, in today's bureaucratised democracy (once, twice, three times emoved from 'the people'), the media is far more than the prism through which events are viewed: it is the *source* of news, and opinions, for many Australians.

I'm in the final chapter of your book, Margo - which I really only consigned from the bookshop I work at because I heard you on the radio (the A-B-friggin'-C, I believe). The point is made by 'Harry Heidelberg' that the title and cover emphasis gives an impression that its content will be not much more than just another partisan whinge. (Not that we've actually had too many in this country of late, particularly when compared with the plethora of 'Not Another Bush Book' titles that fill the shelves in politics and current events.)

In many ways, the book *is* partisan, but only because John Howard happens to be the prime minister pushing the democratic boundaries at the present time, and he happens to be Liberal. (It is a separate debate as to whether an ALP government would have ever gone to these extents, limiting public discourse in policy areas as diverse as immigration, war, media and NGOs, though perhaps the Hawke/Keating governments set enough of a precedent; of course, fans of Fraser's moral politics could hardly have foreseen the Liberal Party's transformation under Honest Johnny either.)

I quickly got the distinct impression that 'Not Happy John' is merely the buzz- phrase, in combination with the bright blue cover, to grab our attention; the real emphasis of the book is in its subtitle, 'Defending Our Democracy'. (Margo: YES!!!)

In various other forums, including in my weekly column in my university's student newspaper, I have argued that the 'Good' foundations of Australia's democracy are being insidiously, deliberately yet also unintentionally eroded.

'Deliberately yet unintentionally'. The work of this government, to add bureaucracy, to prevent access, to create spin and to reduce democracy, appears 'deliberate' enough; but, as the cliche dictates, choose incompetence every time. I really don't think Australia's executive (Howard, Costello, Abbott, Vanstone, Ruddock, Hill, Downer & Co) understand what they're actually accomplishing.

Sure, they realise the short, and perhaps even medium-term consequences: Liberal Party posterity, government made easier and more efficient, in line with its own particular brand of neo-liberal ideology.

But I seriously doubt whether too many on that front bench even have the capacity to understand their policies' full ramifications on Australian democratic institutions, let alone to make intentioned plans.

I'm not suggesting that each, in her or his own way, is less than intelligent; what I am suggesting is that, like the overwhelming majority of Australians, the one area of knowledge they totally lack is 'civics'. Which is not surprising: civic education is hardly on the school curriculum, at least in South Australia. Where it is, it is not being taught to enough students in the classrooms.

A Greek-born friend told me of his schooling outside of Athens, where secondary students are taught the equivalent of our Constitution; here, the only people who even get to read it are those in 3rd-> year law school!

In civics, at least, the ALP's front bench seems much better versed - though doesn't everyone in Opposition? But we must not forget that this lack of civic education among 'ordinary Australians' is a contributing factor in the election of people like John Howard: a solicitor-turned-professional politician who has admitted his ignorance in humanities.

Should anyone be surprised that a politician, ignorant in politics, thinks 'power politics' is the only method that can work? And citizens, politically ignorant, cast votes on anything but political bases.

'John Howard? Good bloke! Gets out and watches the cricket!'. Or 'John Howard, he's had a good run; let the other bloke have a go.' Civic eduation, I contend, is not especially strenuous; many people begin to educate themselves. But until they do, the boisterous (boy-sterous?) bickering in Parliament is often completely ignored by the ordinary Australian, at least until an Election is called; and those who do take an interest, active or otherwise, in 'politics', are increasingly derided as 'elitist'. So much for 'democracy for the people'!

Margo, your book is wonderful: it's been a delight watching it fly off the shelves at my workplace. Your delivery is engaging, and your message is always optimistic (despite the sometimes depressing nature of the content!). What's more, it's introduced me to the Web Diary - an inspired initiative. Thank you,