ALS Topic 16 - Is Australia Doomed to Become a Dictatorship?

Focus questions for Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar, 1 September 2018
Venue: Chocolat, 281 Rundle St Near East Tce. · Adelaide
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Note: The questions below are not supposed to suggest biased answers. You really can adopt any point of view your can suggest evidence for. Do be prepared for others suggesting counter-evidence! Note: clearly not all of these questions can be properly covered in a meetup, but they give us a conscious choice about what to talk about while making the background context clearer. It is up to the people who come on the day to choose what aspects they would like to deal with.

Focus questions -

1. There seems to be a general level of discontent with the quality of what goes on in Australian parliaments. Can you think of a realistic alternative, one that is actually doable? What is the best system of government for Australia?

2. The vast bulk of Australians, like any population, has a very very shallow grasp of macroeconomics, international affairs, law, education policy, health management, infrastructure policy ... and all the myriad of other issues which a government must deal with. Yet they choose politicians who are little more qualified than they are to oversee these things. What is the actual role of a voter in our representative democracy, and what is the role of a politician?

3. Looking back at cabinet ministers and prime ministers over the last century it is very plain that most of them would never normally get a job running major organizations. With a few exceptions, they have just not been of that calibre. High salaries in parliament are not attracting the best people. How can we entice really capable people into governance?

4. It has become fashionable, as a throwaway bit of 'wisdom' to say that we would be better off in a dictatorship. What would a dictatorship really mean for our way of life? [Plenty of case studies available from around the world].

5. We are now intimately linked, for better or for worse, in electronic networks that give us instant access to people, information, misinformation, assistance and attack. America's Trump thinks he is running a government on Twitter. None of this was imagined when our parliamentary system was designed. Suggest a better system of government that builds in these new forms of communication.

6. The Norwegian government by law is allowed very few secrets. It considers that where there is secrecy there is also corruption. The extreme openness of the Norwegian system works well. Australian governments suck in information, but are reluctant to release it, citing 'security' (not my security or yours..). How can we work towards more open government?

7. Deliberative Democracy to supplement Representative Democracy? reference: "Inquiry looks to random jury model to resolve section 44 citizenship crisis"

8. In the United States and Canada, only certain limited functions are given to states or provinces, while all remaining functions remain with the central government. Australia is the opposite. Only certain limited functions are given to the Federal Government. Which arrangement works best? Does it matter?

9. The separation of powers between the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary is the foundation of Western parliamentary democracies. Where and why has this division of powers been undermined in other states around the world. What are the consequences? Where has the separation of powers been put at risk in Australia?

10. Why has the role of the 4th Estate (public information via media etc) not been defined within the separation of powers?

11. Why does the design of parliamentary democracies formally describe the roles of individuals, but formally ignore the influence of other public & private organizations, oligarchies, sources of financial contributions to political parties, and so on? What can be done about this unreality?

12. Our lives now have endless distractions to fill up the day. The wider world is becoming more and more complicated. Is it really too much to expect people to take an informed interest in government at all?

13. There are over 200 ethnic groups in Australia as of 2018, with a multitude of different values. We can less and less take for granted what the next guy is thinking. Does this variety mean that we need more and more laws to spell out rights and obligations? What is a common set of values that can work for all of us?

[see comments for reading links]


Extra Reading [the linked articles by me contain many extra reading links] :

May, Thor (2014) "What will be the dominant ideologies of the 21st Century?" @  [PDF] or  [HTML]

May, Thor (2016 ) "Politics and Politicians : a volatile mix?" @  [PDF] or [HTML]

May, Thor (2013) "The Democracy Problem" @  [PDF] or  [HTML]

May, Thor (2010) "Cultural Operating Systems – Thoughts on Designing Cultures"  [PDF] or [HTML]

The following entry is to go with the discussion topic, "Is Australia Doomed to Become a Dictatorship". I am posting it because it is a very balanced explanation of Australian Federal Political parties since Federation in 1901. Most Australians would not be able to give this explanation, but it is essential for understanding where we are likely to go next. The description is actually a long COMMENT by Arcane from an article in the Guardian (23 August 2018) @  -

<><> "The future of the Liberal Party may be best understood by looking at its history. Founded in 1944 by Robert G. Menzies, it was forged out of a motley collection of anti-Labor political parties and groups (e.g. United Australia Party, Australian Women's National League). However, its antecedents dated back to the formation of the Commonwealth Liberal Party (CLP) in 1909 that drew together the Free Trade Party and Protectionist Party, who had previously fought each other, but united to oppose the rise of organised trade unionism and the Australian Labor Party (ALP) as the political arm of the unions. The ALP split over conscription in 1916 saw the CLP unite with the former Labor Prime Minister Billy Hughes and some other Labor dissidents to form the Nationalist Party of Australia in 1917. This held office (in coalition with the Country Party from 1922) until the ALP took office in 1929. The Great Depression and internal feuds within the ALP over the adoption of the "radical" new Keynesian economics saw Joseph Lyons and several other Labor dissidents split the ALP again and set up the United Australia Party (UAP). This brought the anti-Labor forces together and when Lyons died in 1939 Menzies took the Prime Minister role. However, the pressure of World War Two led to Menzies resigning from an unworkable minority government and Labor returning to power under John Curtin. The ALP successfully prosecuted the war, including the challenge of the Japanese attacks and direct threats to Australia in 1941, and held office until 1949. Menzies drew together the anti-Labor political forces in the final years of the war, and eventually took power in 1949 with a strong attack against socialism and the spectre of Communist influence in the trades unions. Since that time the LNP coalition has been essentially a counter to the ALP and trades unions. However, from the 1980s the Labor Party has moved more to the centre and the overall influence of the trades unions has reduced. The positioning of the Liberal Party as a centre-right party that looks after the "forgotten people" (e.g. average householders, small business owners, non-unionised workers) stood up under leaders like Menzies, Holt, Gorton, McMahon and even Fraser. However, from the 1990s, starting with the rise of Howard and moving onto Abbott, the Liberals have steadily shifted to the right. This has seen dog whistle politics engendering fear over migrants, Muslims, trade union "thugs", environmentalist "greenies" and climate scientists. It is a pattern that has been seen in many other countries. For example the drift to the right of the US Republican Party (e.g. Tea Party) has taken place well-before the rise of Donald Trump. The Liberals are now in what seems to be a death spiral. Ideologically they are heavily divided and their vision of the future of Australia is confused, erratic, reactionary and seemingly devoid of any economic, social or environmental rationality. They cling to power for the sake of power, and I think the only way to resolve their problem is to have them thrown out of power for a long time, and allow them to rebuild. However, if they rebuild around a Peter Dutton or Tony Abbott, they will be building a very different political party to that formed by Menzies in 1944. It will have more in common with Marine Le Pan's Rassemblement National."

The survival of any kind of democracy depends, in the end, on the belief amongst political elites that democracy is a worthwhile undertaking. Even Wikipedia now lists the United States of America as only a "partial democracy" (see the Democracy Index @

The following article article gives a good insight into how democracy is being destroyed in USA: Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt (24 August 2018) "There are 3 possible scenarios for what a post-Trump America could look like, according to experts". Business Insider @

Big money usually means a big influence on politics. In the Australian case that has often (not always) been a rather reactionary, conservative influence since financial benefit for 'Big Money' has seemed to lie in that direction. A somewhat different tack comes from an Australian tech billionaire, Mike Cannon-Brookes, just 38 years old. 'a dream of dictatorship' doesn't seem to be his thing, although he does like decisive planning. So here is an interview with this guy: "The politicisation of Mike Cannon-Brookes". Brisbane Times (25 August 2018) @

Ian Beutler : my sincere apologies if i'm being superfluous >>> "Why Do Democracies Fail" @  => Thank you Ian. The article is extremely relevant.

China is described by its constitution as a "democratic dictatorship". That can probably mean anything you want it to mean (or nothing at all). However, here is one description of its lived reality in 2018: "Who needs democracy when you have data? - Here’s how China rules using data, AI, and internet surveillance". Christina Larson (August 20, 2018), MIT Technology Review @

The surveillance state, a precursor to dictatorship, typically (though not exclusively) has its most enthusiastic supporters among extreme conservatives who flock to parties declaring a distrust in 'big' government. This seems strange, but maybe they distrust people in general. The most recent example was so-called 'opt-out' (=automatic enrolment) in the e-health scheme, which was to put everyone's health record online, meaning that almost any two-bit official could access it (and potentially sell it). It took huge public uproar for the conservative (NLP) minister to back off -  . An earlier version of the insensitivity of the Australian political class (Labor in this case) to public distaste for being watched was the abortive attempt to introduce an 'Australia Card' - effectively an internal passport

"Peter Hartcher: The three things Obama wanted to give America from Australia" . Peter Hartcher (8 October 2017) The Brisbane Times @

"From the end of World War II until the early 2000s the number of democracies and the proliferation of human rights was generally increasing, but since then, it has been slowly decreasing. What is a good explanation for this change?" Dima Vorobiev, @

The control of information is power. Ditto for misinformation. Journalists by nature are storytellers, and their professional training pushes them to tell balanced stories from reliable sources. That is a tough call, and some are pushed or led to slant the news. In particular in the Anglophone world the principals of News Ltd have had a generations long reputation for pushing journalists and their mastheads to warp the political environment. There is some pushback against this on both sides of politics, as in this story: "Rudd savages Abbott and Murdoch for wrecking Australian democracy", Brisbane Times @ "Rudd savages Abbott and Murdoch for wrecking Australian democracy" -

Democracy is a form of social contract. It involves both rights and obligations for all the parties, the electors and the elected. The actual choosing (voting) is only a small part of it. Like a culture itself, the democratic process is never completed, and parts of it often fail. The chances of overall good outcomes depend heavily on levels of trust, honesty, goodwill, and putting narrow self-interest aside. There are many parts of the world where those chances of good outcomes are vanishingly small at this moment in history. Here is one sad example: "'Iraq is dying': oil flows freely but corruption fuels growing anger" by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, (27 August 2018), The Guardian @

“Show me that age and country where the rights and liberties of the people were placed on the sole chance of their rulers being good men, without a consequent loss of liberty?” - Patrick Henry (1788), 'Shall Liberty or Empire be Sought?' [speech in the Virginia Convention, called to ratify the Constitution of the United States] @

Thor's own websites:

1. articles at ;

2. legacy site: .


Is Australia Doomed to become a Dictatorship? (c) Thor May 2018 return to Ddiscussion