Skewering Democracy- Who is Crossing the Line Irresponsibly and What is the Impact on Our Kids?

Our Harry Potter/FightClub Democracy! Questions from an ‘ordinary Australian.’

(C) Julie Boyd

Chris Uhlman tweeted today that Czech President Vaclav Klaus – the man Vaclav Havel once described as a “gangster capitalist,” refused to be security checked at Parliament House which means the ABC are unable to interview him as their studios were on the other side of the screen. Uhlman went on to say this was ‘a sign that Australia is a great democracy (when) the guard said “I don’t care who he is, everyone goes through security”.

Is that what we’ve come to – democracy as a stand from a security guard? While I applaud the guard, another question was also being asked today – whether Governor General Quentin Bryce should have to go through security at airports. Is this is yet another of the famous double standards in which our society seems to function these days? So I believe we need to take a step back and think before opening our collective mouths. My question then, is what are our kids currently learning about ‘democracy’ from what is being currently modelled? If this is were to become a standard question, one would think that the issue of absolute ‘freedom of speech’ might include a caveat – that it does not incite civil unrest or incite violence.

If we are a ‘great democracy, the battlelines are becoming even more firmly entrenched on what form that democracy should take? Should we follow the UK model where cosily entrenched relationships between media, politicians and the police have morphed into, and now been outed, as an underbelly based on privacy invasion, and sensationalism, where any responsibility for moulding public opinion and inciting public unrest through skewed editorial influence  are totally disregarded. Where the impact of single media corporation ownership has been shown to be devastating (in competitor newspapers of course), while still at half the levels we have in this country. Yet, where those who have been watching the UK Parliament more closely since the News of The World scandal broke have noted the difference between it and the look and sound of the Australian Parliament. Question time in the UK appears almost civilised, while in Australia, the current incumbents seem to have taken political brutality to a whole new level.

Should we follow the Greek model where paying tax is treated rather as speed limits are by many people here – as an optional suggestion.

Or should we follow the American model where euphoria at promoting their first black President has degenerated from Mr President, a former term of respect, to being referred to as ‘Obama’. Where political candidates are being found manipulating information and quoting incorrect historical facts, which their supporters then not only accept as absolute truth, but go to great pains in rewriting documents to provide support. Where the Leader of the Senate, John Boehner has apparently adopted Tony Abbott’s refrain of just say no to everything and is refusing to even consider compromise in resolving the US debt crisis which threatens to cripple not only America, but throw the rest of us into a further crisis as well. All because he and his band of Republicans want taxes lowered not raised. Where the Institute for Policy Studies research report released this recently, has helped citizens better visualize just how monumental their political failure has been by pointing out that If corporations and households taking in $1 million or more in income each year were now paying taxes at the same annual rates as they did back in 1961, the federal treasury would be collecting an additional $716 billion a year. In other words, if the federal government started taxing the wealthy and their corporations at the same rates in effect a half-century ago, the federal debt to investors would almost totally vanish over the next decade. The richest Americans are now paying the lowest taxes. Where public education has been effectively put up for sale across the nation as profits from war start to fall and big corporations are seeking new avenues to please their shareholders.

In Australia, the American oil baron image of entitlement was shown clearly in one of the more enduring and absurd images of objections to the mining tax. Gina Rhinehart’s railing against paying taxes on excessive profits while sporting a massive Paspaly pearl necklace was a blatent demonstration of how out of touch some of this country’s wealthy are with those who are not. The over-riding question in all of these examples are of self-interest vs national interest, greed for the sake of it vs knowing what is enough, and power for good vs absolute power corrupting absolutely, all couched as that old fallible chesnut ‘job creation,’ and news as entertainment.

In another story, Paula Matthewson writes today that politics is, and has always been, a brutal business. She goes on to say it is ‘not a civilised chat, or a considered exploration of mutually beneficial outcomes, or a respectful negotiation. It’s a knock-down, drag-out, bare-fisted fight to the end’. Current ‘politics’ has taken on the ugly aspects of fight club, reality television, a lion filled Coliseum, politicians behaving like spoilt toddlers who can’t reach their favourite toy, and Hollywood blockbuster in the style of Harry Potter-esque, or Star Wars fight between good and evil. The question is where is it going to stop?

What is missing in the whole debate here however is the impact all of this is having on the broader society and particularly on what our kids learning right now? What are they seeing and hearing that will impact on their developing brains and minds? Our kids are subject on a daily basis to a Prime Minister being disrespected in a manner not previously known. They hear constant verbal and emotional abuse, and see constant bullying and intimidatory body language. They read screaming banner headlines which distort the real story, and hear radio and television entertainment programs where biased opinions are proffered as ‘fact’ by ‘social commentators’ with no expertise at all other than a loud voice.

Rupert Murdoch admitted to the English Inquiry that his parents would be ashamed of what his company had become, or words to that effect, Lindsay Tanner called for a circuit breaker in his recent book Sideshow’. I still haven’t seen one.

So to those who wrote that Julia Gillard has questions of NewsCorp, she actually didn’t. What she said was that Australians may have questions – and I for one do so I’ll begin with just one each.

Who is responsible for setting the tone of our society and what impact do you believe your behaviour is modelling for the kids of this country? I’d like a response from every editor, journalist, radio shockjock, radio and television station, politician and major corporation leader in the country. There are three specific individuals who could make a great start. So, to Julia Gillard –when is the line crossed between learning and lecturing? To Tony Abbott, when is the line crossed between assertiveness and bullying intimidation; and to Rupert Murdoch, where is the line crossed between ‘audacious’ reporting and manipulative, opinion based storylines?

What every adult in this country needs to ask themselves is what are you modelling to our kids, and what responsibility do you have to build a more decent society?

Julie Boyd is a teacher, scientist, psychologist, parent and grandparent whose professional life spans education, community and corporate sectors. She can be found at and Twitter jboyded