At the same time as addressing overarching ‘Labor’ principles that could guide Labor policies and programs, there are two immediate issues which must be given high priority.
The first is democratic renewal in our public institutions, including the ALP
Our democratic systems, almost everywhere, are under great challenge.
We are increasingly alienated from our institutions. This suits the conservatives who implicitly seek to protect private corporate interests from public intervention. Loss of faith in parliament inevitably leads on to denigration and a loss of faith in government. Those that Labor has traditionally represented and the wider community are the losers. In the last parliament the Coalition deliberately set out to destroy faith in our public institutions, public policy and politics. The government was ‘corrupt’ or ‘illegitimate’.
The signs of democratic decay and lack of respect for politicians are everywhere. According to an ANU Social Research study 43% of Australians believed that at the last election it did not matter which Party was in power. Young people have particularly expressed disillusionment with politics. About 20% of eligible people did not enrol at the last election, did not vote or voted informal. According to a recent Lowy poll 40% of Australians did not believe that democracy was the best form of government.
Executive governments monopolise information flows and policy advice. Policy advice is increasingly given by ministerial advisers while the public service is co-opted into providing political support to government.
Governments are overly-influenced by powerful lobby groups and donors, e.g. miners, developers, licensed clubs and hotels. We have seen in the NSW ICAC enquiry how wealthy donors are corrupting our democratic system. Politicians are being bought with money.
The health ‘debate’ is not with the public, but between insiders – the Minister and the AMA/pharmacists/private health insurance companies.
Because Labor does not have a consistent principle-based set of policies – some would say a ‘narrative’ – it has little capacity for defence or explanation when its policies are misrepresented or misinterpreted in the media. In the last Parliament Senator Conroy bungled a very modest attempt to limit media power and abuse
Labor is no longer representative of those that vote for it or has empathy with it.
The concentrated media does not properly expose abuse of power and directly skews the public debate towards personalities, the whims of proprietors, conflict and celebrities, rather than serious policies. We had an enquiry about the failure of our intelligence agencies over Iraq, but the greater failure was in the media, particularly News Corp.
Democratic renewal is urgent – reform of the parliament, political parties, party factions, lobbyists, donors and the media.