GREG HAMILTON. No stomach or mind for democracy.

Australians have a flaw in their character that shows up in their acceptance of a defective political system no decent reform can come close to changing. When their democratic system is attacked by minority anti-democratic forces, they’ll back the attackers, not their system. And, having done so, they choose to believe their system is still democratic. There’s no helping a fickle electorate. 

There was a precedent for this flaw in ancient Greece (and no doubt in a lot of other places as well, but this one is famous). At the trial of Socrates, it was pointed out to the accused by Polus that dictators were often revered by huge numbers of people. The king of Macedon, Archelaus, murdered his own uncle Alcetas II, his cousin Alexander and his half-brother, a child of seven years, the legitimate heir in order to grab the top job. That didn’t deter the people of Athens from giving him all the support he needed to remain in power. The same character flaw was at work there as the one that’s operated in Australia since 1788.  The psychology of it lies in the communal fear of a fight to uphold decency. They’d rather compromise and let evil have its way just to keep the peace.  They gave sanction to a system that is democratic in name only; a tyranny in disguise. In brief, a farce.

A blatant example of that sort of support of bastardry is the way we reacted to John Howard’s offer of a defective republic in 1999—an act the French would have responded to by demolishing the Elysee Palace and half the capital with it. A visiting Frenchman, Bernard Pivot, television literary host, said as much on ABC Television. The flaw showed up grotesquely here in 1932, with the dismissal of Jack Lang, and again in 1975 with the dismissal of Gough Whitlam.  They’re both examples of the dismissal by unelected Vice-Regal officers of governments that had the confidence of the Lower House of Parliament. Secret agendas intervened. In both cases, the people aided and abetted treachery by oligarchs who had no respect for the common people, and no time or respect for the integrity the system relied on if it was to function properly as a democracy.  

In Lang’s case, Sir Phillip Game was sent here as Governor of NSW to protect the interests of the City of London, namely the banks. Their enemy took the form of a colonial Premier who was rightly defending the interests of voters suffering under the penury of the Great Depression. Jack Lang had a plan to relieve the people’s suffering which he believed was caused by machinations on the part of the City of London financial institutions, namely the banks.  Proof of that emerged later, too late to save Lang or the people of NSW.  When Game sacked Lang, the people—the flawed people—gave a landslide win to a mediocre Opposition that supported the treachery from London. 

The same occurred in 1975 when minority interests decided that even if the Prime Minister enjoyed the confidence of the House of Representatives, it was expedient to wreck the integrity of the federal political system just to be rid of Gough and his ministers. The end justified the illegal means. A flawed public was bluffed (as was Gough himself). The figurehead leader of the treachery, Malcolm Fraser, was rewarded by a landslide win and the political system never recovered from the damage done to it. It’s responsible for the social and political dysfunction that blights this country today.

Governor Phillip Game’s decision to sack Lang was, as he admitted, “to avoid reducing the job of Governor all over the Empire to a farce.”  Instead, democracy was to be reduced to a farce.  What comes out of this debacle—and the Whitlam Dismissal—is the sure knowledge that Federation was the setting up of the democratic farce. The British Act (1900) we use as a Constitution made no provision for democracy here, no provision for sovereignty of the people here, no provision for independence here of the type Billy Hughes wrung out of King George V and Lloyd George the PM in Versailles, and—wait for it—no termination of Australia’s status as a British colony. That explains how both Game and Kerr could ride roughshod over the Australian public and smile all the way onto the honours list.  

What can also be explained now is why we sat back and not only copped it sweet, but we rewarded the evil-doers handsomely and are still at it today.  We’re not a democratic people. We don’t have the stomach, the mind or the balls for it.  Our heart’s just not there. You’d know all about it if it were otherwise. 

Greg Hamilton is a former architect and academic, now a novelist, social critic, part-time Pom basher and advocate for a new Australian Constitution. 


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4 Responses to GREG HAMILTON. No stomach or mind for democracy.

  1. Geoff Davies says:

    No dispute about the general thesis Greg, but a query about the Jack Lang dismissal.

    According to Gerald Stone in ‘1932’ Sir Philip Game resisted the baying establishment mob for a year, despite his king’s fury at Lang, and only sacked Lang on a clear technical violation. There was no such technical basis for the Whitlam dismissal of course.

    I was also going to say you can’t discuss anything about ‘public opinion’ without referring to the media. Tony Ryan has covered that.

  2. Greg Bailey says:

    Greg’s article is an excellent, if depressing, summary of one of the most powerful forces working against democratic values in Australia. I have always thought there has been a high degree of apathy amongst the general public in Australia towards political activity. This in part reflects the stoicism built into Australian culture which sees it best in peoples’ response to natural disaster, and its worst in the kind of fatalism enabling people to utterly disempower themselves when it comes to responding outside of elections to fundamental problems suggestive of political solutions. Climate change is a classic example: so many people express a belief in the science and accept that it could be mitigated through legislation, but they are never prepared actively to canvas their local member or take action through the media.

    When there was not so much pressure on resources–capital, environmental and human–as there is now, this stoicism could be tolerated, especially when politicians were closer to the general population. Now politics is almost a closed system of lobbying, dissimulation and legislation, where input comes from the information industry–consultants, think tanks, etc–and output is mediated through a mass media which has ceased to be critical and a digital world that has almost no intellectual rigour. There is very little attempt to engage in larger systemic explanations for political behaviour, and even royal commissions are regarded cycnically now because they lack any real coercive teeth.

    Given the huge gap emerging between the small sector of society, that controls most of the national resources, and the rest, and the media’s constant efforts to distract people from the real issues, the closed (and substantially privatized) political sphere is ignored by most people as a source of long term planning and commonweal. I fear this has generated a kind of nihilism in many people, of a type that will lead to a form of populist authoritarianism, the natural outcome of this kind of nihilism.

  3. Tony Ryan says:

    How few Australians understand Greg’s message; just how much trouble we are in.

    Actually, it just gets worse. Since 1973, the media has controlled the electorate, with the easy capacity to drive swinging voters in whatever direction the Barons want. The rest of the electorate doesn’t really matter, which is why Murdoch loves the Two Party Duopoly. This control smothered protest over Whitlam’s sacking.

    If anything, Greg has understated the absence of electoral power. Former MHR and constitutional expert Arthur Chresby pointed out that Australians have no power under the Australian Constitution whatsoever, other than to whinge to the Queen. And since CIA buddy Bob Hawke flicked Betty Windsor off our sovereign landscape, it seems doubtful if we even have that futile handhold on destiny.

    But if Greg believes a constitution holds the answer, consider this:

    Even though almost all draft constitutions included democracy and consensus in their respective texts, not one constitution today contains the word democracy.

    Secondly, the US has successfully invaded and occupied 56 sovereign nations since WWII, all protected with constitutions. Some protection, eh?

    How about subversion from within, by hostile foreign interests? As Pilger and many other astute observers of politics and geopolitics have ventured, the 1975 takeover was clearly generated with joint MI6 and CIA complicity. Our Constitution was not much of a barrier there, was it?

    Consider then, the more contemporary version of coup, by investment banker and corporate collaboration, resulting in both major parties opening the investment doors to corruption on a vast scale, a fraction of which we can peep at through the keyhole… otherwise known as the Royal Commission into banks and financial services.

    Greg’s hope for a constitutional rescue is doomed to disappointment because two hundred years of propaganda… the kind that prompted Lincoln to include in his Gettysburg Address, the words “Government of the People , by the People and for the People…” has twisted that concept into a process in which we elect a corrupt politician to do our thinking for us. How foolish is that?

    Just a reminder, Greg, democracy occurs when all government policy emanates from a fully informed electorate, and government implements this. This was also spelled out by Thucydides, Thomas Paine and Lord Acton.

    With The People formulating policy and controlling administration, a constitution is superfluous. By definition, all of the people cannot be corrupted.

    The details can be read on

  4. Bruce Wearne says:

    I guess the question is now: how can the political sentiment that is in agreement with Greg’s analysis be gathered together to actually promote policies that advocate an authentic just republic. Greg’s pithy comment with its bracketed qualification – “A flawed public was bluffed (as was Gough himself)” – needs to be openly discussed. The Labor “side” failed to challenge the Liberal Party – as Don Chipp and others have pointed out – for violating their own party constitution – that was a “constitutional crisis” too, and it just didn’t or couldn’t be raised into a public scandal. Those offended by the sacking have repeatedly ignored the fact that the Liberal Party had to violate its own party constitution, principles and platform in order to hold onto the power it thinks is has won fairly – and so was born “core and non-core” promises by our political parties. There was also the bogus tax-payer funded “democratic” survey – a vandalisation of our Parliamentary democracy – and it was engineered by this same crew, last year. And did the Liberal Party’s political opponents take the opportunity to expose how the survey was a ploy to use tax-payers money ($120m+) to avoid the party waiting until its parliamentary members had been elected on a policy to change the Marriage Acts definition of lawful marriage? No they sat back and thought they had been very smart by sharing in that “victory” for legislative magic. Neither side had dared put that into their party platform hitherto for fear of losing votes. Now they are both committed to avoiding contradicting that legislation for fear of losing votes. Is not Greg confirming that the parties of the Liberal-National Coalition Government and the Labor opposition are pre-eminent failures of our failing regime?

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