Their democracy and ours

December 8, 2022

Federal Labor MPs were wildly self-congratulatory after the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) — an election promise — became law on November 30.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus described it as the “single-biggest integrity reform this parliament has seen in decades”.

Even moderate critics joined the throng.

Greens leader Adam Bandt enthused that it was “a historic moment for integrity in our politics and democracy”. GetUp used identical words. The Australia Institute said the NACC is “a win for Australia’s democracy”.

However Labor did not support the crossbench and Greens push to remove the “exceptional circumstances” clause for public hearings. The New South Wales’ Independent Commission Against Corruption contains this democratic feature — which has helped uncover deep seated corruption in NSW Labor and the Coalition.

On the same day, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the censure of his predecessor Scott Morrison for secretly swearing himself into multiple ministries was about “accountability of our democratic system”.

The left needs a much more emancipatory vision of democracy and a sharp critique of the sham that MPs hold up as “democracy”.

The NACC is a progressive reform, despite Labor’s deal with the Liberals to make it less transparent. And Morrison’s secret power grab was undemocratic, but it was still legal under the Westminster rules.

The unjust jailing of climate activist Violet CoCo exposes the limits of their democracy. She was sentenced to 15 months in jail for engaging in 25 minutes of non-violent protest action in April.

CoCo’s imprisonment is not an isolated event: it is part of the state’s escalating push for harsher punishments on anyone seeking to disrupt business as usual. As NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet put it: “If protesters want to put our way of life [sic] at risk, then they should have the book thrown at them.”

All supporters of genuine working-class democracy need to be concerned at the anti-democratic push by Labor and Coalition governments.

Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland have all adopted new laws which restrict the right to protest in different ways.

Their narrow view of democracy is designed to uphold class privilege.

The parliamentary system, polluted by corporate money, is structured to ensure that government alternates exclusively between the two “parties of government” — institutions controlled by the capitalist ruling class. Direct participation is explicitly excluded.

Even if genuinely progressive forces could somehow wrest a parliamentary majority away from Labor and the Coalition, entire networks of other institutions help maintain corporate rule.

These include the Reserve Bank, the Fair Work Commission, the courts and judiciary; the military command, the civil service bureaucracies and various tribunals. Beyond these, are the innumerable corporate think tanks, lobbying outfits and the corporate media to keep up the fiction that their democracy really works for us too.

Their democracy is not ours: it is a system of corporate dictatorship, disguised by democratic forms. The outcome is policy that benefits the corporate rich.

Labor’s new laws on climate action and industrial relations make it look progressive. But a real departure from bipartisanship would include raising JobSeeker above the poverty line, abolishing the stage 3 tax cuts for the rich, ending fossil fuel subsidies and scrapping AUKUS.

Democratic rights are clearly under attack. The warning signs are clear — the jailing of climate activists for obstructing traffic and severely constraining the right to strike and organise in workplaces.

We need to defend existing democratic rights, but we also need to do more. We need a vision of a radical and emancipatory restructure of the political system and we need to fight for it.

The only way is to involve masses of people in mass protest and civil disobedience campaigns for a world in which people and the planet are prioritised over corporate green and the status quo.

[Alex Bainbridge is a member of the Socialist Alliance National Executive.]

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