Moore / The year the world voted for disenchantment

“In Australia, democratic satisfaction under John Howard in 2007 has dropped steadily from 85.6 per cent to a low of 58 per cent under Malcolm Turnbull,” writes political columnist MICHAEL MOORE

shorten-turkey-dpiTHE year of Brexit, the Trump victory, the return of Pauline Hanson and the rise of the hard right in politics; 2016 should provide an incentive for rethinking politics locally, nationally and internationally as the rich get richer and the poor poorer.

Michael Moore

Michael Moore.

Commentators on the international democratic trends examine “political elites”, but there is not enough focus on the amount of money required to get elected, how it is obtained and its impact on democracy.

Disenchantment with politics has been growing steadily. In Australia, democratic satisfaction under John Howard in 2007 has dropped steadily from 85.6 per cent to a low of 58 per cent under Malcolm Turnbull in March.

The percentage of Australians who always vote for the same party has dropped over the last 50 years from 72 per cent to 37 per cent. The Investor State Dispute Mechanism in the Trans Pacific Partnership and other international treaties along with proposed corporate tax breaks illustrate the growing power of international corporations.

Local MP Andrew Leigh published the book “Battlers and Billionaires” in 2013 describing the story of inequality in Australia. A professor of economics at ANU before entering Federal politics, Leigh brings an important perspective not just to the Labor Party, but to the Parliament as a whole. Even so, the government’s rhetoric, budgets and outcomes continue to increase disparity.

In the US, the American dream of hard work meaning prosperity has always been a myth for most. However, Donald Trump has tapped into the dissatisfaction of middle-America feeling cheated. He has provided hope by increasing a social divide in making scapegoats of marginalised groups such as Muslims and Hispanics.

“Bloomberg Politics” reported that Hillary Clinton’s campaign raised a total of $US1.2 billion. That’s a magnitude of favours owed as is illustrated by the observation in the report that this “included a small army of wealthy donors who wrote seven-figure cheques”. Trump raised around $650 million including $66 million of his own money. However, he also raised around $280 million from donors who contributed $200 or less.

A fair system of taxation will remain a pipe dream in Australia while parties remain dependent on large donations and the system of political donations remains murky and is not timely.

There are a number of tools available to avoid fully declaring donations. Support for large corporations is framed in one of the conservatives’ favourite term of “trickle-down” economics so corporate taxes can be cut at the same time as reducing expenditure on welfare. No wonder ordinary people are disenchanted.

The snake-oil salesmen are there to fill the gap. With the major parties on the nose, the success of One Nation, Family First and the Liberal Democrats should not be a surprise.

A little more surprising is that the Greens have not been able to tap into the anti-government sentiment in the same way as the Nick Xenophon Team in SA. The Senate outcome reflects voters looking for a solution and choosing what they see as the least-worst alternative.

There are some bright spots challenging the rise of the hard right in politics. The defeat of the hard right Norbert Hofer in Austria by former Greens leader Alexander Van der Bellen is one recent example. In the ACT, the Labor government under Andrew Barr secured a surprise victory with the support of the Greens to defeat a Liberal Party that has been swinging to the right.

However, even though the moderate Malcolm Turnbull has been returned to power, he is looking more and more like the soft front for hard-right members such as Cory Bernardi and George Christensen.

As just one example, the Prime Minister has rejected the views of his own chief scientist Alan Finkel and Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg after Bernardi slammed the idea as “one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. It is not in the Australian national interest for the government to chase policies that ingratiate it with the Greens”.

No wonder Australians are becoming more disenchanted with the democratic system, with politics and with politicians. Perhaps things will change for the better in 2017… but don’t hold your breath.

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