Basil: distrusted in life; praised at ‘belsori'
Goods out, money in: developing rural PNG

Ethnic pressures versus white democracies

A white-australiaCHRIS OVERLAND

ADELAIDE - While Phil Fitzpatrick's hypothesis in Dividing Not Blending: Multiculturalism in Oz, is broadly correct, I think it is wrong to say categorically that Australia is an unsuccessful multicultural society.

It would be more accurate to describe multiculturalism in Australia as emerging or evolving, presenting a society in which many of the institutional structures and arrangements have yet to adapt to emerging social and ethnographic realities.

Despite this, there are some areas where Australia's new social reality is clear, notably in the health, education, scientific, hospitality and small to medium business sectors.

What is true is that Australia's political structures are no longer fit for purpose. Therein lies the problem.

These were designed to meet the needs of Australia in the late 18th century when it was a very different society.

Having marginalised the Indigenous population, which numbered about one million (a size it will reach again in the next 10 years), that society was composed almost exclusively of people of Anglo-Celtic origin, whose ideas and attitudes closely aligned with their countries of origin.

The critical points of political difference in that society revolved around things like social class, religious affiliation and the ongoing struggle between capital and labour.

Racist sentiment was prevalent across the political divide and it did not begin to significantly abate until well into the 1970's, and many academics and writers would argue that point has still not been reached.

The two major political parties are still fundamentally structured and organised in ways that reflect the society that existed when they were founded.

This offered a more or less binary choice between anti-labour conservatives and anti-classist organised labour. It made some sort of sense at the time.

Similarly, the method of electing people to parliament assumed an essentially binary political system and, in the federal House of Representatives and all state lower houses, the voting system was expressly designed to produce an outcome where one of the major parties emerged as the dominant force and formed the government.

One result of this is that it is exceedingly difficult for people who do not readily fit within the cultural, political and ideological frameworks of one of the major parties to be elected to any parliament – federal or state – in the country.

For example, it is hard to imagine a person of colour being able to secure pre-selection in state Liberal and National structures in Queensland or Western Australia.

A Voting 1901
Voting in Brisbane in 1901

These parties are bastions of the culturally and politically conservative right which, even if not overtly racist, remains acutely uncomfortable with most things from outside their inherited Anglo-Celtic cultural framework.

My proposed solution to these problems would be to change the electoral system to one in which there are multi-member electorates with candidates elected using a proportional representation system.

This would look very much like the Hare-Clark single transferable vote (STV) method of proportional representation system used in Tasmania or the similarly complicated mixed-member proportional (MMP) system used in New Zealand.

The point is that either of these systems can produce a parliament much more likely to reflect the current and emerging ethnic and social diversity of the wider community.

The existing major parties will recoil from such a system because it would almost always force them into forming coalition governments if they wished to rule.

Whilst there is much rhetoric about the supposed evils of a 'hung parliament', where no party has a majority in its own right, there is ample evidence that such systems do work.

The 'hung parliament' fallacy in Australia is exposed immediately by the knowledge that almost all Federal parliaments have been 'hung' because the party forming government almost never controls the Senate.

This is unsurprising because senators are elected using a proportional representation system, meaning that its membership tends to be much more reflective of the wider community.

In this context, it is important to note that, especially over the last 10 years or so, neither major federal party has been able to win more than about 35% of first preference votes.

In every election they are critically reliant upon preference flows from an increasingly diverse array of small parties and independents.

The latter, in particular, are now becoming a force in Australian politics and look like profoundly influencing the outcome of Saturday’s national election.

So it is both possible, and I believe necessary, for Australia to adapt its political institutions and structures to better reflect the huge ethnographic changes occurring.

Eventually, one of the major parties (probably the ALP) will initiate the required changes.

In the meantime, as Fitzpatrick pointed out, what we have is a political 'Groundhog Day', in which change seems impossible.

As has been noted in the past by me and others, revolutionary change is impossible right up until the moment it happens.

So I hope that merely discussing such a possibility in forums like PNG Attitude might contribute towards triggering change at some time in the not too distant future.

As to Chips Mackellar’s comment, I think he is correct to write that the American Civil War is not yet over.

Some Americans have never accepted that the confederacy and the ideas that animated it is really a lost cause.

And many more seem to believe that in every foreseeable circumstance a White-dominated Republican Party would be the best party equipped to rule, even if they have to cheat to do it.

Providing the US remains a democracy, the relentless forces of demography and time will prove these recidivists wrong but not without a lot of heartache and distress along the way.

And if it does not…. I leave to your imagination.


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Warren Dutton

"Democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largesse out of the public treasure.

"From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefit from the public treasury, with the result that democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always to be followed by a dictatorship, and then a monarchy." ~ Alexander Fraser Tytler

Tytler lived between 1747 and 1813. His assertion was based on his study of governments (temporarily Democratic) from, possibly, pre-Grecian times.

"The average age of the world's great civilizations has been two hundred years.

"These nations have progressed through the following sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith, from spiritual faith to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependency, from dependency back to bondage."

I would suggest that the last passage "from spiritual faith to great courage, from courage to liberty" occurred in the Allied nations during World War II.

I would further suggest that in the past 80 years all the Allied nations, together with their former dependencies, like PNG, have progressed well past selfishness en route to dependency!

What think you?

Paul Oates

Where Australia is headed is straight along the path that the US has taken. Our political system has been corrupted from where our founding fathers imagined it would go.

Those of us who have seen the transformation can't believe how easily our political system has been overtaken by greed and our public services rendered political sycophants, by the intentional politicization from the top down in order to conform to political will.

Manipulation via social media will be the death bed of our democracy unless those who are currently addicted wake up to their addiction. The media barons are furiously at work to keep up the momentum.

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