Our democracy is worth defending

When we entered the 21st century almost two decades ago, the occasion was marked with an exuberant sense of optimism which was shared across the many parts of the globe. The Berlin Wall, and with it, monolithic totalitarianism, had collapsed the previous decade ending a generational ‘Cold War’ and the ever-present threat of nuclear catastrophe.

There was, indeed, much to celebrate. The 1990s largely saw the expansion of liberal democratic institutions not only in Eastern Europe, but also in the Americas, parts of Africa, and in Asia.

Then, of course, 11 September 2001 changed almost everything overnight.

The subsequent so-called ‘War on Terror’ saw a destabilisation of the Middle East and with that, a steep rise in Islamic fundamentalism and the primacy of so-called ‘national security’ over fundamental rights and freedoms – as well as perhaps, even human empathy. Our language and outlook indeed changed and many issues were viewed within the murky prism of homeland defence. We also witnessed an increase in suspicion and mistrust of those ‘not like ourselves’. The vilification of ‘The Other’ (e.g. refugees, people of other races, religions, nationalities) began to dominate the collective psyche and adversely affect public policy across many Western democracies.

Then there was the other part of the so-called early 21st Century ‘double whammy’ – the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). This self-inflicted event is described as the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The GFC served to intensify the inequality between the rich and poor, worsening deep discontent within liberal democratic systems and fuelling the rise of right-wing, xenophobic and racist populism. To put it simply, resentment grew among those who became poorer and when resentment grows, there is inevitably a search for a scapegoat – someone else to blame.

Indeed, the GFC served to hasten the decline in trust and public confidence in our democratic institutions and elected leaders. Bit by bit, discontent increased with many voters turning to alternative political parties to be their new voice.

Alarmingly, once described as the staunch international ‘defender of democracy’, the United States deteriorated from its ranking as a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy” in 2017. The most recent ‘Freedom in the World’ report lamented the decline in global freedom. Indeed, it boldly declared that for the first time in generations, ‘democracy is in retreat’.

Now, as we approach the 2020’s, the creeping threat to our democracy has not abated. It has grown stronger. This current decade has attested to the rise of the populist Right, which has cynically used economic inequality and immigration (aka ‘The Other’) as predictable electoral tools in their mission to undermine and subvert democracy and human rights. (Interestingly, the rise in the number of refugees across the globe has been a direct result of both climate change and war, something the populist Right refuse to acknowledge let alone address).

Unfortunately, some sections of the trans-national, corporate media have also played their insidious role to undermine and trivialise our democracy. The concentration of media ownership and the misuse of social media advertising techniques have only added to the malaise of the fourth estate and in turn enlarged the growing cracks in our democracy.

Perhaps one of the greatest threats to the long-term viability of our democratic system, is the steady decline in accountability and transparency. Initially under the guise of ‘national security’, certain rights to information were curtailed as part of the ongoing fight against terrorism. However, now there are growing instances where some leaders refuse to be accountable for their actions or even their own words. What would have led to a resignation a generation ago is now met with obstinance and denial. Matters that would have easily created a ‘Watergate’ type crisis are now dismissed as ‘irrelevant’, ‘old news’, or even ‘fake news’.

Our ancestors fought and died for the attainment and maintenance of our modern democratic system. Never perfect, it is, however, overwhelmingly preferable to other political systems that instigated oppression, genocide, slavery, discrimination, corruption and human abuse and abject misery.
No matter how much we may take for granted the rights and freedoms that many of our ancestors could ever dream of enjoying, the alternative – a slide into authoritarianism, totalitarianism, oligarchy and dictatorship is not an option for our descendants. We must be prepared to defend our democratic institutions and processes by opposing any measures, political parties, movements and individuals which undermine or weaken them.

Importantly, we must also be prepared to enter a public discourse to find new ways of enhancing and expanding our democracy to meet the needs of a rapidly changing polity. Authentic engagement with alienated communities must be at the forefront of any project to augment our current democratic and electoral systems.

Democracy works best when everyone feels they have a voice. Those wanting to defend democracy must acknowledge that re-vitalising our democratic institutions and processes must be coupled with a desire to improve our economic system to one that is inclusive and meets the needs of those feeling left behind due the adverse effects of neo-liberalism.

Importantly, sustained defence of our democracy is not someone else’s job. It’s everyone’s job. The power of democracy lies in our participation and apathy continues to be one of its greatest enemies. With so much at stake, we cannot be the generation that loses this fight.

Rod Beisel

We need a national conversation on housing

The recent release of the Rental Affordability Index has revealed that although real estate prices may have dropped in some areas, rental affordability, overall, is actually worse for many people across the country.

What the latest figures reveal is that, for example,
· A Newstart recipient cannot afford to rent anywhere, even with Commonwealth Rent Assistance,
· An Aged Pensioner living on their own would have to pay more than 50% of their income in rent in any capital city – and regional areas are also now out of reach for many people, and
· Moderate income households are also paying unaffordably high rents in most suburbs in all capital cities across Australia.

In essence, what this means is that housing affordability continues to be a significant issue for many Australians and that, not surprisingly, our housing system needs urgent fixing.

What we need is a national conversation about housing.

Thankfully, organisations such as Everbody’s Home is encouraging just that. They are encouraging Australians to talk about the state of our housing affordability to help kick start a national conversation about the need to fix a system that is sadly failing a growing number of many Australians .

Their campaign involves five key aims:

  1. Reset our tax system to make it fairer for ordinary Australians wanting to buy a home;
  2. Develop a national strategy to provide more low-cost properties which will mean more choices, making it cheaper and easier to find a home. (At the moment at least 500,000 new low-cost rental homes are needed to meet the demand for affordable housing);
  3. Get rid of “no grounds” evictions and unfair rent rises so that millions of Australian renters have the security they need to create homes, build lives and raise families;
  4. Increase Commonwealth Rent Assistance for the thousands of Australians who are struggling to pay their rent; and
  5. Adopt a plan to end homelessness by 2030.

However, their campaign is dependent on Australians understanding the issue and caring enough to take action.

The most important activity we can all undertake as individuals is to increase awareness about the plight of housing affordability and tell others and our elected representatives that our current trajectory is woefully insufficient.

We do know that in lead up to the 2019 federal election, Labor promised to provide 250,000 new affordable rental homes, as well as change the tax system to help improve afforability overall. However, with that election resulting in a government mostly disinterested towards improving our existing housing system, we need to re-energise a grassroots effort to put the issue squarely on the national political agenda.

For those that care, for those who see housing as a basic human right, we can all take a part in that effort.

Rod Beisel

To find out more about Everybody’s Home and their campaign visit their website https://everybodyshome.com.au/

To read the latest Rental Affordability Index report visit https://www.sgsep.com.au/projects/rental-affordability-index