Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Barnaby Joyce and the spreading erosion of democracy

An article called "Barnaby Joyce's Pilliga pillage" alleges but cannot prove a form of insider trading - it shows very close links between the former federal politician John Anderson, current Federal politician Barnaby Joyce and the fossil fuel company Eastern Star Gas. It shows willingness by then Senator Joyce and his wife to invest a lot of money (over A$ 0.5 million) in land that even Joyce admitted was poor for farming. Almost certainly Joyce's true motivation was speculation - nothing illegal there in our capitalist economy.

But fast forward a few years. This week Joyce seemed genuinely outraged in Federal Parliament at the insider-trading fuelled behaviour of Ian MacDonald, the corrupt NSW politician, as shown by Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), whereas any corruption by Joyce and Anderson has to date not been proven.

If I were a jury member, in an imaginary future court, looking at the evidence now on the public record I would conclude Joyce is also guilty of insider trading about his Pillaga purchase. Could Joyce's
vehemence towards MacDonald be in part because Joyce knows he is being hypocritical, but cannot admit that even to himself, let alone his farming constituents on the fertile Liverpool plains? Joyce could just be a good actor, but I thought his outburst was unusually intense, self-revealing in a way that he will come to regret.

Extending this analysis further, I'd say Joyce's chief ambition is to care for his own interest - he knows farmers in his constituency are upset about the coal mine and he knows it will hurt his career to be seen supporting a Chinese-owned coal mine in the Liverpool Plains. But above that, I would say, Joyce is agnostic; he doesn't really care about mining, he doesn't really care about farming; he cares about himself. (Nor does he care about climate change.) He's a bit like a piece of flour being shaped into a kind of pasta - Joyce will go (and say and do) wherever and whatever external forces take him, with no principle or consistency whatsoever. And with no deep thought, either.

Joyce's behaviour is symptomatic of a wider failure of democracy 

If this analysis is partly right we can see how at home Joyce must feel in the Abbott government - how he has risen this far. In fact he seems tailor-made for the current Federal parliament, so devoid of respect and observance for international law or for transparency. 

But, what can we do? It could seem like I have seen a failure of democracy unfolding over my life. But actually, it was always there. What I have really seen is the extension of democracy's failure. When I was young, a white, non-Aboriginal Australian born here (as I was) seemed fairly well looked after. It was others, such as Aboriginals, dark-skinned would-be migrants, and people in the Third World for whom the narrow version of democracy that then operated in Australia (in the very early 1970s) did not apply for. Democracy then did exclude, however, people just a little older than me who faced conscription to fight in what was clearly an unjust war in Vietnam. Today, however, that substantial exclusion from fairness also embraces people like me.

ICAC, people like Gillian Triggs and what passes for a free press can - and do - try to slow this takeover. I recently was arrested for trying to oppose the fossil fuel juggernaut. But I really feel that this gesture is nowhere near enough. I went to hear Bob Massie last night, discussing how civil society can phase out coal, just as horses for transport have largely gone from his native Boston. Importantly, his tour gives thought to alternative livelihoods for former fossil fuel workers.

We have to keep on trying.