Citizen Journalism

Posts Tagged ‘Tony Fitzgerald’

Democracy, ethics, tolerance and public civility

In Corruption, Democracy, Tony Fitzgerald on March 9, 2013 at 12:14 AM
Part of the Corruption board game, which appeared in The Cane Toad Times. Source: Supplied

Part of the Corruption board game, which appeared in The Cane Toad Times. Source: Supplied

By Tony Fitzgerald
December 08, 2012

Margo: Tony has kindly given me permission to publish a piece he wrote for the Oz late last year.

There are about 800 politicians in Australia’s parliaments. According to their assessments of each other, that quite small group includes role models for lying, cheating, deceiving, ‘rorting’, bullying, rumour-mongering, back-stabbing, slander, ‘leaking’, ‘dog-whistling’, nepotism and corruption.

A recent editorial valiantly suggested that ‘toxic debates test ideas, policy and character’, but a more orthodox view is that ethics, tolerance and civility are intrinsic elements of democratic society and that the politicians’ mutual contempt and aggressive, ‘end justifies the means’ amorality erodes respect for authority and public institutions and compromises social cohesion.

Even some insiders are worried by the standard of Australian public life: a former Minister, Senator John Faulkner, has said that this is ‘a dangerous moment for our democracy’, which ‘is drowning in distrust’.

However, insiders see problems with insiders’ eyes, recognise only some of the problems and few of the causes and suggest insiders’ solutions with voters as mere bystanders. The usual, and sometimes intended, outcome is a flurry of superficial activity, appointment of a suitable group of other insiders to report, lengthy discussion of their report, considerable navel-gazing, a feel-good pronouncement and business as usual.

Realistically, since politicians are unlikely to support any significant change which might reduce their power, genuine reform will be extremely difficult. However, it is not impossible if it is owned and driven by the community.

One modest, uncontroversial proposal which I favour as a starting point is a free, non-partisan website to provide voters with clear, accurate, impartial information to assist them to compare candidates for election, make better informed choices and avoid voting for unsuitable candidates merely because they have party preselection. As the United States Supreme Court observed about twenty years ago, ‘the ability of the citizenry to make informed choices among candidates for office is essential, for the identities of those who are elected will inevitably shape the course that we follow as a nation’.

‘Informed choices among candidates for office’ are especially important in Australia. The Constitution omits important checks and balances which commonly restrain the misuse of power. Australia’s version of democracy is founded on concepts of representative government and parliamentary supremacy which are in turn based on a premise that majority decisions by elected representatives constitute the collective wisdom of the community.

Those elected are not chosen to exemplify society’s flaws and vices but to act with integrity, make decisions for the public benefit and, as it was put by the late Professor Julius Stone, exercise power ‘subject to the restraints of shared socio-ethical conventions’. The cynicism and debased standards of modern party politics totally disregard those principles.

Political parties are effectively unregulated private organisations. The major parties, a coalition representing business and rural interests and an alliance between trade unions and socialist groups, include principled, well-motivated people but also attract professional politicians with little or no general life experience and unscrupulous opportunists, unburdened by ethics, who obsessively pursue power, money or both.

Little-known and often unimpressive factional leaders exert disproportionate influence. Under their guidance, the major parties have consolidated their grip on political finance, the political process and political power. As a result of their own parliamentary decisions, parties are publicly funded without a binding reciprocal obligation to act in the public interest. The power of these few, surprisingly small, unregulated groups is for now impregnable. For the foreseeable future, they will dominate public discussion and debate, effectively control Australia’s democracy and determine its destiny. Read the rest of this entry »

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To perform our democratic function we need and are entitled to the truth: Tony Fitzgerald

In Corruption, Democracy, Margo Kingston on March 6, 2013 at 11:26 PM
Tony Fitzgerald

Tony Fitzgerald  Photo: Tamara Voninski Brisbane Times

By Margo Kingston
March 6, 2013

News of the accidental publication of secret documents from the Fitzgerald Royal Commission got me thinking about my hero in the context of recent examples of our corrupt and dishonest politics. Tony Fitzgerald exposed the corruption at the heart of the Bjelke-Petersen government and laid out a blueprint for ethical government.

Tony Fitzgerald and Mike Ahern

Tony Fitzgerald and Mike Ahern

Southerners were smug, but it’s since been shown that their governments were much more corrupt than ours.

In 2004 Tony launched my book Not Happy, John! Defending out democracy and made some harsh judgments about the state our democracy. It’s got worse, and last year he noted with dismay the cronyism in the Queensland LNP government

After awful news out of the NSW corruption inquiry, this week the Victorian Liberal National government was revealed to have sold access to ministers and the Premier to developers, an unethical practice now commonplace in Australian politics.

So, on the night the Victorian Premier resigned amid evidence of cover-up, ministerial perjury and the payment of hush money, I publish Tony’s 2004 speech and urge both big parties to develop and announce serious policies to return honesty and ethics to public life.


June 29, 2004
Source: Webdiary

Webdiary

Justice Tony Fitzgerald’s speech launching my Not happy John! Defending our democracy at Gleebooks in Sydney on June 22. Michelle Grattan reported on the speech at Fitzgerald berates both sides of politics

In a speech last year, the author Norman Mailer described democracy as ‘a state of grace that is attained only by those countries which have a host of individuals not only ready to enjoy freedom but to undergo the heavy labor of maintaining it’. Not Happy John! is Margo Kingston’s admirable contribution to the ‘heavy labor’ of maintaining democracy in Australia.

As the title hints, Margo has focused her analysis on the behaviour of the current Commonwealth government, especially the Prime Minister. In the words of the publisher: ‘Not Happy, John! is a gutsy, anecdotal book with a deadly serious purpose: to lay bare the insidious ways in which John Howard’s government has profoundly undermined our freedoms and our rights. She doesn’t care whether you vote Liberal or Labor, Greens or One Nation. She isn’t interested in the old, outworn left – right rhetoric. What she’s passionate about is the urgent need for us to reassert the core civic values of a humane, egalitarian, liberal democracy.’

You will observe the force of Margo’s argument when you read her book, as obviously you should. My brief remarks will be directed to the damage that mainstream politicians generally are doing to our democracy.

Australians generally accept that democracy is the best system of government, the market is the most efficient mechanism for economic activity and fair laws are the most powerful instrument for creating and maintaining a society that is free, rational and just. However, we are also collectively conscious that democracy is fragile, the market is amoral and law is an inadequate measure of responsibility.

As former Chief Justice Warren of the United States Supreme Court explained: ‘Law… presupposes the existence of a broad area of human conduct controlled only by ethical norms.’

Read the rest of this entry »

Independent media must take Fairfax’s place

In Fairfax, Margo Kingston, MSM on February 11, 2013 at 2:27 PM

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By Margo Kingston
Source: ABC The Drum
June 25th 2012

So, it’s finally over. Although it has been coming for a long time, really. What happened last week was just the full stop.

Decades of mismanagement and executive asset stripping now sees Fairfax on its knees, bending to Gina. And there is the real prospect that hard copies of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age will cease.

What next?

It is not on to have one big newspaper group in Australia. Fairfax hasn’t done the job of serious, gutsy competition for years, but at least it was there. Now that Murdoch has just bought the excellent online ‘Business Spectator’, that refuge for top Fairfax business reporters and analysts, that vehicle for getting the truth out about Murdoch is no more.

And where’s the protest at the prospect that he will control Foxtel by buying out Packer’s stake? He nearly got a similar prize in the UK until The Guardian finally broke through on phone hacking.

The challenge is much broader than Murdoch, of course. We’re going to be losing many, many journalists, and that means fewer competitors at the micro level. For example, there will be one film critic across Fairfax. And presumably one environment reporter, etc, etc. That gives enormous power to the few now covering special topics, in one way. In another way, though, it weakens their power, because if the boss puts the kybosh on a story, there’s no risk it will be broken elsewhere.

And with Fairfax, a creature of Gina or at best an online-only tabloid site, the ABC comes under enormous threat. What would an Abbott government do to funding? Think John Howard in 1996. Remember Murdoch lobbied hard in Britain to cut funding to the BBC. Without a well-resourced, strong ABC, there is no scrutiny. Just one agenda setter.

All in all, an awful state of affairs for Australia and our democracy. So what is the solution?

The way I see it, the various independent online media groups need to get together, pool their resources, and step up to become a genuine media alternative to Murdoch and the dregs of Fairfax. Media academics could also be around the table.

It will take real money, and as I’ve long argued, the best model is a trust with sufficient capital to finance a long-term project of creating the new Fairfax. I’d like to see Crikey, the Global Mail, New Matilda, and Online Opinion come together. And the best specialist bloggers need to be under the umbrella. Read the rest of this entry »