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US Chaos Reinforces Fragility of Democracy


Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Friday, 8 January 2021

Tags: Democracy

Frenzied Trump supporters storming the US Capitol - in what can only be described as a violent insurrection  - has shaken the foundations of democracy worldwide.

It would be easy to blame this epic tragedy entirely on Donald Trump, and he does wear most of the blame for the mob violence, but this event has been driven by the weakening and corruption of key institutions in the US over many years. Trump is a toxic, dangerous, and contagious symptom, but he is not the disease.

Following years of decline in the integrity of institutions, in 2016 the Economist Intelligence Unit downgraded the USA's governance status from 'full democracy' to 'flawed democracy'. They argued this decline was not caused by Trump, but that he was a beneficiary of it. Of course, since taking office the President has actively fuelled the flames and taken a sledgehammer to democratic institutions and norms in America.

It would also be easy to believe this decline in democratic integrity is unique to the US, but democracy index data confirms a steady decline in global democratic ratings since its inception in 2006.

The lesson here for Australia and the rest of the world is to not take precious democracy for granted. Regrettably, here in Tasmania, our democratic norms and institutions have been corroded by the Liberals since they took government in 2014. 

The Liberals are intent on pursuing unconstitutional anti-protest laws - laws that run counter to that most basic democratic right of free speech. 

We are seeing lies and evasive verbal gymnastics from Ministers on a near-daily basis, and the Gutwein Government and its agencies unlawfully withholding information. Even when Ministers are caught red-handed lying, there are no consequences. This undermines public trust in government and it weakens democracy.

The Liberals have politicised the public service by installing partisan political operatives in key senior positions. They have instilled a culture of fear in these public agencies, where access to information is now viewed as a threat to government, not as a democratic right.

Progress on electoral donations reform has been stalled by the Premier and his Attorney General, while millions of dollars continue to pour into major party coffers from undisclosed sources, unchecked - despite the public outrage that followed the record gambling industry expenditure the last state election. 

GBE and Government contracts and financial data are repeatedly withheld, under the guise of commercial in confidence, hiding private subsidies with taxpayer money.

All these actions may be easy to ignore individually, particularly when Tasmanians have so much to worry about – a pandemic, a housing crisis, a climate and biodiversity emergency, and an ailing public health system.

However, this systematic undermining of the State’s democratic institutions really matters. Weakening our democracy will further exacerbate the issues that Tasmanians most care about, because increasingly everyday people are being shut out of decision making processes, replaced by the voices of big corporations, who have bought government’s ear. 

The Liberals may scoff at a comparison with the USA, but deep down they know their electoral success in Tasmania has relied on secrecy and deception, and it has been funded by corporate interests. That's not the way things should work in a thriving democracy. 

Thankfully, we are unlikely to see an armed mob storm the Governor’s building to try to overturn the next State election, but we should resist the dark path the Liberals are sending our democracy down. If events in the US have taught us anything, it should be that a safe and robust democracy cannot be taken for granted. We have to fight for it, peacefully and implacably