May 06, 2008 | Ronda Jambe

The blight that the ALP has become

Nearly every day some bright spark suggests in the letters to the editor that technology will save the world. One day the focus is on carbon capture, the next on GM foods. Desalinisation and nuclear energy are other scientific saviours.
The reality is: only democracy can save the world. The coming crisis is one not of humanity’s limited cleverness in the face of mounting pressures, but of our limited capacity to be truly human, to think about ‘the other’. It is a crisis of governance, in the widest possible meaning of that term: how we relate to and regulate each other. My concept of ‘democracy’ is equally sweeping: a system that collects data and informs in a suitably accountable way so that it delivers the best possible outcomes for the greatest number, including future generations. (I draw on Robert Dahl.)
A great distortion of governance is now available for all to see as the NSW Labor Party negates its own reason for existing. Why have a party conference at all, if their preference not to privitise electricity counts for nada? In just the past few days, the SMH reveals additional distortions: the north west of Sydney won’t have the rail links it needs as it expands, and the water catchment legislation will be ‘relaxed’ (a popular term that conceals great tensions) to allow for expansion. Water quality could suffer as a result.
Bob Carr chuckles and encourages Iemma from his comfy Macquarie Bank position. The received wisdom is that privitisation should never be stopped, how else can we possibly develop the energy? Jeff Kennett agrees, so everyone is singing from the same hymnbook. Geraldine Doogue interviews someone from an infrastructure company, who also supports privitisation. She politely calls it ‘electricity reform’, but no one mentions renewables, efficiency, or other approaches to becoming energy sufficient. Rudd gives his full support, not for him to get in the way.
And why is privitisation of essential infrastructure so bad? You probably can’t go beyond Sharon Beder’s Power Play, with lots of Australian and international examples, for foreground. And if you are not clear about where such measures lead in the longer term, just google Cochabamba + Bechtel.
Here in the ACT, Labor is spending up big in the lead-up to the election, without asking the electorate to establish priorities. The suburbs are restive, as the schools are sold off and the dams dry up. The Liberal leader is putting in a FOI request about the billion dollar gas plant which will be located close to houses, and the Weston Creek Community Council had standing room only at a meeting about proposed new suburbs, which will flood the formerly quiet cluster with unwanted traffic, pollution, intrusion, and other accoutrements of ‘development’. The multi-million dollar aboretum, meanwhile, seems to have dubious value. Perhaps the wrong project for a drought-stricken capital, even though the water is recycled from a treatment plant?
It’s actually becoming quite funny, as Ross Gittens points out that Brendan Nelson is now offering a critique of the endless growth scenario. But ideology has always been mutable, depending on who’s in power. Which way is left? which way is right? It’s getting harder to distinguish.
Our confusion multiplies when we read that Jeffrey Sachs, the economist who spear-headed huge sell-offs of public infrastructure in Bolivia, Russia and elsewhere, now warns in his latest book, Common Wealth, that the world really needs to solve some big issues like global warming, poverty, and population. Does he realise he helped create these problems, or at least delayed their recognition?
Even Thomas Friedman, not known for questioning the benefits of globalisation, thinks it is time for the US to develop a more realistic energy policy. He says the jobs in clean energy are going off-shore, and the US will be left behind. Much of this is due to the clout, both military and policy-wise, that has supported the oil industry.
I am convinced that religion arose from these needs to manage society. The fundamental strictures that prevent chaos are the same for every religion. They just get dressed up in strange ways as the innate desire for power and control overwhelm their usefulness. Much more fun to bind women’s feet and hobble them, or make them wear black body bags, than to embrace justice and egalitarian principles.
It always seemed to me that the left of politics in general, and the Australian Labor Party in particular, was a voice for that very basic concept of humanity: let’s think about each other and get the balance right. But the growing gap between classes that has flourished during many long years of Labor governments in all the states and territories, as well as getting a good kick-off during the Hawke-Keating years, belies that concept.
Of course much easier to think about those close at hand than about ‘the other’ in distant countries. How can we imagine the poor of Burma, after this latest catastrophe, when we can’t easily empathise with Sydney fringe dwellers whose trip to work might become a nightmare for lack of adequate public transport?
You tell me, wise readers, where is our democracy headed?

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 5:22 pm | Comments Off on The blight that the ALP has become |
Filed under: Australian Politics

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