The Complacent Country: Alternative Visions for Australia’s Democracy, The Need for a Royal Commission into the Abuse of Media Power

The Hon Kevin Rudd, AC

26th Prime Minister of Australia 

University of Sydney

29 August, 2019.

 

Tonight, I’d like to talk about alternative visions for Australia’s future. I’ve been doing a series of these around the country. That’s because I fear we have become the complacent country – complacent about the many great political, economic, social, environmental and security challenges that now threaten our future. And the uncomfortable truth is that our future is not guaranteed. We have to secure it though own efforts. As government and as a people – together.

A couple of nights ago, at the University of Queensland, I spoke about what constitutes the elements of a credible national vision. How it must be anchored in our sense of national identity. How it must be anchored in our sense of national values. And how is must also be grounded in our enduring national interests. Interests which transcend any particular political administration.

At the University of Melbourne, I spoke about alternative visions for Australia’s long-term economic future, including how we best manage the risk of recession in the immediate term.

Then at my old university, the Australian National University, I spoke about alternative visions for our future in the region and the world, given China’s rise and given America’s response to it, and how we best navigate our future in the midst of these rapidly changing strategic realities.

But tonight, here at the University of Sydney, I want to talk about how we best secure the future of our democracy itself.

I’ve sought to frame this series with what I describe as ten major challenges for Australia that are now washing over our shores, just as in different forms, they are also disrupting countries across the world. Large ones. Big ones. Disruptive ones. And our topic this evening cuts across them all.  But so that I am clear about the overall framework I bring to bear in this, let me run through at the outset what I see to be these ten major disruptions.

One, the unfolding challenge of the global technology revolution.  On the one hand challenging Australia’s future international economic competitiveness, unless we ourselves become major successful innovators in these new generators that will drive future global growth. And on the other hand, also facing the profound employment disruption, social and economic instability which comes from these technologies themselves, in particular artificial intelligence.

Two, the profound challenge of sustaining strong, long-term Australian economic growth given the ageing of our population, static levels of workforce participation, and declining levels of economic productivity. As well as a declining bipartisan consensus on long-term migration flows, inadequate investment in infrastructure, STEM education and research, the transformation of our domestic energy sector to natural gas, and as noted above, a global technology innovation revolution that could well leave Australia behind.

Three, the  ravages of climate change where our national and global actions to mitigate global greenhouse gas emissions are woefully inadequate to prevent unsustainable temperature increases and increasingly frequent extreme weather events, with long-term consequences for global food and water security, the forced migration of peoples, and within Australia itself, the sustainability of the Murray-Darling Basin.

Four a failure to deal effectively with five critical social policy challenges: growing inequality and declining equality of opportunity; inadequate retirement income; a mental health crisis sweeping a society  increasingly riven by anxiety, depression and loneliness; an amphetamine epidemic killing our young people; and a failure to conclude the national reconciliation process with Indigenous Australians through sustained investment in the Closing the Gap strategy and our inability to complete the process of constitutional recognition.

Five, the failure to prepare sufficiently for the ageing of our population both through the absence of fundamental health, hospitals and aged care reform to sustain a high quality health system for our people, while also managing the costs of the system through the failure of successive governments to sustain the comprehensive reforms introduced in 2010 in preventative, primary, acute, post-acute and aged care, and in digital health records management.

Six, a fragmenting global order driven in part by China’s rise, an increasingly isolationist America, a divided Europe, a yawning global leadership deficit, an increasingly G-Zero world, and the growing danger of returning to the pre-’45 notions of survival of the fittest.

Seven, the increasing polarisation of our own region between Chinese and American spheres of geo-strategic and economic influence, reducing the freedom of policy manoeuvre for regional states as they seek to secure their own futures.

Eight, the growing wave of people movements across the world by those escaping political economic and climate insecurity in their countries of origin, but generating in turn politically and racially-charged reactions in the countries they seek to escape to, leading in turn to the heart of local political concerns on the deepest questions of collective cultural and political identity.

Nine, the polarisation of our democracies between rich and poor, an increasingly struggling middle-class, the failure of much of the traditional politics of the centre-right and the centre-left to deliver sustainable solutions to fundamental problems; compounded in our case by a national media split between Murdoch’s far-right, elements the faux left, and the screaming Balkanisation of social media destroying any real possibility of a political commons through which to conduct a reasonable national conversation on alternatives for our country’s future; all bit by bit delegitimising democracy itself in the eyes of the people, to the extent that democracy’s long-term future itself  is no longer a given.

And finally, underpinning all of the above, a new gaping chasm in our deepest underlying values. We are at an extraordinary historical transition point as Christianity declines and almost disappears in the West from 1,700 years of cultural dominance, driven in large part by the sheer weight of its own institutional hypocrisy, only to be replaced by a secularism increasingly uncertain of its own moral compass to guide what is left of the modern-day Enlightenment project. And now facing also an increasingly self-confident new authoritarianism, in China, in Russia, and elsewhere offering alternative models of political and economic governance.

And if that’s not enough to make you all feel cheerful this evening, our already troubled democratic institutions are faced with an even more fundamental challenge. They are having to deal effectively with all these complex, unprecedented challenges simultaneously. While the legitimacy of these very same national political institutions, and their international counterparts, charged with dealing with these challenges, is itself also under threat.

Whatever the hue and cry that passes for our day-to-day political discourse, these structural challenges don’t go away. They are material. They are real. They are washing over us irrespective of whether the political process chooses to be conscious of them it not.

I believe there are effective responses to each of the above. Not because of some Pollyannaish optimism. But because there is a reasonable way through each of them if we have the national resolve to do so. The question for government, however, is what is the policy response? What is our strategy? And how can this be anchored in our enduring identity as Australians, who we are as a people, the values we share, as well as the deep, underlying, continuing national interests which will always define us into the future.

Tonight, I want to address just one of these challenges – namely the threat to democracy itself.  Unless we deal with this effectively, then our ability to deal with the range of other challenges we face is undermined from the beginning. We must, therefore, give our democracy separate reflection.

Murdoch and the Far Right

First, there is the question of our national media, the lifeblood of any functioning democracy. You don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar to work out that for the period since 2007 through 2010, 2013, 2016 and most recently 2019, the media organisation which dominates this country ( the Murdoch media representing some 60 to 70 per cent of our total print readership) hates the Australian Labor Party’s guts. More broadly, they despise the progressive left. And they will do anything to keep Labor out of office. This is reflected in the absence of even the pretence of balance as reflected and recorded in their “news” coverage for  those elections.

Even in 2007 where certain Murdoch mastheads technically endorsed me in their pre-election editorials, if you look carefully at Murdoch’s tabloid coverage for the year prior to the ’07 election, they were seeking to politically disembowel me through one series of personal accusations of scandal, misdemeanour or corruption after another. But once that failed, and Murdoch concluded that a Labor win was unavoidable, that’s when the technical, pre-election “editorial” endorsement was deployed, to try and put themselves in the right side of history. But if you look at Murdoch’s election “news” coverage during the 2007 election campaign itself, it was at best 50/50.

Roll the clock on to 2010 and 2013, it was more like 80-20 against Labor. Then 90-10 against in 2016. And in 2019 it was 100-0 when all pretence at being a news organisation was finally given up. Murdoch had finally become a fully paid-up coalition partner of the Liberals and Nationals. Just as he had become with Trump’s Republicans in the US and Cameron’s Conservatives in the UK.

Given Murdoch’s print dominance in this country, it also bleeds into the electronic coverage, both radio and television, as well as social media. Indeed, Murdoch’s abuse of his monopoly media powers in Australia has become a profound cancer on our democracy. Murdoch effectively suffocates alternative ideas for the nation’s future if he deems them to be incompatible with his ideological worldview or his commercial interests.

The nature of the Murdoch beast  is deeply ideological. The far right-wing agenda on climate change is clear to all. Currently, his mastheads, together with their coalition partners in the government, are driving Australia’s national China hysteria with “Reds under every bed” , rapidly morphing into the “Yellow Peril”, as if we are now in some giant throwback to the McCarthyism of the ’50s. We also have a Murdoch media which has attacked all forms of economic stimulus, including that used to great effect during the global financial crisis. And   never forget it was the Murdoch media, in Australia, the United States and in the United Kingdom, which led the charge to go to war in Iraq in 2003. And nearly 16 years later, we are all still paying the price of that war in Iraq, Syria and an emboldened Iran. We are indebted to Rupert for all the above.

It’s ideological but at the same time it’s also deeply commercial. The Murdoch commercial agenda in the 2013 election was on full display with the assault on the National Broadband Network. We the Labor Party, as a government, introduced a  fibre-optic to the premises NBN across the entire nation as part of a $42 billion nation building program. Murdoch was determined to kill it because it represented a threat to his only profit centre left  in Australia, the Fox Cable Entertainment Network. Why? Because the network we were building would enable Foxtel competitors like Netflix to provide direct entertainment products to the home. Which is why Murdoch turned around to the conservatives and said: “You kill this, and we will support you a thousand per cent in killing Labor”.

The economic consequences for the country have been disastrous. By turning fibre optic to the premises into fibre optic to the node,  leaving the last bit of the NBN unconnected, Murdoch and the coalition left Australia’s broadband dysfunctional – now one of the slowest and least reliable in the developed world. That is precisely the nature of the transaction which occurred.  And any amount of denial by Murdoch executives, or by their political accomplices in the Liberal Party,  is a betrayal of the truth.

Murdoch’s is an ideological agenda. It’s also a commercial agenda. It’s obviously, by definition, a political agenda. And it has long been a global agenda. Across much of the Anglosphere, these debates all occur in parallel.  But they don’t occur in Canada. Have you wondered why? Murdoch is not in Canada.

And for those who think it will all expire when Rupert himself expires, there is another Murdoch in waiting. His name is Lachlan. And he is every bit as conservative as his dear papa. Lachlan is a climate change denier. We know that from our engagement with him when I was in office. In fact, if you look at Lachlan Murdoch and the gang of four who each day determine the country’s media agenda – Chris Dore the Editor of The Australian,  “Boris” Whittaker who runs Sky News, Ben English the editor of the Daily Telegraph and Sam Weir the editor of the Brisbane Courier Mail – that’s the oligopoly who seek to direct the course of our national politics each and every day. In fact, they see themselves as the real government of the country, where the country’s elected politicians are their playthings. This is the gang of four which sets the parameters, the tonality and much of the content of our national debate. All four papers are sub-profitable. But they are retained by Murdoch for one reason alone: they are the vehicles of political power.

Murdoch and his editors have also deliberately cultivated an atmosphere of fear in Australia. Debating Murdoch’s power in Australia is effectively off-limits. The reason: politicians, academics, corporates, even journalists and commentators from other news organisations are fearful of their own reputations. They know from experience that Murdoch’s editorial henchmen will come after anyone who has the audacity to challenge them. And they do this simply by shredding their reputation. Murdoch editors see little if any see need to correct the record when they print inaccuracies, or just make stories up, because, after all, who is going to have the guts to challenge them? The Australian Press Council had become Murdoch’s lapdog. That’s why we have such a deafening national silence in this country on the problem which we dare not speak its name: Murdoch.

When did you last read anything in Murdoch critical of John Howard? Or even Abbott. Or  now, even Turnbull? Whereas Murdoch’s standard operating procedure is to do everything possible to delegitimise current and previous Labor leaders through negative “news” articles, commentary, the use of headlines ( conservative Prime Ministers, for example,  are routinely referred to in Murdoch’s papers respectfully as “PM”, while Labor Prime Ministers are routinely referred to by their surnames only),  the careful selection of photos and, of course, good old gossip. These methods have all the hallmarks of a rolling political campaign, against the singular objective of preventing Labor from ever coming to power. The Murdoch machine can no longer be called in independent media organisation, part of the normal checks and balances of a properly functioning democracy. Murdoch is a political player first and foremost, committed to use all necessary means and whatever the cost  to secure a conservative political victory. And in being the great Murdoch enablers, his editors long ago  lost their souls.

My argument to you this evening is that this absolute concentration of media power in Murdoch’s hands now represents a fundamental challenge to the future of our democracy. And unless we deal with this effectively, then all other policy debates we seek to have about our country’s future – the economy, social justice, climate change, the future of the republic, the constitutional recognition of an indigenous voice, our place in a region the world given China’s rise  –  are fundamentally compromised. And this does deep and enduring damage to the democracy itself.

The Problem of the Faux Left

But Murdoch’s far right agenda is not the only problem for those committed to a politically sustainable, progressive vision for Australia’s future. The other part of the problem is the faux left. The sad fact is that there is nothing that the faux left enjoy more than ripping a Labor Party or a Labor government apart. Labor’s crime: failing to live up to the high ideals of the progressive political cause, at least as defined by the self-same, self-serving faux left commentariat.

Indeed, there is a perverse psychology at play on the part of a number of so-called left progressive commentators which compels them to demonstrate that they are pure. Whereas  those of us who engage in active hand-to-hand combat in centre left politics against the right and the far right are, by definition, impure and have fallen from grace. It’s part of a wider psychosis on the part of elements of the armchair left that always prefers to eat its own rather than attack the conservatives. In this chic-left view of the world, Labor governments must deliver either one hundred percent of the progressive reform agenda, because after all Labor is supposed to believe in these things. Whereas from the safety of the armchair view of progressive politics, as they recline comfortably in it, it’s assumed that because the conservatives have never believed in the progressive cause, then what’s the point in ripping into them at all?

Indeed, In this self-same bourgeois left view of the world, such practical matters as the need to build a political constituency to support the passage of sustainable progressive reform by appealing to the centre, and sometimes even to the right, is ridiculed as backsliding, or worse, absolute political capitulation. Rather than part of the essential business of politics to entrench progressive reform for the long term through majoritarian government. So whether it’s marriage equality, asylum-seekers, climate change, poverty, homelessness, foreign aid, or human rights, unless in this view Labor governments agree to deliver the totality of the Green left’s definition of the progressive agenda, we are written off as political weaklings lacking the courage of our convictions. Whereas the conservatives are given a leave pass because they don’t know any better because we had no expectations of them to begin with.

We see this psychology in parts of the ABC where the Green Party is often covered as  the political co-equal of the Labor party. And where the ABC is so terrified of funding cuts from the conservatives that they will often bend over backwards to attack Labor in order to be seen by the Liberals as balanced. But always comfortable in the assumption that a Labor incumbency will never cut ABC funding, and in fact will only enhance it. Which, indeed, we do.

Of course, in fashioning a progressive vision for the nation’s future, it’s easy to write a script which the Green Party would be delighted by. But the Green Party has zero interest in forming a government of Australia. When they have had a chance to be constructive political partners with reformist Labor governments in the past, they’ve elected instead to skewer us by voting with the conservatives in the Senate, on the spurious grounds that Labor’s proposed reform program was not reformist enough. My government’s emissions trading scheme, or the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, represents a major example of this. This was voted down twice in the Senate through  the combined votes of the Green Party and the Liberals. Had the Green Party not done that a decade ago, we would now be one decade into a carbon price and we’d be having  a debate today about which of the older coal mines in this country would be closing down as a consequence of the economy gradually adjusting to a lower carbon future. But that was rendered impossible because the Green Party chose to become the coalition partner of the conservatives, arguing that we in the Labor government were not progressive enough.

Being a mainstream progressive party seeking to form progressive government in this country can be a lonely business. Vilified by the hard right, although the right, you will notice, will always lionise their own, as they have done with Howard and Abbott. And then cannibalised by the faux left who literally prefer to eat their own. The heroes of the left, if we look at political history, like Whitlam, are almost all dead. When in office they too were demonised as sell-outs to the right. This happened with Gough. It certainly happened with Hawkie. And it certainly happened with PJK.

The right wing commentariat for a range of reasons – ideological, personal and purely social – always want their own team of political miscreants in power. However politically wacky they might be – think Abbott. However ideologically impure they might be from a right-wing perspective – think Turnbull. Or however messianically driven they may think they are – think Morrison. Nonetheless the right will almost always lionise their own. By contrast, the faux left  prefer to eat their own. Much of the left commentariat would prefer an eternal seminar on how we have failed to win power. Or if we happen to win power, give a thousand reasons why we are undeserving of winning. Whereas the conservatives just want to win because for them, power is all-important.  The faux left offers a curious form of psychosis of which Freud, if he was still with us, would have had much to say.

However, the reason for discussing this question at some length tonight goes beyond an interest in the underlying psychology of much of our national politics. It also goes to the different levels of public expectation of the major political parties of the right and the left in our country today.

The Problem of the Progressive Centre

The political right, for example, are expected to deliver on basic security and economic stability, with a tolerably minimum of social provision. Anything beyond that is seen as a generous bonus, an unexpected benefit, almost a form of political noblesse oblige.

The left, by contrast, are expected to provide the same security and the same economic stability as the right, while also deploying equal political vigour to the provision of social justice, environmental protection as well as an innovative international policy balancing, in our case, the U.S. alliance, the region, the United Nations and the rest.

Whereas the far left, that is the Green Party, represent a constituency which have little interest in security and the economy, at best a partial interest in a structural approach to social justice, concentrating instead on the environment and selective international concerns, to the virtual exclusion of all others. This reflects the fact that ultimately the Green Party is the politics of protest, with not even a marginal interest in forming long-term, progressive government.

In other words, under the political equivalent of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the conservatives are ultimately expected to deliver on only the most basic of Maslow’s needs. And if they do, they pass and get a big tick. Whereas we of the centre-left are expected to cover the total spectrum, otherwise we fail. And as for the far left, tilting at windmills is all that matters, because gesture politics focused on the tip of the Maslowian hierarchy is all they are judged on, without ever attending to the base of the pyramid. The far-left know that they can never be elected. But as noted above, that doesn’t really matter. That’s not what they are  interested in.

Deep structural tensions inevitably emerge, therefore, when a progressive party tries to address the full range of policy needs across Maslow’s hierarchy. It’s why Labor inevitably finds itself in political trouble both to its right and its left. It’s also why the Labor Party is structurally correct when it says that the expectations on it in government are invariably higher than those for the conservatives – ie protecting the base of the pyramid, while also advancing the rest, from social justice, to climate, to refugees.

That’s before we add the additional reporting bias of the Murdoch media whose strategic interest lies in the continuing delegitimisation of Labor – on the one hand by magnifying conservative attacks from the right against Labor for going too far to be economically responsible, or jeopardising national security. While on the other hand, reporting with equal delight the chic-left’s attack on Labor as well for not going far enough to be either just or fair. In other words, they get you both coming and going.

In fact, the Murdoch media, aided and abetted by significant elements of the faux left commentariat, delight in this rolling pincer movement against the legitimacy of the Labor Party. It underlines why Labor must take on its adversaries on both flanks. If we are to prevail in our efforts to provide an effective progressive vision driven from the reforming centre of the nation, our political and policy challenge, by definition, will always be more complex than for the conservatives. and infinitely more difficult than for the Green Party.

The Particular Problem of the ABC

I’ve spoken about the Murdoch right. I’ve spoken about what I’ve described as the faux left. And where these realities leave parties of the reforming progressive centre. But that leads us to the particular challenges facing the ABC. The ABC has become even more important in providing the single, remaining neutral political commons though which to have a long-term conversation about our nation’s future.

But what have the conservatives now done with the ABC? Our government legislated in 2012 through the ABC Amendment Act, for there to be an independent panel which would in turn recommend a slate of potential appointees for appointment to the ABC Board. The position of the chairperson of the board, under the Act, was to to be nominated by the same process as well. Our whole intention was to depoliticise the ABC as an important national institution for our democracy. And for the record, our government did not make a single political appointment to the ABC board.

The conservatives, however, notwithstanding the existence of the Act, in more than half of the appointments to the current ABC Board, have chosen to ignore the recommendations of the independent panel. So the ABC, quite apart from the usual conservative assault on its funding base, as well as the usual rolling attacks on its very existence by Murdoch, also continues to be politicised from within. And all in defiance of the ABC Reform Act of 2012.

The Need For a Royal Commission

The time has come for a full Royal Commission into the ownership and operation of the media in this country. Murdoch has too much power. Nine, now under the Chairmanship of Peter Costello, has taken over Fairfax, the last mentioning independent masthead in the country. The ABC is under systemic attack. Social media offers no credible alternative as a common, neutral platform for any form of national political conversation. And so, the democracy itself becomes progressively debased.

The Integrity and Effectiveness of our Political Parties

On the nature of the major parties themselves, there has been much debate recently about political donations. The danger for us all is that parties are effectively bought by special interest groups. Or that their policies are bought.

In 2009, my government, recommended by then Special Minister of State John Faulkner, legislated for a comprehensive package of changes and reforms to Australian campaign donation laws. These would have banned all forms of foreign donations to political parties. They would have also capped the level of contributions by any individual to any Australian election campaign. That legislation was voted down twice by Malcolm Turnbull. So when the conservatives complain about the door being left ajar for various people to make dubious donations to Australian political parties, no one should forget the conservatives absolute hypocrisy on this score.

Second, the reform program of 2009, in my judgment, now needs to be taken further. Australia should implement the full range of reforms embraced by the government of Canada under a conservative government on of the future of financial donations to political parties. For example, in Canada today the limit for an individual contribution to a political party is $1,500. The overall limit to a person’s individual contribution of their own campaign is $15,000. And most importantly, the overall ceiling that can be spent on a campaign within an individual constituency is $280,000. And the limit on the political party’s expenditure levels within each electorate is $119,000. There are also limits on third-party contributions. This is the set of reforms which we need here. But to make the Canadian democracy work, Canada’s electoral laws also mandate that the media companies of the country provide open free time for each of the principal political parties to explain their message to Canadian people.

Unless we begin to embrace reform of that radical nature in Australia, we are running a risk of our democracies being bought. Do not underestimate the singular impact of Clive Palmer spending $60 million on exclusively negative ads against the Australian Labor Party, particularly in Queensland and Western Australia, during the last campaign. That would not be possible were we to implement the Canadian reform program.

If we were to implement such a reform program in Australia, the transformational impact these reforms would have on our mainstream political parties would be to turn them once again into viable, effective grassroots organisations dealing with communities at local levels across the country. Rather than the professional political war-fighting machines they have become.

The Independence of the Public Service

What of our other national institutions that from critical parts of the fabric of our democracy?  This brings into stark relief the independence of the civil service. Its professionalism. And its future.

First, anyone who has been a member of a cabinet will confirm that ministers rely on frank, fearless and well-informed public policy advice about how to solve the problems of the day. The notion that political parties in themselves are complete repositories of such knowledge, as reflected in their pre-election manifestos, is pure nonsense. Furthermore, the truth is many ministers are not policy-literate. They need their civil servants.

Second, incoming governments require the professional expertise of civil servants to effectively implement public policy programs. Very few incoming ministers have a clue about the nature of public administration, or the actual delivery of programs on the ground.

Third, governments also need senior civil servants who across their ranks have institutional history. Otherwise governments are without memory. And that can be dangerous.

Against these criteria, I am concerned by Morrison’s most recent address to the public service where he said that the public service’s  job was  to attend to middle Australia; that we  the political class are those in charge; that we politicians know that public servants think that you know what is best for the country, except that they don’t, because we the political class have a unique ear for the voice of the Australian public. This of course is all politically self-serving codswallop.

The bottom line is that it’s intended to send a meta message to the Australian public service: Be afraid. Be very afraid. Because if you think that you can provide robust, frank, fearless and independent advice to us, the message I’m sending to you is that it’s not welcome because we already know best. And in case public servants have not got the message, the growing record of political appointments to government departments is there as a warning to all.

It is passing strange, indeed ironic, that we in the Australian Labor Party have become  the conservative defenders of public service tradition in this country. We made no political appointments ourselves to the public service in office. And we retained the public service appointees we inherited from the previous Howard Government. Our mission was to re-professionalise the APS, to restore its  independence, indeed to rebuild Westminster.

We also allowed Howard Government political appointees to diplomatic posts to serve out the full term of their appointments. And we appointed some conservatives ourselves abroad. And to statutory bodies at home. Something the subsequent government has totally repudiated. They see the spoils of office as theirs alone to dispense, rather than using Australians of all political walks of life to serve the national interest.

Conclusion

Whether it is the nature of the Australian media, whether it is the integrity of our political parties on the question of campaign donations, or whether it’s the apolitical nature of our national institutions, the overall fabric of our democracy is under deep structural challenge.

But when I also begin to see some writers in the national right-wing media, invoking as Henry Ergas did recently in the pages of The Australian, Carl Schmitt, a German political writer from the Weimar Republic of the 1920’s, implying that liberal democracies may find they may need a period of “temporary dictatorship” in order to solve otherwise irresolvable public policy problems, I believe  we  have begun to enter  a truly frightening debate about our democratic future.

I’m accustomed to such ideas lolling around out there among the lunar right. But when I start to see such ideas finding their way into more mainstream right-wing media platforms, such as the Murdoch broadsheet which describes itself as the national daily, I begin to become much more concerned. Has it now become acceptable, and even fashionable, for the right to begin publicly debating the future utility of democracy itself?  Are they looking over their shoulder to the rising authoritarian challenge from China, Russia and elsewhere, arguing we now need more “robust” forms of governance ourselves to meet these challenges?

If so, we suddenly have found ourselves in a brave new world indeed. If so, where have our values gone? If so, what has happened to the democratic identity we have fashioned for ourselves as Australians over the last 150 years of our settled history? These are troubling questions indeed. To which the progressive centre left now has a fundamental responsibility to respond  – and in force.