8 August 2003

Two good speeches

Ideas to save our withering democracy

Reliance on donations may also create a strong inducement for political parties to bias their policies toward business and high income earners who provide the bulk of the funding, thus conspicuously undermining the promise of democracy that we all share equally in political power. The threat by the mining industry earlier this week that they would withdraw campaign contributions to both major parties unless they made changes to native title and other policies indicates just how blatant the exercise of such influence has become.

As I have said elsewhere, I believe it is time to reign in the exponential growth of corporate donations and to curtail the proliferation of content free, coercive media advertising that passes for policy debate during elections. The retention of public funding of elections should be accompanied by measures to limit the size of individual private donations to $1500, or thereabouts, and to proscribe any donations from corporations and large organisations. An extension of free-to-air radio and television could accompany these changes.

There are other reasons to scale down paid political advertising, particularly given the increasing tendency of Australian parties to emulate the negative tactics of our American cousins. As many have suggested, such advertising is one of the corrosive influences in our political system. To paraphrase an analogy used by Paul Simon:

'If Qantas ran regular 30 second commercials saying 'Don't fly Virgin Blue and showed a plane crashing into Mt Kosiosko and Virgin Blue ran a similar commercial showing a plane blowing up and urging travellers not to fly Qantas, it would not be very long before fear of flying became endemic.'

This is an extract from a speech given at the University of WA in Perth last night by Dr Carmen Lawrence, MHR and former premier of Western Australia, who is a candidate for the ALP presidency.

The President's Ideologically Narrow Agenda has Seriously Divided America...

The Bush Administration routinely shows disrespect for that whole basic process, and I think it's partly because they feel as if they already know the truth and aren't very curious to learn about any facts that might contradict it. They and the members of groups that belong to their ideological coalition are true believers in each other's agendas.

There are at least a couple of problems with this approach:

First, powerful and wealthy groups and individuals who work their way into the inner circle -- with political support or large campaign contributions -- are able to add their own narrow special interests to the list of favored goals without having them weighed against the public interest or subjected to the rule of reason. And the greater the conflict between what they want and what's good for the rest of us, the greater incentive they have to bypass the normal procedures and keep it secret.

That's what happened, for example, when Vice President Cheney invited all of those oil and gas industry executives to meet in secret sessions with him and his staff to put their wish lists into the administration's legislative package in early 2001.

That group wanted to get rid of the Kyoto Treaty on Global Warming, of course, and the Administration pulled out of it first thing. The list of people who helped write our nation's new environmental and energy policies is still secret, and the Vice President won't say whether or not his former company, Halliburton, was included. But of course, as practically everybody in the world knows, Halliburton was given a huge open-ended contract to take over and run the Iraqi oil fields-- without having to bid against any other companies.

Secondly, when leaders make up their minds on a policy without ever having to answer hard questions about whether or not it's good or bad for the American people as a whole, they can pretty quickly get into situations where it's really uncomfortable for them to defend what they've done with simple and truthful explanations. That's when they're tempted to fuzz up the facts and create false impressions. And when other facts start to come out that undermine the impression they're trying to maintain, they have a big incentive to try to keep the truth bottled up if -- they can -- or distort it.

Extract from speech by Former US Vice President Al Gore to MoveOn.org New York University August 7, 2003

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