How much did you pay for that democracy sausage?

Politics & democracy, activism

In Australia, we have a rather odd tradition of collecting a free sausage drowned in tomato sauce (ketchup for our OS friends) wrapped in plain tasteless white bread, right after we cast our vote in elections. No one knows exactly how this tradition started, however voting in our elections is compulsory, so it may be our way of saying sorry for the forced participation.

Or maybe its a way to make us all complicit in the dirty art of politics, you vote and we'll give you a sausage. The fossil fuel industry gives campaign donations, and they get approvals for climate killing coal mines. The gambling industry pays kickbacks (sorry royalties) on gambling profits and remains untouched by regulation despite its massive social toll. You scratch my back, i'll scratch yours.

An Australian democracy sausage.

Its a dirty game (and a messy one too when that sauce runs down your arm), but has it always been like this? Australia, once one of the more liberal democracies in the world, has in the past 20 or so years become one of its most conservative and secretive. We are  increasingly the pariah of the world when it coms to climate action, we've passed laws that outlaw protest in some states, and introduced privacy and hacking laws that would make the East German Stasi blush.

Why has Aussie democracy gone to the dogs? In a word, money. And the policies and culture that enable cashed up companies and individuals to buy access, and favours, from our politicians – both in secret (protected by confidentiality laws, and at times against the law) and in increasingly unethical ways, in full view of the voting public.

Do Gooder, and the progressive civil society legends who build movements and lobby politicians on our platform, operate on a core assumption. That our democracies around the world, imperfect as they are, still function as a representative voice of the citizenry. That if we lobby hard enough, with enough clarity, and with numbers that cannot be ignored, we will be heard and, ultimately change will happen.

A scene from Big Deal - Is our democracy for sale? Streaming on ABC iview

But what if we're now at the point where that is no longer the case? What if we're living in an Alice in Wonderland version of democracy where things look kind of like they used too, but in fact the rules no longer apply?

In his new documentary Big Deal (streaming on ABC iview), Christiaan Van Vuuren (yes, he of Bondi hipster youtube fame) exposes just how far down the rabbit hole Australia has gone. He discovers in many ways, things are worse here  than even in the United States, a place many would assume has no equal when it comes to the dollar buying democratic influence. It turns out the US, while no model democratic citizen, at least has more transparency around political funding (though not quite as much as Robin Williams thought appropriate :)

Christian takes us on a frightening-but-fun roller coaster ride through the issues, and as you might expect concludes that the antidote to concentrated power is (as always) collective action. So it is good to see the team behind Big Deal getting together with the campaigners at Our Democracy to push for a radical rethink of how we allow money to influence politics. Christian also heralds the new inspiring Independent movement that is sweeping the country, showing that their is hope in them there hills, if only we'd climb up them to join in.

Watch the screening, organise others to join you, and put your mouth where your money isn't.

Because Democracy is not a spectator sport, and it shouldn't be a bidder takes all auction either.