Like all healthy relationships, consent between the state and the individual needs to be active and expressly given. The onus is on politicians and bureaucrats to prove to us on a perpetual basis why we should surrender our income and our freedom.
There is no natural right for the government to have power over the individual, let alone for any individuals with power under any governance structure to assume higher status or exclusive privileges. To assume that power is to assume the birthright of kings, despots, and tyrants, not functioning democracies where citizens’ rights are equal and paramount. The state has a responsibility to maintain the social contract as much as the citizen has an obligation to comply.
We express an intention through the ballot box and believe and trust that the people we elect at all levels of government, along with the administrators of these systems, will adhere to a code of conduct that prioritises our wishes and our needs in the most rational fashion possible.
Are our federal and state governments trusted managers? The economic catastrophe slowly unfolding in the state; the destruction of faith in the police, the health system, the education system, the judiciary, and the parliament for large swathes of a disenfranchised population give this question increasing legitimacy.
This is not simply aimed at the Labour party but at the entire expensive edifice of the administrative state. From rulings in parliamentary hearings in Victoria where “creeping assumptions” were blamed for departmental and political failures, to federal bureaucrat Michael Pezzullo determining Federal policy, we have seen enough to know that our system is sick and in decline.
Victorian politicians awarded themselves and their allies pay rises during a time when many were out of work, losing their businesses, struggling to eat, and struggling to make sense of the immense changes being inflicted on our society.
Politics and the very infrastructure of the state has become a separate parasitic system with its own rules for joining, where power and influence is wielded only by those in an exclusive club, and it’s not one based on merit or the wishes of the voters.
From private schools and the arts or business faculties of our universities across the state, the pathway to political and corporate power is clear. The union movement that once acted as a counterweight against those forces, is now in partnership with them.
One example is the superannuation industry in Australia. It is a multi-trillion-dollar industry of immense size and importance. Industry funds with billions to invest reserve senior positions on boards for union officials and their investments into asset classes does more than blur the lines of power given that Australia’s largest super fund is 50% owned by the ACTU.
The interests of the workers, the managerial class and the state need to act in balance against one another but here they converge- they all want high returns. Are investments by these funds being made into industries that have the right kind of social, environmental, and progressive equity that a traditional union supporter would recognise?
The media are from the same class of student and across these industries and political parties the people are for the most part interchangeable. Anyone who has spent time between the back bar of Parliament and the John Curtin pub opposite the ACTU building will tell you- the conversations are the same. The suits and costumes may change from collar and tie to hardhat and high vis but the stench of self-interest overrides the fragrance of pots of draught and Coonawarra Shiraz in both parties.
We have witnessed a massive transfer of wealth and power over the past few years with Labour governments across the country just as culpable as the Liberals. Consolidation has taken place across a wide array of industries as small companies go out of business at a fast rate and bigger, unionised companies centralise power in the hands of a few on both sides of the political aisle. Small businesses used to be the economic powerhouse of Australia and they have long been abandoned by all political parties.
The social, economic, and political fallout from Labour and Liberals’ actions during this period will reverberate for a long time and is ongoing. As insolvencies continue to increase in Australia, along with mortality rates, the media continues to ignore or suppress the proposition that you cannot lock countries down for three years without consequences and blame issues on foreign adventures, climate change or greed.
We are now under a matrix of governance that is more comprehensive, more sophisticated in its use of technology and thus more effective than even Orwell or Huxley could have predicted.
From increasingly expensive and granular traffic camera offences to workplace dismissal for refusing to take a vaccination or the inability to pay council fees in person across Victoria, one of the more defining features of the dystopian system is just how boring it is. A state where your public infrastructure is privately managed: VicRoads is privately run, Amazon web services store your data, private companies like Mastercard are developing digital ID systems and Microsoft runs the digital security state for the government. Ernst and Young or KPMG audit and virtually run government departments and local councils implement United Nations agendas.
Do we truly have an independent media, holding power accountable and seeking the truth? On the available evidence the answer is a vehement no. People arguing for or against the Murdoch Media and the ABC are missing the point; they’re as bad as each other.
Victoria is facing crisis across a range of areas, but we can’t tell with sufficient clarity what is going on: secrecy within government has never been more extreme. From the ABS to local councils, data is being withheld and manipulated; and that’s just where it can be accessed. For the most part, the government has either ceased collecting relevant information, has outsourced the service to a private contractor and claims commercial confidence, or simply refuses to release data.
Does anyone really believe that the most urgent thing facing Victoria right now is a train line from Cheltenham to Box Hill? Issues surrounding the cost of living, homelessness, a dysfunctional health and education system will be improved by being able to eat in Box Hill and train to Cheltenham where you can catch a bus to the beach.
The media and the state government are pushing the notion that we need new CBD centres while the old ones- the Hoddle grid and the Docklands precinct are dying slow deaths due to poor planning and poor management. Where is the economic rationale, the urban planning reports and the professionals that back this program. Where is the public assessment?
More so, who owns, or did own, the land that will either be compulsorily acquired (or has been already) or will enjoy significant gains in capital uplift along that line and in those areas? Why has no daily news organisation looked at these issues? What are the plans for urban development in these areas and in this corridor?
When we have people in our communities that are struggling to eat but we’re building massive roads there is an issue that needs to be resolved. In some council areas residents have been locked out of meetings and I recently saw an article that suggested local community organisations proposing candidates for local elections were a “threat to democracy”.
The imposition of a digital and biometric ID system is not going to make this better. Our representative democratic system has been turned against us. As the administration of government increasingly seems dysfunctional, we’re heading towards a system that is not prioritising the natural health and well-being of its citizens.
Intrusions into previously held space- bodily autonomy or freedom of speech- are the most obvious areas but there are a multitude of other sins being committed. People have been arrested for what they post on social media, and people are no longer free to express what they believe to be true- from gender identity and international politics and vaccines- without being censured or excluded. The self-policing state is an achievement in paranoia, and a demonstration in a lack of independent thought and a failure of this country’s intellectual gatekeepers.
The government is using the process as punishment in several arenas. Individuals who dissent in opinion only are being punished by having licences to practice taken away (doctors and lawyers and other professions) and the court and appeals system is weaponised against them- protracted hearings are expensive and stressful. Children are being denied lifesaving treatment due to their vaccination status.
It is cheaper in Australia to own a fast-food store than a café selling fresh and healthy food. From labour costs to the purchasing of materials the scale is tipped in favour of the fast food by award rates, GST imbalances on fresh food sales and increasing pressure on real estate through inflationary policies, land taxes, and council rates that push property owners to keep lifting rents pricing out small business operators. These are government policies.
The planning system is broken for anyone under a certain development size. The number of rules and regulations being enforced by building surveyors has increased to a point of ridiculousness. Timing delays on small projects across the state have blown out, running projects into the ground, escalating costs and generally halting or slowing down development.
We asked the state’s planning department, the Victorian Building Authority and the Architects registration board and several councils to comment but they declined to provide any information, any comment, any assistance, or any insight. Notably no denials either. Anecdotal evidence from builders, homeowners, architects and property developers all say the same thing. The system is broken.
The flow-on impact is in the housing market where no one really seems to know what is happening. There are reports of housing shortages and a simultaneous slowdown of housing projects and the collapse of construction companies. There is a slowdown in sales and high rental vacancies in some areas, while rental prices in some areas are increasing rapidly and other segments of the market are doing very well.
One developer told me that anything finished is selling well- if the purchaser has nothing to do with council or builders the price is up. Government is not reporting facts directly anymore so who knows what’s going on while migration is predicted to hit massive numbers of the next couple of years and the government’s plan so far seems to be to build high-tech, high-rise slums in new urban corridors.
The court system is the same. There are reports of proceedings being held up due to the registrar taking a day off work with no replacement scheduled (in the Melbourne Magistrate’s Court) and documents being unable to be issued consequently. Delays in application processes, delays in hearing dates, additional rules being imposed, poor decisions being made by incompetent chairs at liquor licensing, incompetent prosecutors, self-interested counsel all causing appeals, delays and additional costs are a feature of the new world order.
The magistrates court, the Attorney General’s office, the licensing commission, VCAT and the law institute were all asked to provide comment and insight, all failed to respond. Anecdotal evidence from lawyers, applicants and supplicants complains of poor timing, senseless prosecutions, waste of resources, poor decisions that are easily appealable and a lack of reasonableness in government departments.
One solicitor I spoke to said that there is very little distinction left between court officials, police and bureaucrats now. He said that they all are on the working on same team and the lines have been more than blurred in most cases- they have been destroyed.
Daniel Andrews’ fashion of employing former senior police figures within his command structure set a precedent in lower levels and there is now a common pathway in the Victorian bureaucracy for promotion from Victoria Police and other statutory bodies into the Premier’s Office and other senior areas of the government. From Blueshirts to Hugo Boss in under ten years. I wonder where we’ve seen that progression before?
A trend, one notes, that continues at the top where the exit from politics or the bureaucracy is into corporate Australia.
As Rita Banerjee has reported in these pages previously, all these are the hallmarks of a system unable to manage the power and responsibilities it has assumed for itself.
The same issues are prevalent throughout the health system. The digital disruption is concurrent with physical: roadworks, major works, minor works, speed restrictions, new bike lanes (with no bikes) all contribute to a traffic system that seems designed to slow, obstruct and delay.
Policy agendas are prioritised rather than efficient delivery of simple systems and manipulation of the public is considered a reasonable action within the halls of power, even at council level it is a common discussion. PR and communication roles are not about clear communication of fact but selective interpretation and spin.
From local councils to the courts, planning department or liquor licensing and traffic fines the plan is to have one system that administers it. Currently the system uses driver’s licenses, phone numbers and Medicare IDs to track you through the public and private system.
There are intelligence systems across all or many departments of the bureaucracy that link all this data on a state level with your social media activity, and who knows how much deeper the Federal government system goes but if you were to suggest banking, travel and emails as a starting point I imagine you’d just be scratching the surface of what the state can do.
We are in a place that we cannot claim to have seen before. The might and awesome power of technology and global corporations and intelligence systems are lined up to maximise our value and minimise our interruption to their world.
The binary avenues we are presented with offer little to escape the rat race and the personal transformation required to fight and resist is almost too much for most of us to contemplate. There are enough shining examples of humanity’s fundamental decency and desire to improve not just our own lot in life but those of our neighbours and if you can switch off the noise for a bit you might just hear them speak.