Modia Minotaur

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

But Is It Democracy?

I'm going to make myself very unpopular by putting on record that I was probably one of the few Sydneysiders who was actually somewhat disappointed by today's announcement that the NSW Government is putting its planned desalination plant on ice, after discovering a two larger than expected aquifers, one in the Nepean and another near Kangaloon.

Let me say right off the bat that I'm no champion of desalination - but, on the other hand, I was no vociferous opponent of it either, but unlike many people, I did a bit of research, and concluded that as a method of water re-use, the proposed method - not evaporation as commonly believed, but reverse osmosis - is not much more energy hungry than most forms of water recycling. On balance, I thought the idea was OK but not brilliant, and certainly not the disastrous, poisonous evil that many made it out to be. The idea that a swathe would be cut through virgin bushland and the rock that Captain Cook stood on to declare Australia a European colony smashed in two was just laughable - anyone who has been to Kurnell recently will know that as far as desolate industrial wastelands go, a large desalination plant would be positively picturesque. As I blogged many moons ago, the Sutherland Shire Council's opposition to the whole plan is also a bit rich, as their notoriously itchy development finger has been waiting to trigger in that area for ages.

What annoyed me is the majority of people who opposed desalination, when pressed, would admit that had not bothered to weigh up the evidence, to enquire, or to do anything other than say `I've heard it's no good so I don't like it' and leave it at that. Some had done their homework and come to different conclusions than me. Obviously, they're perfectly entitled to do so. However, the level of pure ignorance simply frustrated and annoyed me. The fact that the idea was sold so poorly from the start did not help, but on the other hand, I challenge anyone who attended the notorious desalination workshop at Marrickville to admit that they went with an open mind, rather than to stonewall.

Don't get me wrong. Our duty as a public (not to mention as bloggers) is to enquire into our governments and ensure the service and governance they deliver us is of the best quality possible, and to kick up a good old stink when it isn't. But uninformed debate is worthless. I am, of course, speaking as an activist who has participated in campaigning on various issues - I spent a good proportion, as did a lot of my readers, I imagine, trying to persuade the Howard Government that WorkChoices was a lousy idea. There can be no better example of an informed debate - we had reams of evidence of the economic and social impact of the WorkChoices legislation (which, as we all know, has still not been rebutted by the Federal Government with anything resembling a proper economic case for the legislation). The reasoning against the legislation was sound and diverse. And, as we all know, it was ignored. Australian political scientist Murray Goot has an interesting essay on the extent to which John Howard follows (or is perceived to follow) public opinion, and opinion polling, and suggests in it that although Howard is seen to listen to the people, he often flies in the face of public opinion. But he also makes the important point that `public opinion' is a slippery concept. Basing policy decisions solely on polling, or on what Alan Jones and his listeners are complaining about today, is not democracy.

The whole desalination affair - from start to finish - asks a number of questions about the nature of modern democracy. To my mind - and to the mind of many political scientists - the great dilemma of the modern age is the democratic deficit: the disparity in our heads between our idealised perception of Ancient Greek democracy versus the paradoxically hands-off nature of James Madisonian representative democracy, in which one person - whom we may not have personally voted for and may even be ideologically opposed to - makes representations on our behalf.

So, we have our representatives. How do they best serve our interests - by making good decisions on our behalf or shifting ground whenever a decision they make seems unpopular? As a pure hypothetical - twenty years down the track, if Sydney really did run out of water, would the same people who are today celebrating the shelving of the desalination plant be braying for the blood of the then-NSW Government for `not building the desalination plant when it should have been built'?

As I can't find the magnificent quote I hoped to use as a case in point from Paul Keating's oft-quoted Placido Domingo speech, I shall instead quote from Scott Stephens' very worthwhile article on Mark Latham from Crikey this week - the only serious article to address the first anniversary of the former Labor leader's departure from the top job:
And here we have democracy at its worst. Democratic politics is authentic only during a genuine moment of indecision, a well-nigh paralysis over what choice is the right one, that moment when the full weight of the importance of the decision, on the one hand, and our incapacity to make it, on the other, achieves awareness in us. Conversely, democracy is never more loathsome than when we take our stupidity and fickleness for virtues, believing that the democratic process will always ‘land on its feet' and that the collective substance of ‘the people' is greater than our diminished capacity as individuals.

In other words, we must trust our politicians to stand up to us when we are whinging and give in to us when we have a valid point. I hope the NSW Government have made the right decision, because they seem to have been doing too much giving in lately. True, it has an election to win, but good governance is not always about popularity. Again, this is something Keating knew - some would argue it was his downfall - but to again quote Mr Stephens:
Keating knew that the task of any great politician is to wage war against his own people, to drive them to achieve something other than themselves. What if we don't need different politicians, but different Australians? As Bertolt Brecht put it in 1953, the most difficult, but necessary task of all is "to dissolve a people and elect another."

13 Comments:

At 11:00 am, Anonymous Guy said...

Yeah, good post, and it's a difficult question. I'm not sure that the question of polling was as big as everyone seems to be making it out to be... Joe Punter probably doesn't really give two hoots at the end of the day about desalination vs. water recycling.

I am with you when you suggest that desal was always "okay", but probably never the best idea doing the rounds. I am also concerned about the backflips we have observed on a range of issues from the government.

When will the government start forging new policies instead of just jettisoning off old ones that it seemed to be a little skittish about? The clock's certainly ticking.

 
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At 9:29 am, Blogger نور القمر said...


طرق كشف تسربات المياه بالرياض

طرق الكشف عن تسربات المياه التقليدية من الطرق السيئة التى تحتاج الى الكسر والتبليط وتحتاج الى الكثير من الوقت والجهد والاموال لذلك قررت شركتنا ان تعتمد على افضل الالات والاجهزة المميزة التى تساعد فى التعرف على مكان التسرب من خلال افضل الاجهزة فيقوم العاملين بالتحرك بالجهاز المميز والتى يساعد فى التعرف على مكان التسرب فى اقل وقت ممكن فالجهاز يصدر ذبذبات يساعد فى القيام بالتعرف على مكان التسرب
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حيث شركتنا تتميز باداء الخدمه علي افضل وجهه حيث نعد شركه رش مبيدات بالطائف
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At 9:17 am, Blogger khaled ali said...

حيث نحن نعتبر اهم وافضل الشركات بالعالم وبالاخص المملكه العربيه السعوديه حيث شركتنا تتميز بحسن اداء العماله الخدمه اذ كانت هذه الخدمه تنظيف, او رش مبيدات لمكافحه الحشرات او كشف تسربات المياه ,او تنظيف الخزان للحفاظ علي سلامتك انت وعائلتك
عند الدخول الي موقعنا فانك بعالم الامان فلا تقلق ايها العميل نحن نضمن لك خدمه عاليه علي اكمل وجهه
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شركة تسليك مجارى بخميس مشيط
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