A conference delegate looks for a way in to the conference. Picture: Jake Nowakowski
A conference delegate looks for a way in to the conference. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

Mining protesters have forgotten what democracy looks like

The most important question arising from the disgraceful and violent protests against a convention of mining and extractive industries in Melbourne was a simple one: what is happening to democracy in Australia?

Answering that question requires a clear definition of what democracy is, and what it rests on.

I was convinced early in my career that democracy should be defined as discussion. This word can best be unpacked using synonyms. Consider the following: debate, an exchange of views, dialogue, conversation, non divisive civilised discourse, and an agreement to agree and disagree. Democracy involves all of these styles of communication and interactions. But all are increasingly absent, not only from politics, but in the broader society.

Climate change activists blockaded the IMARC conference at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre. Picture: Jake Nowakowski
Climate change activists blockaded the IMARC conference at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

This has not always been the case. Many people will remember the east parklands where a motley collection of people stood on soap boxes and lectured the assembled and willingly interactive crowd. It was fun, interesting, often confronting, with constant verbal reaction, but never dominated by the bitterness and invective which characterises modern so-called discussion.

These days, those who engage themselves in identity politics and virtue signalling give the clear impression that they are not interested in being involved in a discussion. They obviously have clearly defined beliefs and attitudes, and leave the impression that only they have the right to be heard. This is obsessive and self-righteous, based essentially on a self-belief which rejects any consideration of other opinions.

Climate change activists blockade the IMARC conference at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre. Picture: Jake Nowakowski
Climate change activists blockade the IMARC conference at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

Political correctness is a corollary to this. The true believers totally reject any other form of discourse. Discussions of topics such as race, religion, sex, and gender are usually exclusive to those with a certain set of beliefs, and any other interpretations are rejected out of hand. As such, any semblance of pragmatism and considering another point of view are taken to be wholly unacceptable.

These matters have a resonance with some components of current arguments about freedom of speech. Those absolutely committed to an ideology or belief are supportive of freedom of speech only if it conforms with their beliefs They do not respect any concept of a freedom of opinion.

The disappointing tendency for our elected politicians to focus their style on shouting at each other and being determined to win at any cost, can be judged by the voters.

Recent polling on the basis of trust has shown an increasing proportion of voters are demanding change.

But what is happening in the wider society involves a series of attempts to weaken, if not abolish the core component of discussion in our democracy. It must be resisted.

Dean Jaensch is a columnist for the Adelaide Advertiser.


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