Former Greens candidate Iain Lygo has had plenty of arguments with “far-right” (Federal Hansard earlier this year) Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt and after the Murdoch press went feral against the Greens during the federal election campaign, he’s come back for another round.

After every election in Australia, our press love to celebrate the “miracle of democracy”. Voters are praised for their participation, the lack of violence is applauded, the media portray their actions as something noble, and politicians make speeches about humility and honour of representing the Australian people.

Despite the rhetoric, the ugly reality of our democratic process sees the vast majority of Australians tune in to politics a few weeks before election day, and detatch themselves faster than it takes AEC staff to dismantle polling stations.

Rather than a celebration of democracy, the 2004 election highlights the continued decline in the democratic process in this country.

Many social commentators point to five key factors required for a healthy democracy. We need a strong opposition, an independent and fearless media, an engaged public, a series of checks and balances on power, and an honest and accountable government. In this election we have gone backwards in all five categories, and a turn around is unlikely in the near future.

The sustained campaign by the Murdoch tabloids against the Greens should be remembered as one of the most disgraceful misuses of media power ever seen in this country.

The Herald Sun is completely unapologetic about their repeated misrepresentations, beat-ups, exaggerations, and outright lies about Green’s policies, with editor Peter Blunden defending their coverage on ABC radio. When Australia’s dominant media organisation prefers to participate in dirty tricks campaigns rather than investigating them, our democracy is in real trouble.

The Murdoch campaign against the Greens represents everything that is wrong with Australia’s media environment, and with cross-media ownership regulations now under threat we may well see a further concentration of media power in this country. Australians can also expect a continued conservative assault on the ABC and SBS, with further funding cuts and more political interference over the next few years.

The Senate results, assuming the conservatives get 38 seats, will mean the only check or balance in parliament after July 1 2005 is in the hands of the Christian fundamentalist Family First party. This party’s policy document is the ultimate motherhood statement which clearly indicates their deeply homophobic opinions.

How the conservatives deal with Family First is anyone’s guess. How can any government deal with a party whose policy on international treaties is only four paragraphs long and stresses the need to protect our “Judeo Christian Foundations”? An inexperienced senator from a tiny party without any real policies, who only received 45,000 votes, is not a suitable check on executive power.

The other ugly reality for democracy in Australia is the Howard government’s ability to alter the structure of the Senate without a referendum. We may see minor party’s or independent’s chances of gaining a Senate seat in the future virtually eliminated at the stroke
of a pen.

A fundamental assault on democracy of this nature will no doubt be celebrated by many media proprietors who have been frustrated by minor parties in the Senate for decades.

The opposition has also lost the ability to review government actions by establishing Senate committees. There won’t be anymore parliamentary investigations into detention centres, ministerial misconducted, or faulty Iraq war intelligence. The election result can also be described as a mandate to lie. After the WMDs fiasco, the 2004 election result sees many Australians throwing up the white flag on the issue of honesty in government.

In other words political dishonesty is acceptable in Australia as long as interest rates are (relatively) low, GDP is up, and employment figures are strong. When the Australian public rewards a fundamentally dishonest government, they can only expect increased dishonesty in the future.

When it comes to a strong opposition, after eight and a half years, the ALP has gone backwards. When people were in the streets protesting about the Iraq war, Labor was in the political wilderness. Due to political infighting in the ALP, a failure of the fourth estate, and inward looking voters, the Liberal’s were not punished in any way over their handling of Iraq.

Despite running a reasonably positive campaign, Labor was punished for two years of infighting and political inactivity. Blaming the Liberal’s interest rates scare campaign will see another loss on 2007. The other obvious feature of the 2004 election is the Australian public are sick of campaigning by press release, stunts, and media advertising.

Australian democracy is fundamentally undermined by negative, presidential-style campaigns where leaders go from one political event event to another, distancing themselves from the public at all costs.

This style of campaigning costs vast sums of money and favours incumbents. We may well be entering an era where the party with the biggest war chest wins every time, and incumbents can attract huge political donations while the opposition struggles for funding.

In an era of vending machine governance and where political donations are thinly-veiled bribes, what corporation would financially back a powerless opposition?

If Labor want to win in 2007, they must win back democracy for the Australian people. This can’t be done with an unfriendly media, press releases, and a detached public. They must take a good old-fashion country MP approach, pressing flesh, campaigning in town halls, and pounding concrete.