A museum commemorating the existence of democracy in Australia will soon be opened in Canberra. The Australian Museum of Democracy will serve as a historical reminder of the days when democracy was a central pillar of the nation’s government.
The Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, opened the museum recently and spoke glowingly of democracy as a prominent feature of Australia’s past.
“Democracy belongs in a museum,” he gloated.
“I am enormously proud to announce the establishment of the Australian Museum of Democracy in the nation’s capital, and I am equally proud to have overseen the destruction of that democracy.”
“The museum reminds all Australians of a time when governments acted democratically and largely in the interests of their constituents, and I encourage all Australians to make the journey to Canberra and look back with fondness at such an idyllic period in our history.”
“The delightful museum is located in Old Parliament House, which hasn’t been used for governing since 1988, and this is appropriate because there’s not much democracy in the new parliament house,” Morrison smirked.
The museum displays numerous artefacts from the nation’s democratic history since Federation in 1901. One section is dedicated to the Free press and recalls a time when media outlets were owned by numerous people and offered a variety of opinions on current affairs and politics. It also recounts the days when the federal and state governments were not controlled by the man who now owns almost all of Australia’s media, Rupert Murdoch.
Visitors can read, view and listen to news stories which reported the news, rather than simply reproducing government press releases or repeating the latest slogan from the government. Visitors can also learn about something called ‘investigative journalism’ and how this held society’s leaders to account.
Many younger Australians will be amazed to learn that mainstream news content was once more than just government press releases, celebrity gossip, reality TV show recaps and stories about football WAGS.
Genuine choice in parties
The museum also contains archival and historical relics detailing the days in which Australians enjoyed a genuine choice between political parties. The Liberal, National and Labor parties all stood for distinct principles, and while they came together during times of hardship such as war, they provided Australian voters with a genuine choice according to the voter’s world view.
Australians passing through the museum can also witness politicians making policies, not slogans, and parliamentary debates obsessed with producing laws, not sound bites. They can also read transcripts of opposition members challenging policy proposals of the government, instead of weakly acquiescing.
The remainder of the museum exhibits evidence of a time when the Australian government did not attempt to merge religion and politics or glorify war, and a time when the government respected the right of citizens to protest. Australians can reminisce on a time when border security was not a national obsession, and when particular racial or religious groups were not blamed for the nation’s every problem.
Australians can also look back on a time when politicians did not use exclusive nationalism to win votes and divide the nation, and when corporations were expected to pay tax and behave responsibly. Finally, Aussie citizens can look back at a time when the government was not attempting to spy on its own citizens, unless they were red and hiding under the bed.
Image: Aditya Joshi
P.S. The Museum of Australian Democracy exists. It is real. This article is satire, written to draw attention to the erosion of democracy in Australia by the current government. The actual Museum of Australian Democracy is in Old Parliament House, Canberra, and it houses a real collection of real archives depicting real events in Australia’s political history. Apparently it’s quite interesting and informative.
The current Australian Labor Party is the Clayton’s opposition: the opposition you have when you’re not having an opposition.
The current Labor Party draws its inspiration from Clayton’s beer, which was a non-alcoholic beer whose slogan read: ‘Clayton’s, the drink you have when you’re not having a drink.’
Clayton’s existed to offer Australians, particularly men, the chance to avoid drinking beer but appear to be drinking beer. Clayton’s looks exactly like beer and allowed patrons at pubs or social gatherings to avoid teasing or criticism from their peers. At the height of Clayton’s popularity, men in particular were expected to drink beer in every social setting, and to drink a lot, or risk having their masculinity or sexuality questioned. Indeed, the saying went;
‘Never trust a man who doesn’t drink.’
The current federal Labor Party embodies the spirit of Clayton’s beer because it offers the appearance of an opposition party, but in reality it is not an opposition party.
In reality, the current Labor Party offers no genuine alternative to the current government. The Labor Party supports the LNP in many policy areas, even those which contradict with the founding principles of the party. Labor continually contradicts itself on climate policy, and it has been unable to protect the rights of workers or to increase wages.
As a result, the Australia voting public is fooled into thinking it has a functioning opposition party and an alternative to the current government, but in practical terms it doesn’t. A recent reshuffle of the federal Labor government placed different members in different portfolios, but only time will tell if this makes any real difference to the operation of the party. Their current slogan is “On Your Side”, but whose side is that?
In many cases, Labor gives the impression of being beholden to the right wing elements of the party.
The very people who decry the loss of free speech in modern society are destroying the ability of people to speak freely. Extremist views stifle reasoned discussions on important social issues and this prevents problems from being properly addressed or solved.
Extreme commentators at both ends of the political spectrum complain that their opinions and right to free speech are being quelled in modern society, while their own words stigmatise anyone who attempts to raise legitimate questions regarding a contentious issue.
Free speech crusaders throw around phrases such as ‘political correctness’ and ‘cancel culture’ and complain that they’re “…not allowed to say anything anymore.” They claim that the ‘thought police’ are denying them their right to express a personal opinion. In most cases, however, those opinions are blatantly racist and are often disguised as humour and casual racism which is borne of ignorance, and is deeply hurtful.
It was never right to be racist, it was just more accepted.
Immigration is a perfect example of the death of free speech at the hands of extreme commentators. Extremists have hijacked the issue, and anyone else who attempts to publicly discuss the topic runs the risk of being branded as a racist or a bigot.
Donald Trump used racism. He famously promised to stop Muslims from entering the United States and to build a wall to stop Latinos entering the country, and these views contributed greatly to his election victory in 2016. He expressed the views that many extremists held in the United States, and he discussed immigration as a threat to the USA, to white Americans and to American values and their way of life.
Extremists have equated immigration with racism and xenophobia.
It is consequently difficult for anyone to raise the issue of immigration in the United States and other countries. Anyone who questions current immigration policies, for whatever reason, will be labelled a racist or a bigot. But mature, intelligent and measured discussions about immigration need to take place. Leaders and citizens need to ask how many people can safely live in a particular area. People need to ask if a landmass has enough resources to support a certain number of people, taking into consideration birth and death rates, existing infrastructure, employment opportunities and other factors which determine the success of immigration policies. These discussions are made difficult or impossible due to the hijacking of the issue by ignorant extremists.
Donald Trump is also famous for shutting down discussions with people who opposed his views. There is no better example of killing free speech.
The LGBTQI+ community also bear the brunt of intolerance and hateful speech. Issues such as gender fluidity, trans culture and same-sex marriage draw endless commentary from free speech crusaders, and prevent issues from being discussed.
Same-sex marriage is a contentious issue. Every country which has raised the prospect of legalising same-sex marriage, including those which succeeded, endured a divisive debate on the issue, and the defenders of free speech once again destroyed free speech.
Two prominent Australians weighed into the debate in Australia. Tennis legend Margaret Court and footballer Israel Folau exercised their right to free speech but consequently tarnished the debate. Court and Folau opposed same-sex marriage, and declared this publicly. This in itself was not a problem. However, they supported their views with statements claiming that all gay people will go to hell, that same-sex attraction is the work of the devil and that same-sex marriage is a dangerous threat to the social fabric and the family unit.
Anyone else who expressed opposition to same-sex marriage was accused of sharing the views of Court and Folau. Anyone should be allowed to express an opposition to same-sex marriage, but that is difficult to do when the likes of Court and Folau dominate the topic.
Trans athletes also provoke strong debate. Should people who are born male be allowed to play sport with and against females – if they identify as female, or if they have physically transitioned to female? This is a complex debate including issues of fairness and safety, and any decision must be made after a mature, evidence-based and open discussion. This discussion is impossible to conduct when some people label trans people as the devil’s work, an abomination, a disgrace and subhuman. When such hateful views are expressed freely, reasonable people cannot express their views on the topic, for fear of being associated with the bigots.
Gender-neutral language also divides the population. Gender fluid people prefer to use the words ‘they’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’ and ‘them’ instead ‘him’ and ‘her’. A problem arises because they and them are plural pronouns, but they’re being used in a singular context – to refer to one person.
Linguists will point out that this is grammatically incorrect and confusing, while bigots will claim that is is outrageous, unnecessary…and worse. As a result, can anyone oppose the use of ‘they’ and ‘them’ to refer to individuals, without being labelled homophobic or transphobic?
Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the threat to free speech at the hands of those who claim to defend it. Anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists abound online and express views contrary to expert medical advice. Extreme bloggers and social media influencers, celebrities and even elected politicians are expressing wild and unfounded theories about the pandemic, while defending their views as free speech. In reality, they are putting human lives at risk.
Free speech is a foundation of democracy and an open society. It must be defended. It must also be conducted with evidence, acceptance of opposing views and reason.
Will major sporting events soon be held only in non-democratic countries?
International sporting events such as the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup may take place only in countries without genuine democracy as governments in democratic countries struggle to justify to their populations the exorbitant cost of hosting these events. Authorities in non-democratic countries, on the other hand, do not need to justify anything to their subjects.
The citizens of democratic nations are increasingly aware of the enormous financial costs and disruption required to host international competitions. The same people are also aware of the lack of funding directed towards more immediate needs in their countries such as schools, universities, hospitals and other infrastructure.
Do major sporting events make a profit?
The question is not so much whether major sporting events make a profit, or if they benefit countries in other ways. The question is whether governments can persuade their populations that the events make a profit or benefit the nation.
Can governments continue to justify the construction of enormous sporting stadia when government schools are underfunded?
Can governments continue to justify accommodating the world’s athletes when hospitals are underfunded?
Can governments justify spending $118 million on opening or closing ceremonies when public transport is insufficient or non-existant?
Brazil highlighted this contradiction recently. The country hosted both the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016 despite a struggling economy, a broken public health system, grossly underfunded public schools and crumbling infrastructure. Many educated Brazilians are still waiting for the promised economic and social benefits of these two events. Many South Africans have undoubtedly been asking the same questions since 2010.
Have you ever volunteered at a major sporting event?
Would you volunteer at a major sporting event?
As everyday people learn more about the corruption and lavish lifestyles of the officials at major sporting organisations, surely they will be less inclined to jump into a garish uniform and stand for hours outside a train station directing fans to venues – for no pay.
Many volunteers have thankless jobs. They never see a moment of sport. The never see their sporting heroes in person. In return, they get to keep their uniform and receive a generic thankyou letter from a random politician. Major sporting events cannot go ahead without an army of volunteers. Could FIFA or the IOC afford to pay every volunteer at one of their international events?
Rulers of non-democratic nations, meanwhile, are better able to persuade citizens to volunteer.
Patriotism drives many volunteers to offer their vital services, but will it be enough in the future?
Patriotism drove young people to volunteer for the army in World War I for example, but many of today’s youth do not share this patriotic fervour. Can the same shift in attitude be applied to the sporting sphere, and would young people choose to volunteer for a sporting event?
Volunteers at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games spoke of their national pride, and continue to reference this as a motivation and reward for volunteering at the games. I myself experienced some of this patriotism when I volunteered. That said, I volunteered in the media, with the best seats in the house, at the Athletics, and spent the games interviewing athletes. I also sat on the finish line, a few rows back, when Cathy Freeman won gold. Most volunteers were not so lucky.
Patriotism also persuaded many Brazilians to eventually support, or at least stop criticising, the hosting of the 2014 World Cup. The government was canny enough to know that the country’s obsession with the world game would eventually silence many of its critics. This enthusiasm surely waned when they lost 7 – 1 to Germany on home soil.
The public is also much more likely to congratulate or tolerate a government’s decision to host a major event in that country wins. Winning elite sporting competitions also costs a lot of money.
Patriotism will still persuade many citizens to support international competitions in the future. Australians were elated to hear that their country will share the FIFA Women’s World Cup with New Zealand in 2023, but by that time will Australia still be a democracy?
A quick internet search reveals that many major events scheduled for the next five years will be held in countries such as Japan, Switzerland, France and Italy, which are universally accepted as democratic. Other events will be held in the USA, but as long as Trump is in office can the USA claim to be democratic?
It’s worth noting that all of these counties were awarded the competitions before the COVID-19 pandemic. When the total financial and social cost of the virus is calculated, will citizens support any future bids for major sporting events?
Non-democratic countries don’t need to justify anything to their subjects. China, Russia and the Gulf States are now hosting many of the world’s major sporting events and their governments operate unencumbered by public sentiment.
China has hosted many major sporting events and will do so in the near future. They entered this space by hosting the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and have hosted various forms of Asian Games. The Winter Olympics are set to be held in Beijing in 2022 and the country has been the venue for prestigious events in Basketball, Swimming and Athletics in recent years.
China is not a democratic nation.
Russia is an interesting conundrum. Russian athletes were prohibited from competing under the national flag at many recent major events due to widespread state-supported doping, but the country still hosted events such as the Winter Olympic Games, the FIFA World Cup and the 2015 World Aquatics Championships in Kazan.
Russia is not a democratic nation.
The Gulf states
The Gulf states are attracting sports administrators to their nations. Their geographical location and air transport hubs make them enticing locations for staging international events, and their oil wealth allows them to cover the costs. The oil money also affords their people a very high standard of living and a subsequent tolerance of government policies.
Qatar is determined to become a sporting nation. They have invested heavily in sporting academies and sporting infrastructure. They host major events and hire foreign experts to train their homegrown talent. They are set to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup and have promised to keep players, officials, fans and the media comfortable despite the stifling desert heat. The air conditioned World Cup is bound to cost an absolute fortune, but the oil rich states should have little trouble convincing their subjects to bear this burden.
Having worked at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, which was the first major event of any kind held in that country, I can attest to the enthusiasm, pride and excitement Qataris will feel towards football’s greatest tournament in two year’s time.
The United Arab Emirates has attempted to position itself as a favourable tourism destination through hosting international competitions in sports such as Rugby Sevens, Tennis, Golf, Sailing, Equestrian and Road Running.
The flow-on effect
Financial costs and benefits are not the only factors for governments to consider when deciding to host a major event. Flow-on effects must also be taken into account.
One flow-on effect is the increase in sports participation after a major event such as the Olympic Games. This is not true. Many first-world countries which have recently hosted major events are seeing an increase in childhood obesity every year.
Major events lead to an increase in sports participation immediately after the games, or an increase in participation in particular sports. If a national hockey team or basketball team wins gold, those two sports will most likely attract more members. But many of these sports were probably mass participation sports in that country anyway. Norway wins Cross -Country skiing gold because of the popularity of that sport. The same can be said of Speed Skating in The Netherlands, Rugby Sevens in Fiji and Table Tennis in China.
Sporting infrastructure is touted as a positive legacy for a host city or country. Many venues are reused as specialist or multipurpose sporting facilities. However, A quick google search reveals a multitude of facilities in many countries left to crumble after world’s best athletes have departed. Some of these abandoned facilities were used as recently as the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 and the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.
Evidence of this wastage, and the tactics used by governments to justify the initial construction, will surely make citizens of democratic nations more cynical and less inclined to support bids for major events in the future.
Is it cheaper to host E-Sports events?
Competitions still often take place inside sports stadiums but there are fewer competitors at fewer venues who seem to require less equipment. Competitions consist of a few ‘gamers’, their elaborate computer game equipment, copious energy drinks and some broadcast equipment to display the action on a big screen and to livestream to audiences around the world. The fact that E-Sports competitions take place electronically means that they can be enjoyed online. Does this make them easier and cheaper to host?
E-Sports must be an enticing options for governments in the future because they are enormously popular. The most watched Youtube videos are those featuring computer games and gamers.
Are we looking at this the wrong way?
Instead of asking whether only authoritarian regimes will host major events in the future, can we cite the hosting of an international sporting competition as evidence that a country is not democratic?
Persuading the powerful
Finally, how many countries will be able to afford to ‘persuade’ the sports officials who decide which country hosts the upcoming sporting extravaganza?
The Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, took an unannounced trip to Greece recently in order to return democracy to its birthplace.
Australians had accused Mr. Morrison of going ‘missing’ while the country is battling savage bushfires. It has finally been revealed that he had secretly travelled to Athens to hand back Australian democracy.
“Democracy didn’t work in Australia,” Mr Morrison’s office announced in a press statement.
“We tried it for more than 100 years, and despite proving largely successful for many of those years, we recently decided that it is not the right fit for Australia. We don’t need democracy any more.”
Mr. Morrison undertook the secretive trip with only a skeleton staff, and is said to have laid the shattered remains of Australian democracy to rest at various landmarks in Athens. The prime minster was able to roam freely through the ancient city as he was disguised as a tourist wearing an Australia baseball cap and a T-shirt emblazoned with ‘Papa Smirk’.
The statement from the prime minister’s office then elaborated on the motives for the hand back.
“Democracy was becoming an impediment to the goals of the current government, which I am proud to lead. Democracy demands a free press, but this would prevent us from raiding journalists and media outlets. It would also upset one of our most ardent supporters, who owns most of the media in this country.”
“Furthermore, democracy demands the right for citizens to protest, and protests threaten the very survival of our overlords from the minerals and resource sector.”
The press release then thanked Greece and it’s philosophers for creating and disseminating modern democracy.
Many citizens and members of the media were confused that the prime minister would ‘go missing’ while unprecedented and catastrophic bushfires continue to devastate the eastern coast of the country.
The press release answered some of their questions. One question which remains, however, is whether or not democracy can ever be brought back to Australia.