Given the rhetoric that emanates from our politicians, I thought it might be interesting to explore the idea of freedom a little further.

I propose that freedom is proportional to choice, the more choices we have, the more freedom we have. Humans seem to thrive on choices, our brains are organised and sized to be able to create even more choices for us, but to do this we need to be in an environment in which we are both informed and free to exercise choice.

Instead, our governments are removing our choices without our knowledge or consent, and trying to leave us uninformed whenever the information could be negative.

These directions are entirely contrary to our interests.

Citizens need complete information.

After a particularly scary day on the stock market last week, Malcolm Turnbull criticised Wayne Swan for openly acknowledging the potential for rising inflation, arguing that Mr Swan should not have mentioned the possibility for fear of making it come true.

What Mr Turnbull was effectively saying was that the Treasurer should routinely mislead, or fail to inform, the public under such circumstances.

He proposes that the taxpayer should be deceived by their own paid representatives as a matter of course.

Do we want/need a government that routinely misleads us? Is that a standard of high office that we want to accept?

How are we supposed to prepare for things like interest rate rises if the government is routinely to pretend that they will not occur?

Presumably misleading the public is Liberal policy, at least from Turnbull.

What about Labor?

In Tasmania, we have a state Labor government that removes our freedoms without providing any commensurate benefit to us, and often without any involvement from those whose freedoms are to be removed.

In this way, the Tasmanian government has removed our choice for a rigorous planning system and the public protection that it provides, the choice to build on our own land, the choice to safe roads, the choice not to be sprayed with chemicals, the choice to clean water, the choice of a functioning health systems or the choice of an affordable home or education.

Surely when a loss of freedom/choice is involved, those affected should be consulted in advance and the impacts on those people actively considered in any decision.

On what basis does the state government have any right to remove our freedoms without our knowledge or consent?

Where is the moral or political authority for this?

The right to safe drinking water, for example, is a biological requirement, and therefore is not politically negotiable. We do not need governments that compromise the physiological basis of our lives…our air, water, food, shelter and medical services for example, unless the situation is dire and there appears no alternative.

The taxpayer surely has a right to the expectation that their government will expend sufficient of their taxes on essential services to provide them in the quantity and quality needed by those paying the bills. Providing safe drinking water, clean air and safe roads plus assuring that our food producers are able to continue their supplies to us, is a key responsibility of government.

In a democracy, the people who pay the bills, i.e. the taxpayers, should decide what services they should get for their money.

Lennon’s government has helped Tasmanians to see that, under Australia’s system of governance, the state government can work against the interests of the people without the people’s knowledge or consent. The opaque processes surrounding the PAL Act are but one example while the collusion of both Labor and Liberals to leave the impacts on citizens and industries out of consideration in the pulp mill ‘process’ has shocked many.

I question the legitimacy of the government having the power to remove our rights without our knowledge or consent, particularly given the weak reasons provided by the state government.

We need an appeals mechanism that allows those who have lost their rights to seek redress in a useful way. Such mechanisms form the working underpinnings of protecting the public from harm.

Moving to fix our systems

How can we claim to be free, or to be a participatory democracy, when our fundamental biological needs are being threatened by the ‘representatives’ that we are paying to protect us?

Such a system can have no legitimacy in what is spruiked as a ‘representative democracy’.

One strategy that might start to fix all of this would be for the federal government to create a minimum service guarantee for citizens, that defined the services that they could expect in exchange for one of the world’s highest overall government income takes (income tax + GST + rates + duties + levies + charges). 

Experience from successful private sector groups (success in satisfying their customers that is) shows that services need to be defined so that service providers know what’s expected of them. In the Tasmanian government case it’s clear that the government has a totally different idea of service to the expectations of the people whose money they are using (i.e. taxpayers).

Once a service is defined, it’s then possible to define the levels of service that will be supplied, such as 24/7, or within 50 miles and so on. A mechanism also needs to be developed so that dissatisfied customers can appeal when the service is not provided. The purpose of this mechanism is to focus the service provider’s mind on providing the service and remove the usual array of feeble excuses for poor performance.

When services are defined, they can be budgeted more easily than ultra vague ‘Health and human services’ definitions put out by our government.

In the Tasmanian system, vital services are changed around according to budget priorities, not according to the taxpayer’s real needs. This is not a recipe for satisfaction and the method is virtually guaranteed to degrade services over time.

People in pain, or who are bedridden awaiting availability of medical staff and facilities, have lost a lot of their freedoms, indeed many are put at increased risk. We cannot solve this problem with more of the same. Instead we need to focus on delivering the services that our citizens actually need.

A declared taxpayer’s rights to services would go a long way to both assuring rigorous debate of these important issues, also increasing taxpayers’ confidence in their own governments.

Global problems

As one lawyer/author recently said… “From Plato to Aristotle, Locke to Hobbes, Karl Marx to J.S. Mill, David Hume to Adam Smith, and J.J. Rousseau to John Rawls, political philosophers have shared an understanding that government has an obligation to act in the interests of its people, and that absent that it loses its legitimacy and authority, and an appreciation that private-sector actors have different motivation and duties than public officials.

The emergence of Libertarianism over the past 45 years has been based on convenient premises which are at odds with the understandings of the previous 4,500 years – that govt. is not a marketplace, but rather a bargain made between people and government – of the people, by the people and for the people. Markets, after all, are not naturally self-regulating or sustaining. Government must treat its people first and foremost as citizens, not consumers. That the free market provides the optimal solution to all societal needs is a tough sell given the lessons of history, most recently with the subprime mortgage lending crisis exposing once again the fallacy of laissez-faire free marketeers’ magic.”

From a memetic standpoint2 we can see that the diversion of our tax monies into ‘government as a market’ is an important underpinning of current governments’ thinking and action. If we do not want to be used as guinea pigs in a vast experiment to reshape the meaning of government we need to become involved in the process of government and what it means.

It’s one of those deals where by becoming involved you improve the situation!

Local solutions

Getting involved in your own future and making your own decisions, these are outcomes of a free society, and I encourage you to take more control, first by becoming more politically active. We then need to get our governments working for the people again, instead of for corporations and party donors.

This is not something it’s ok for us to ignore.

At stake is the quality of our lives, whether we want to control our own futures, or be a pawn between competing market forces…whether we want our taxes used to advantage all taxpayers, or whether they should focus the wealth of the many into the hands of a few.

The impacts of each of these on the public are enormous and merit full description and debate.

These are big and important questions with far reaching consequences that, so far, have neither been publicly debated nor assessed. The various changes have been progressively introduced by stealth without the sum of their impacts being properly understood, costed or explained.

The ‘corporate government’ model clearly contains many serious risks and therefore should be fully debated prior to any further implementation.
What do you think?

Mike Bolan

Mike is a complex systems consultant, change facilitator and executive and management coach.

Mike Bolan

Lennon’s government has helped Tasmanians to see that, under Australia’s system of governance, the state government can work against the interests of the people without the people’s knowledge or consent. The opaque processes surrounding the PAL Act are but one example while the collusion of both Labor and Liberals to leave the impacts on citizens and industries out of consideration in the pulp mill ‘process’ has shocked many.