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With our own 'counterfeit' democracy how can we possibly export it?

By Tim Anderson - posted Monday, 14 February 2005

Collaboration in the illegal invasion of a country, which posed no threat to this country, sets out the first basic problem for any discussion of democracy in Australia.

This country has been incapable of exercising strategic independence.

Decisions of war and international relations have been derivative. What public discussion there is of our role in global affairs bears on the efficacy of integration into imperial plans, rather than the question of independence from them.


The proposition that the Empire, or anyone else, might be able to “export democracy” hardly bears much serious discussion. The principle of the right of a people to self-determination is now well established in international relations, as also enshrined in international human rights. This is the foundation of any notion of democracy. But it is also an anathema to those with imperial pretensions.

The Empire's replacement of elected governments with military dictatorships in Iran, Guatemala and Chile, the mass murder in military interventions in Vietnam, Cambodia, Panama, Afghanistan and Iraq, the backing of “dirty wars” in Indonesia, East Timor, El Salvador and Nicaragua, the consistent support for ethnic cleansing in Palestine, and the recent coup attempts against the elected government in Venezuela, prove many times over, the counterfeit nature of imperial claims to “freedom and democracy”.

The millions of victims of imperial interventions deserve at least some honesty, from a small country such as ours, which pretends to have friendly relations with others.

Rather than preaching democracy to other countries, as a self-styled “Deputy Sheriff”' of the Empire, shouldn't we test our understanding of the term at home? Does democracy just mean having some sort of election? And what is a citizen? Does it mean just holding a passport?

The Australian media lauded recent elections in Iraq. Yet those elections were held under military occupation, in the wake of carpet bombing and mass killings; with opposition groups at war, imprisoned or gone to ground; with widespread torture by the occupying army; no real public debate, direct censorship and the assassination of journalists; with most candidates anonymous and without campaigns; with one major ethnic group refusing to participate, and with the other major ethnic group participating to get rid of the occupying army; and with the occupying army saying it has no intention of leaving.

What does it say about the Australian mass media that that it unanimously linked this bit of theatre to “democracy”? Had this occurred in a country asserting some independence from the Empire, that same media machine would have expressed outrage and demanded sanctions. But our public debates are shallow and compromised, through our lack of independence.


There are some additional factors which compromise the claim to “democracy” in Australia. First is the corporate grip on public debate, second the poor structure of political representation, and third the limited concept of citizenship.

It is well known that media ownership in Australia is among the most concentrated in the world. Television and newspapers, in particular, are controlled by a small corporate elite which heavily conditions any public debate. The corporate consensus on major issues - such as Australian military integration with the Empire, “free trade” arguments, banking “deregulation”, and massive corporate subsidies including commercialised “aid” programs - is then reflected by both major political parties.

The result is that these important topics have become “taboo” areas for public debate, effectively censored by major media channels and the major political parties. The public media is also effectively intimidated on major issues, and joins the corporate consensus.

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About the Author

Tim Anderson is a Senior Lecturer in Political Economy at the University of Sydney.

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