Truckwits’ attack on democracy

LET me think for just a few seconds. What has been “the most disgraceful thing to happen to our democracy”?

Malcolm Fraser’s blocking of Supply to the democratically elected Whitlam government? The dismissal of that Government by the Queen’s representative in Australia? The Senate preference system given to us by the Hawke Government that elected Senator Steve Fielding on less than 2 per cent of the primary vote? The election of Bob Hawke in 1990 and John Howard in 1998 with fewer votes than the Opposition?

No, no no.

None of the above.

According to broadcaster Alan Jones “the most disgraceful thing to happen to our democracy” was the delay (if there was one) by three minutes of a small part of this week’s trucking “convoy of no confidence” on the outskirts of the ACT.

Usually, talk-back shock jocks are all in favour of the police. The thin blue line and all that, defending us against the ravages of drunks, unAustralian youths and the lawless rabble. But as soon as the police, in the interests of public safety, impose a slight delay on tonnes and tonnes of trucks rumbling through public streets, it becomes an assault against democracy.

Hyperbole aside, ACT police in fact changed the normal traffic arrangements in Canberra to make sure the trucks got through the city, around Parliament House and out to some sensible parking place as quickly as possible. They gave priority to the trucks over Canberra commuters.

As it happened, what was planned as an assault against Australian democracy by a bunch of truckwits flopped. Only a few hundred turned up. They were demanding a double dissolution election, even though the constitutional requirements for one had not been met. Presumably, if enough trucks had turned up they might have attempted to blockade the government. Demanding with the menace of large trucks an unconstitutional election seems to me to be a far more “disgraceful thing to happen to our democracy” than a few sensible ACT police officers ensuring an orderly movement of trucks through the city so as to minimise risk of life and limb.

That’s what police — in a society governed by the rule of law and the separation of powers and respecting the democratically elected government — do.

The normal, democratic pattern in Australia is that the person who has the majority in the House of Representatives forms the government and can stay governing for three years. Jones, however, thinks that our “democracy is dead” if an election is not held now, just because the government looks bad in the polls.

If an election were triggered every time a government looked bad in the polls that would make the system unworkable and our democracy really would be dead.

Democracy is not the tyranny of transient majorities but government by elected representatives of the people according to a set of rules.

Another element of Australian democracy is freedom of speech and free media. But for Jones that usually means his freedom of speech and freedom to use his radio station, with little respect for contrary points of view or other media doing their job.

A reporter from The Sydney Morning Herald at the rally, Jacqueline Maley, reported that after she asked Jones whether he was being paid for his appearance (he said he was not), Jones singled her out during an address to the rally with the inevitable result that the crowd jeered and booed her.

Maley’s question was a fair one given Jones’s track record of being paid for commercial spruiking without telling his listeners.

I’m not into hyperbole, so I will not call it a disgraceful thing to happen to our democracy — just bad manners. I was going to write “bad manners to a fellow journalist”, but Jones is not a journalist.


WHY was the rally a flop? I had to drive into town around 7am and later out past Canberra Stadium and I hardly saw a truck. The “convoy of no confidence” drew about 200 trucks.

Compare that to the thousands of people who marched against the Vietnam war in the late 1960s and early 1970s; in reconciliation marches in 2000; and against South African rugby tours – or the Martin Luther King marches in the US and the anti-nuclear marches in Britain in the 1960s.

The important ingredients for large turnouts seem to be the nature of the issue and grievance and the government’s action over it.

To get big demonstrations, you need a sense of moral outrage – that some injustice is being perpetrated against people other than those demonstrating. And you need a sense that the government is either causing it or is not doing what it should to stop it.

The convoy of no confidence, on the other hand, had no moral purpose. The aims of the protest were in confluence with the economic purpose of the protestors. So the protest was morally compromised. It was not a protest for a better society, for justice or equality. It was merely a selfish whinge — a protest by protesters for a bigger slice of the cake.

Well, we all want a bigger slice of the cake. That is not unexceptional. Moreover, no sense of moral outrage can be sustained against a government that gives or does not give this or that sector and bigger or lesser slice of the cake, especially when organised wealthy lobby groups can finance their own behind-closed-doors protest to government.

Large protests require moral outrage and a sense that the government is not merely incompetent or misguided in the way it slices the pie but that government is responsible for or complicit in the immorality.

The self-serving Opposition Leader and a self-aggrandising Alan Jones simply did not arouse a legitimate sense of community outrage. They aroused a couple of hundred self-interested truck drivers.


AND on the subject of democracy and Australian society, take note. This week in the High Court we saw a few of the most repressed, down and out, hopeless, desperate people in our nation – some flotsam and jetsam on Christmas Island who are not even citizens or permanent residents — take one of the highest and mightiest, a federal minister, to the highest court in the land. Who says democracy or the rule of law is dead in Australia.
This article first appeared in The Canberra Times on 27 August 2011

12 thoughts on “Truckwits’ attack on democracy”

  1. I have just, belatedly, read Michael Moore’s 2003 book “Dude, Where’s My Country” wherein he analyses the causes of the sort of comments you have received above. Correctly, I believe, he ascribes this to the pervasive fear in the community that something or someone is always out to get them and that this unarticulated fear is preyed upon by vested interests and elements of the media to persuade people to lash out at those, including yourself this time, who are trying to alert them to the real problems.

  2. Can only agree w Cate, Elisha, and Glenda and the others who have similar sentiments to myself.

    As a speaker on the day, I refute your remarks from above and suggest you seek out some very real information before writing such slanderous musings as those above.

    Feel free to contact me directly if you would have enough creidbility to report the truth.

  3. Crispin,

    I took part in that Convoy, and I know the facts.. Obviously you don’t have a clue.. It amazes me that any self proclaimed ‘intelligent’ person from the media who had listened to the honest words from those good law abiding Australian’s who traveled thousands of Kilometers to represent their struggling Australian industry, could come up with the utter crap that you have written. Why didn’t you listen to what they were saying? Every word of it was the utter truth. How disgusting has the media become that it didn’t listen to the WORDS that those good folk were saying ? ..Shame on you !

  4. Yet another misinformed and uneducated article. If you bothered to track down and speak to participants of the Convoy or read the Convoy of No Confidence media releases you would understand the aims of the Convoy and realise why your article is so inaccurate. It is not worth my effort setting out all your errors so I will leave it for you to take up your own ‘research’ which is supposed to be part of your job in the first place. And since when does a Convoy or rally have to attract a specific number of participants? The Convoy had a petition with them that collected 30,000 signatures from around rural Australia – it is not easy for us to pack up and leave our properties and animals for a week so for every person that went I believe there were another 100 that would have gone with them!

  5. Well done Crispin.
    So what’s this then ?
    Journalism or the Other ?
    This is the most disgraceful, offensive, uninformed, one-sided, reactionary piece of sycophantic commentary I have yet seen. And to think the Canberra Times , hosts such rabid rantings.
    This does nothing but reinforce how completely detached the politico-journalistic circus in Canberra has become, from the electorates Canberra was established to represent.

    What a joke federal politics in Aus. has become.

  6. Dear Crispin,

    Lets see you post this comment and prove you are “equalitarian”, able to take it as well as give it.

    In the late 70’s I was part of a group of Queenslanders who relocated to build the most advanced, in the southern hemisphere, sewerage treatment plant then called The Lower Molongolo Water Quality Control Plant. It was in the outer northern suburbs of Canberra. We knew it had to be state of the art to handle the product from certain residents of Canberra.

    I’m pleased to see the output from passholes such as yourself is still being produced and hopefully processed in that facility so you and your elitists mates can continue to labour under the delusion that your spite doesn’t stink.

  7. Crispen
    I am concerned that your thinking parts haven’t been crisped by an ill spent youth if you think that the rally was a flop. No comparison to the Whitam Era, my friend. I was 18 when Whitlam came to power with the Time for a Change slick ad campaign and all too soon ( I was young and foolish enough to have thought it was time for a change too) I experienced the down flop of the initial euphoria of the Whitlam era. We were all glad that Kerr did do what he did to save Australia’s bacon so to speak. You realise of course that Malcolm Frazer’s caretaker government was returned with an astounding majority and reinforced the idea that most of us, were fed up to the back teeth with Whitlam and if his government losing 30 seats in one hit with the Liberals and National Party gaining 30 seats was enough, to prove, I think that the Whitlam sacking was the best endorsement of real democracy that this country has ever had. It will be even better when Gillard is game enough to call an election and the ALP suffered the worst defeat in its ignoble political history.
    Publish that if you dare, my friend. Go Truckies and those who went. I am a supporter who could go. I wish I had been there though.

  8. Keep up the good work Crispen, Reporters like yourself are doing more for the Convoy than we could have achieved with 10x the numbers present. Your vitriolic attack on truck drivers and denial of facts is showing the people of this great country how morally corrupted our pollies and reporters have become. If this convoy were truly of no consequence why is it still being talked down almost a week after it concluded.
    You sight Vietnam protest marches etc as having larger numbers than we achieved. But forget to mention that they too had to start small and as anger and disgust grew so to did the numbers. The racial discrimination movement in Amercia grew from one little old negro woman who refused to sit at the rear of the bus. The problem you have today Crispen is the truth is escaping and you cannot control it.

  9. Having been a member of the convoy last week I would like to correct you on a focal point in your argument.
    We were held up on the outskirts of Canberra by an hour or a little more because the police requested we waited until another convoy from a different part of Australia joined up to minimise the disruption to Canberra. The error was the fact that by the time Alan Jones was announcing it the convoy was already in the centre of Canberra.
    Now, if you were going to organise a demonstration there are very few groups who would contact the authorities & then co-operate with them to the point that the impact is MINIMAL!!! So, rather than criticising, you should be commending the participants of the convoy on NOT disrupting the peak hour traffic by staging the first at 6.00am, and the 2nd after schools started.
    You miss the point, if you had spent time in the north of Australia you would understand the effect on indigenous workforce by the live cattle export ban. It will be years before the industry & thus jobs are reinstated. This is the point we were attempting to get over to the federal government. Perhaps you should have spoken to some of the participants.

  10. Crispen. Keep taking the beta-blockers. I just read your opinion piece and feel the need to draw you up on a few facts.
    You dedicate the first five paragraphs to frothing about Alan Jones. Fair enough – he’s not my cup of tea either. But (and don’t grin artlessly and tell me you didn’t realize) you talk about a couple of hundred trucks and a few hundred protesters, and compare it with thousands who marched against Vietnam. Naughty, naughty. You neglected all the other vehicles full of people spending their time and money to show up. I understood there to be in excess of 1,500 people in the demo, and that the police limited the number of trucks making the circuit. You did know that truckies were in the minority of the protesters, right? Then you re-engage hyperbole mode and off we go: ‘Flop’. ‘Assault against Australian democracy (twice)’ ‘minimise risk of life and limb’ ‘no moral purpose’ …and so on. Wow. It’s sure lucky those Police were there to choke down the… hang on. You know the accompanying Police cooked Convoy 2 a barbie?
    Law-abiding citizens drove for up to four days to protest outside Parliament. The police accompanied them in shifts, so it’s not as if the number of vehicles was unknown. They were snubbed by the PM, mocked by the Transport Minister, and the Greens apparently were disappointed they didn’t break the law with a blockade. I suspect Bob Brown had cooked up a speech for the eventuality. He certainly cooked up a counter-protest for the bicycling fraternity (with an email telling the faithful that a blockade was intended), which Christine Milne addressed. Did you count the numbers? There are two photos of that on the web, and I found her speech less than inspired (oh, and derogatory). How many reports were made on the Convoy?
    They wave a few banners, a couple of thugs turn up trying to provoke a fight, there are some speeches and Mr Jones does his thing, and everyone politely leaves. Sabotage incidents: zero. Blockades: zero. Cyclists mown down: zero. By the way; the cyclist with the ‘Proud to be a Taxpayer’ placard stopped for a chat when no-one threatened him with a tyre iron. He’s thinking about getting a job next Winter, but currently the placard is not, strictly speaking, correct.
    The Canberra times ran a story about people who were out of pocket because they had got in extra sausages. After the greeting from your MP, I’m not surprised no-one hung around to go to the exhibition or eat – a little contempt from politicians to voters goes a long way.
    Apparently, according to Christine, farmers and graziers need not worry about going broke – they can sign up for exciting new technologies and finance streams – stop growing food, plant trees and get carbon credits, or get off your land and let people burn it. Actually she didn’t say that in so many words (parsing her speech I think it could have been cut to one minute without loss), and given there is no mechanism for transfer support, basically farmers go bankrupt, then other people (I don’t know – ex-bankers, Greens, lawyers, perhaps) buy the land at fire-sale prices, get rid of the employees, plant trees and watch the money roll in. Employment in rural Australia? Meh. Not so much. Food? We’ll be rich, so there’ll be no problem importing it. Oops, well, perhaps the Chinese might outbid us. But that’s OK, we’ll become organic and self-sufficient and eat algae.
    To what cake do you refer, by the way? Did you actually engage and investigate or just jump to your conclusions from your morning commute? Most of the Convoy protesters were more concerned about protecting their livelihoods than looking for a handout. Morally compromised? Get real. You accuse and insinuate. “Presumably, if enough trucks had turned up they might have attempted to blockade the government.” On what basis do you presume? I’m sorry, I find your fact-finding ludicrous.

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