I Don’t Hear No Fat Lady Singing – Kate Paulk
Rather more years ago than I care to admit, I was a teenager living in Australia, in the state of Queensland, during what is generally regarded to be the most corrupt government that country and state has ever experienced – and by corrupt, I’m talking the real thing. Bribery, protection rackets, severe restrictions on political speech by individuals, you name it. It’s sometimes referred to as the “Joh era” for Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the Premier and not-quite-dictator of the time (I suspect he wouldn’t have minded full dictatorial powers if he’d been able to swing them).
Some background for those who aren’t familiar with Australian politics and particularly the Queensland version (which is almost everyone here): most state governments in Australia follow the Westminster system, with a lower and an upper house elected on a more or less 3 and 6 year cycle. The leader of the majority party becomes the Premier and is the effective head of government. An appointed Governor is the official head of state, with the power to dismiss governments if they become non-functional.
Queensland is unicameral: there is one house, and the party with a majority can do pretty well anything they want. Since it’s a representative system, the party with the most votes is not necessarily the party that has the most representatives and governs. In addition, policing, education, public hospitals, most utilities and roads and the like are all managed at the state government level, so the Queensland Parliament has a hell of a lot of power. There are also a lot of Quangos – quasi-non-government organizations – whose leadership is usually appointed by the state parliament and which manage a lot of the state level infrastructure.
Yes, I know this is pretty dry stuff, but it’s important to where I’m going.
During the Joh era, the state parliament drew the electoral boundaries. You want to talk gerrymandering? These guys had it refined to the point where they were retaining power in parliament with less than 30% of the vote. As I recall the record was a smidgen above 25%… To manage this some of the districts had three or four times as many voters as other.
The state police ran the largest protection rackets in the state – the Vice Squad was notorious for tipping off illegal brothels in time for them to vacate the premises before a raid so they’d be “clean” and able to continue operating. And of course, paying their protection money. If they didn’t pay, they didn’t get the tip-off. The Drug Squad operated much the same way with illegal drugs.
At the time, the accepted method for businesses to get the coveted government contracts was to make large “anonymous” cash donations by leaving a brown paper bag full of cash on the Premier’s desk. The contracts would be forthcoming and keep coming as long as the “anonymous” donations continued.
Of course, everyone knew what was going on. You couldn’t miss it. There were jokes – usually rather black ones – snide comments about how the opposition party would soon require all their members to have been jailed for participating in illegal demonstrations, and periodic inquiries into corruption that always found that there were no problems.
Here’s the thing – this was a conservative government, by Australian standards. Taxes were lower than any other state. They balanced their budgets (mostly) and for the most part kept to the areas the Australian Constitution defined as state government responsibilities. But under the covers… the political cartoonists who drew Bjelke-Petersen in a fascist-style uniform with crossed bananas on the armband weren’t that far wrong.
Because it doesn’t matter what the official flavor of a government in power is, once it becomes corrupt and abusive. It can be as fiscally responsible as all get-out (of course, all that extra slush money helped with the budgeting), have low taxes, and all of that, and still be functionally a fascist police state. What makes it that is the preferential treatment of those who paid their dues (cash only, in brown paper bags left on my desk) and the ability of the police to make arbitrary arrests and find something to charge them with later. Both happened.
This should sound really familiar by now.
Everyone thought it wasn’t going to change any time soon. The prevailing wisdom was that there wouldn’t even be a chance for anything to get less corrupt until Bjelke-Petersen eventually resigned. He had the media fairly well controlled, using a combination of withdrawing government advertising from any media outlet that criticized his regime and punishing libel/defamation suits to prevent too much from being circulated (he was well known for referring to press conferences as “feeding the chooks” (chickens)).
Then one media outlet ran a carefully researched documentary that they’d researched for six months. They immediately got hit with the usual defamation lawsuits, but the makers had anticipated that and had their defense lined up and ready to roll. The piece got enough attention that an inquiry was set up – but someone neglected to tell the commissioner that he was supposed to whitewash the whole thing. Instead, the Fitzgerald Inquiry had Queenslanders avid for the next round of revelations of just how deep the corruption ran.
The end result was that two state ministers and a retired police commissioner faced charges of corruption and did jail time. The only reason Bjelke-Petersen didn’t join them was that somehow an utterly partisan supporter ended up on the jury and refused to entertain anything except a not-guilty verdict. Since the jury had to be unanimous to return a verdict and everyone else was just as certain from the evidence that he was guilty, a mistrial was declared, and the state declined to retry on the grounds that Bjelke-Petersen was too old (he was well into his 70s at this point).
In the meantime, that horribly gerrymandered electoral map? It wasn’t enough to save the ruling party. They lost, badly (an Australian political saying is that oppositions never win power. Governments lose it), and the new government promptly turned over management of the electoral boundaries to the Australian Electoral Commission.
Now after that long-winded run-up, here’s the point.
Even though it seems like the vileprogs have everything wrapped up just the way they like it, even though they seem to have the media in their pockets, even though they’ve managed to create a functionally fascist police state here in the USA, they can still lose.
It’s not over. They haven’t taken the gloves off yet because they know they don’t have the power they’d need to go openly where they want. In fact, they know they’re losing ground – that’s why the ever-louder screams of outrage.
Under the surface the ones with brains are desperately trying to deny that the wheels have fallen off the cart, and the cart itself was never worth shit anyway.
We’re gaining ground. As long as we don’t fall for their games and manipulation, we can expose them for the frauds they are and turn this mess around.
It won’t be easy. They’re burrowed in deep, like ticks in a Shar-pei’s hide. But it can be done and we – the ones who’ve spent our whole damn lives cleaning up the messes of those who have preceded us – we can do it.
And we will.
UPDATE: A note from Sarah — My novelette The Big Ship and the Wise Old Owl is free this week on Amazon. Get one. Get two. Give one to your in laws. Give one to your best friend. Give one to your best enemy. It’s free.