The term ‘pork barrelling’ is common enough for people to know what it means: a government handing out taxpayers’ money inequitably in order to persuade voters in one electorate - over another which might have greater need - to vote for the party which holds power.
Can it be justified in a parliamentary democracy simply by pointing out the past sins of others? What do you think?
My view of pork barrelling is that it has been devised to feed an insatiable hunger. The hunger for power is so deeply human it has been ingrained into the DNA of every political institution from pre-historic times to the present. Pork barrelling is merely the latest iteration in a range of political practices which have marked the reigns of rulers from Ancient Rome's Julius Caesar to Romania's Nicolae Ceausescu. The main game is the same, acquiring or retaining power. The difference is, in democracies, unsavoury political practice is intended to fly under the radar of scrutiny and remain hidden. In this way the general populous can go about its business, focussing on the frenzy of everyday, insulated in the belief that at least the democratic system may be relied upon.
The democratic system like Noah’s Ark will keep us safe, far above the high- water line, of the tumult and political chaos plaguing the rest of the world, many people think.
Democracies have been repeatedly unpeeled to expose the stuff of which they are composed. The United States, the democratic poster-child of the 20th century, had its scab peeled off and presented Donald Trump to the world four years ago. Many of us in ‘civilized nations’ were appalled. This is not what democracy is - surely Trump is an aberration.
He stumped and frightened us all in equal measure, political pundits, commentators, journalists, and the ordinary woman on the street. This could not be the face of democracy where ultimate power lay safely vested in the hands of ‘free’ people, could it? That brash, egotistical, orange-headed man, the leader of the ‘free world’? Surely not? If anything, Trump provided a shocking reminder of how fragile an institution democracy is.
Gladys Berejiklian spoke plainly when she said that pork barrelling would not be a surprise to anyone. That may be so, but it is not part of a fair democracy. In the slow evolution of the institution, there has been a gradual and painstaking elimination - through legislation - of inequalities, vested interests and concentrations of power.
The next task, in a long line of such tasks, is to bring that which is hidden out into the full glare of public scrutiny. A significant problem is that the voting public, taken up in the hubbub of their ordinary lives, have not the time, energy or inclination to pay the kind of attention that needs to be paid. So, it must be the preserve of our legal institutions and the free media, the Fourth Estate (Rupert Murdoch notwithstanding) to 'keep the bastards honest’ and protect our delicate but, so far robust, institution in Australia.
Copyright: main text Fiona D'Souza; photo Wix.