Founder and publisher David Donovan joins Pam Walker and Eva Cox for a Q&A with the Sydney University Media and Communications newsroom, discussing the role of independent journalism and how to make future voices heard.
The video features a very interesting exchange (at about 45 minutes in) between Dave Donovan and Eva Cox on how to fix our ailing democracy.
I don’t have a problem with [Murdoch] pushing a particular barrow, the problem is we don’t have the diversity of voices.
If we had the diversity of voices, each with a loud voice, then it wouldn’t be a problem.
~ David Donovan
- IA founder and publisher David Donovan (guest speaker)
- Associate Lecturer Pam Walker (host)
- Adjunct Professor Eva Cox (co-host)
- Student interviewers)
- Michelle Lollo
- Daniel Holmes
- Rebecca Bowman
- Katherine Keeley
- Angelica Waite
...The more radical Left, is busy digging up further dead bodies of bad policies and bad ideas and corruption and various other things, and I think people have just switched off, they are bored with it, they can’t cope with it...
~ Eva Cox
Watch the video HERE:
00:16 Eva: I would like to introduce you to Dave Donovan, the creator and publisher of Independent Australia which he started in 2010. I have put all this information on Canvas for you. IA is one of Australia’s most popular independent news online and opinion websites, with a strong focus on investigative journalism and breaking important national stories.
So, I have put up examples, like Ashbygate and I am sure Dave will talk about all of these. So Dave, how are you surviving in this really quite challenging world for journalism and where is it going? Over to you Dave, welcome and thank you for joining us.
1:13 Dave: Oh, simple questions like that Pam, how to start? Okay, how did I start? I started, well the real genesis of it was I did a journalism degree back in my 20s part-time, I already had other degrees and I had worked in business, but I had always wanted to go into journalism. I had done freelance journalism over quite a few years, but I actually hadn’t really, apart from a short stint in London worked full-time as a journalist up until, essentially, I started IA. I started IA because I was the Vice-Chair of the Australian Republican Movement at that stage, and the Media Director, and to start off with IA was largely publishing articles about the Republic, hence Independent Australia. But at the same time, knowing the ability of online publications to add to the archive, I started putting all my years of freelance journalism up there as well. For one reason or another, it started to become very popular, we started getting some extremely good columnists and writers writing for us such as Barry Everingham came along, the well-known Melbourne writer, also Tess Lawrence who use to work at The Herald, very well known. It sort of developed from there, it was an organic process, I didn’t really intend, although I wanted to give it the option to become what it is, but I didn’t really fully anticipate that it would be as popular as it was, and we went from there.
3:22 As for your other questions there Pam, how are we surviving? Well, we are surviving, we have been going since June 2010, we have seen a lot of similar publications come and go, you know one of them with much more funding than we have ever had. We have a fairly strong subscription base, we also get a fair bit of crowdfunding, we sell some merchandise. So, we are surviving but we are sort of, in terms of subscribers at the moment we are probably at a plateau. I think the idea that the economy is going well at the moment is not really borne out by what I am seeing, a lot of people seem to be struggling for money due to COVID, so that has kind of hit us. But you know we are in a relatively good position. And I think your last question Pam was where are we going from here? Is that right?
4:26 Pam: It is but you don’t have to answer them all at once. *Laughs*.
4:29 Dave: Okay, alright. Yeah, look I am happy to answer your questions and I won’t spiel on because I can keep on talking for the whole hour.
4:42 Daniel (student): I have got some questions. I was just wondering like how do you, how do you financially sustain Independent Australian, Independent Australia, beg your pardon?
04:58 Dave: Independent Australia. How do I financially sustain it? As I just said, we’ve actually never made a loss believe it or not since we have started, that’s not to say we have been making a fortune by no means. To start off with, how was it sustained? It was because I had been in business, I am a former banker, worked in London, I had, how do you create a small fortune? Well, you start off with a large fortune, and then you start up something like Independent Australia. And so, so I have supported it over a number of years, and you know much probably to the chagrin of my wife. But, at this stage, it pays for itself. It does that largely through subscriptions, through the subscription base, and crowdfunding, they are the two predominant areas. We are also getting a little bit of money through Google these days but not Facebook, Facebook don’t want to deal with us at all under this new strange media bargaining code that Josh Frydenberg thought up in a drunken stupor I can only imagine. Yeah, so that’s how go, that’s what we do.
6:24 Daniel: Is it fair then to say that you have got kind of a similar, like I guess a similar financial balance of incomings to someone like The Guardian where it is kind of a mixture of you know sort of “tip jar” subscriptions, endowment and some revenue coming in through things like, through like Google Clicks/ ads?
6:49 Dave: No. I would say we are definitely very different from The Guardian. The Guardian doesn’t have a real subscription base as I understand it, it is completely free. IA doesn’t have a paywall either, but we do have, we do keep a very small number of articles, the editorials effectively, behind a paywall but apart from that everything is free to the public and that is our belief in that regard The Guardian and IA are quite similar. But, in terms of The Guardian, well, they are a British multi-national, they have a huge source of revenue that has been built up over many years. They used to be operated through the CBs Dot Trust, which was a blind trust, that’s not the case anymore, that hasn’t been the case since about 2008. It is a regular multi-national media company that has a lot of, you know I think its major shareholder is a hedge fund, so you know they have got access to a lot more resources. The fact that Australians are actually donating to them I find rather astonishing to be perfectly honest because they don’t really need the money but fair enough, it is what it is. But we have a different model than what The Guardian does.
8:16 Daniel: Thanks, Dave.
8:18 Michelle (tutor): Dave, hi I don’t know, yes, I am sorry I might be a bit unstable internet wise; I am bouncing, I am in a car actually bouncing across Tasmania. So, my question is Dave, what advice might you have for students who feel like they have got a strong voice or have got strong opinions and want to get it out there? Do you just start a website, or do you just start a blog, and do you just get going? Um because there are probably a lot of students who do actually feel like they have a strong voice and strong opinions but feel maybe a little bit intimidated about just jumping on board and starting because it takes a lot of guts to do that and say my opinions are valid, I have something to say, and then have nobody look at it for a while I suppose. So how long did it take for you to get started and have people show an interest and perhaps what advice you might give to students thinking about doing something similar or just wanting their voice to be heard in a wider sphere I suppose?
9:18 Dave: Alright, well look I have got some ideas there, I mean every case is different. In my case I started studying journalism when I was about 23 or 24 part-time, I didn’t end up actually finishing the degree until I was about 30. But right from the word go, I was doing freelance work, you know ABC, even News Corp I regret to say, I have done freelance for quite a few publications, Sydney Morning Herald, Crikey. And so, I was constantly writing but I didn’t actually start up Independent Australia until I was 39 right, which is a long time. So, I would be reluctant I think to just start up a website before you have sort of really immersed yourself in the news, done a lot of writing for a while. I think it is probably, a really key thing to become a voracious consumer of the news to start off with, get your understanding of the world or whatever you particularly want to write about, it may not be the news, it might be social issues and so on. Make writing a very constant activity, try to learn your craft, be critical of what you are seeing on the television and in newspapers, try to work out how you can be better. And I would say one of the good things to do to start off would be to get onto something like Twitter, which I think can hone your writing skills, make you more succinct, and also help you build up a following. I think you do need to build up a certain amount of a following to be able to make your website progress. But look, it is a long hard slog creating a popular publication, but It can be done, I just think if you have authenticity, and personality and drive, motivation, and an idea. I think it is key to be doing something that no one else is doing, find your own niche, and you don’t just want to create another Sydney Morning Herald even if you might admire it or a Guardian, create something unique and that’s the way to gain popularity in my opinion.
11:50 Michelle: Thanks Dave, that’s terrific.
11:54 Pam: Thanks, Michelle. Dave, I just wanted to ask how many contributors or, you’ve got an editor, you’ve got a staff, you have got a regular group of people working with you, and I wanted to ask, you started it in your garage?
12:07 Dave: It was out of the spare bedroom.
12:11 Pam: Next to the garage.
12:15 Dave: In the spare bedroom. I regret to say I use to love working out of that spare bedroom, it was very nice. I have got a house that is close to the beach, look out over the ocean. Now we have got our own office in Surfer’s Paradise, where I am at the moment. It is a little different, which is great. The physical presence of where you are isn’t really that important for something like journalism, particularly online or in fact not even online. It doesn’t matter where you are, as long as you get the story. Most of our staff are in Melbourne, the Managing Editor Michelle Pini, who is a brilliant journalist in her own right, great editor, she is in Melbourne, most of our staff are down there. We also have some staff in Sydney and a couple up here. Again, it doesn’t matter where you work out of as long as you have access to a computer, you can be a journalist these days.
13:18 Pam: And would you welcome contributions say from these talented, I can tell there are many talented students in this session…
13:29 Dave: Oh absolutely. I mean, Sydney University has got a reasonably good reputation I have heard. *Laughs*. No, when I, look I’d love to get contributions from your students for sure. One of the things that we thrive on because we are a small publication, is citizen journalism, but um that’s actually not to say the journalism that you are producing there would be citizen journalism, you are professional journalists now studying in that field. We have contributor guidelines on our website, a style guide that you can read through which will give information about how you can actually contribute, and we’d welcome that. We publish a wide range of contributors, we have about 14 regular columnists who provide the basic, who provide sort of the solid content. Columnists like, we just signed up Graham Perrett, but there’s Paul Budde, there is a whole host of writers that we have got working for us and I have got to say we have some excellent columnists coming onboard very soon. So, yes, we’d love to have you guys contributing to IA, fantastic.
15:06 Pam: Excellent, so more questions before we get to some nitty-gritty.
15:11 Eva Cox (activist and academic): Can I ask a question?
15:13 Pam: Absolutely, Eva.
15:15 Eva: Very practical ones. Have you got any idea who your readers, how do you know who your readers are and how many do you really think you are getting to? I mean what is your range of readers and numbers?
15:29 Dave: We have got a very good idea through Google Analytics. That tells us pretty much the precise demographics that we have. Not the majority but the most popular demographic is actually 25-30, it's in that range but we have readers in all demographics right around Australia. We have got a very good idea of who they are because Google will tell you. They sort of know everything about you, it is quite frightening actually. As for hits, I think that was the latter part of your question, again Google Analytics will tell us exactly. They will tell us exactly how many people are on the website at any time. They will give us stats on any basis that you want, so that’s you know how we know.
16:30 Angelica (student): Hello can you hear me? Hi, hello, thanks so much, yeah, it is great to hear about what you are doing. I wonder, I guess because you have done so much freelance work yourself and now you are accepting so much contributor content as well, I wonder if you have got any kind of specific advice about, sort of specifics around pitching ideas and sort of establishing yourself as a freelance writer to begin with I guess when you are kind of just in the early stages. I am wondering if you have any advice.
17:00 Dave: Yes, alright. The idea around freelance writing is obviously to get published. What I would do is find a topic that you become very knowledgeable in, that you can write quite a lot about, and what I’d recommend or the way that I did it was I would write rather a long article and then I would pitch different parts of it and re-cast them, based on news hooks that were happening at the moment, to several publications. That way you could actually make one article go a lot further, so that’s basically how I would do it.
17:44 In terms of pitching, I think it is a very, very good idea if you read all the submission guidelines of a publication beforehand, if you as much as possible, become familiar with it and try to write in their style. The editors love it when they get a clean copy, so make sure there is no spelling mistakes, that there are no grammatical errors, because that actually speeds up the back-end process. And just try to look at, again, the news hooks, that’s the way to actually get things published because editors are looking for something that is going to be big, that is going to be popular, be well-read and that usually comes about because you can actually get your idea and find an aspect that is current in the news at that time. I think that the best idea if you want to freelance is to go around to the, to probably the more independent publications and there are some quite big ones like The New Daily, who will accept freelance contributions, they are very, very popular. There is Crikey as well which is brimming with money these days, after getting one of the Fairfax brothers on board and the people that use to own APN up here. I know Crikey, I mean obviously, there is us as well, then it’s you know, it’s a tough market to get in there but having said that if you come up with something that is brilliant enough, then they will publish it. So, I think the idea is to just come up with a great story that everybody wants to read. Does that sound easy?
19:40 Pam: You are obviously very interested in politics, so I think that you and Eva are a really good match here in what’s happening in Australia and across the world, in terms of the political discourse. Is that what differentiates you from the other independent media that’s around?
20:02 Dave: Well right from the very word go, one of the gaps that I saw in the media industry was that there didn’t seem like there was a whole bunch of different mainstream media publications, to me they seemed to be all producing more or less the same story, the same narrative. I will give you an example, you know the hounding of Julia Gillard. All the publications seemed to be suggesting that she should resign and let Kevin Rudd take back over, that was a monolith effectively of opinion. You look at things like Peter Slipper, what we did with the Ashbygate thing. Every publication regarded him as being public enemy number one, a rat, and that James Ashby was a brave whistle-blower. We have made our success I think a little bit by looking behind the narrative and finding out what the actual truth is. It turned out that Peter Slipper wasn’t such a terrible person, that James Ashby was actually a vindictive, sort of secret agent for the Liberal Party. You have got other things like you know, Kathy Jackson, she was the brave lion of the union industry they called her, it turned out that now she is in jail so… that wasn’t true. She victimised Craig Thompson and there is no doubt that Craig Thompson did some bad things. I think he ended up being convicted of $3,000 worth of improper expenses but Kathy Jackson stole millions, and she was the one who was the prime source of all the accusations against Thompson.
21:52 So I think what differentiates us is the fact that we don’t necessarily accept the prevailing narrative, sometimes the prevailing narrative might be quite correct but it seems quite often, particularly in Australia’s very concentrated media landscape where you have got News Corp owning effectively 70% of the newspaper circulation in the country, which feeds into what is reported in the television news and the radio, every day they get the morning paper and that determines what they go and report on, what stories they do during the day. It was so pervasive that there was a big gap in the market and a lot of people who felt as I did, that alternative narratives were not being heard, that the truth around various things was really not getting out and I guess being a little bit of a rebel in that sense probably helped IA very much.
23:06 Pam: They were major investigations Dave, and they went everywhere so…
23:11 Dave: Yeah, and we ended up raising about $60,000 to do the Ashbygate investigation, as crowdfunding the average donation was about $21 or something, and we ended up getting Ross Jones who is a private enquiry agent to actually go and investigate it. It eventually led to the Ashbygate book which was reported on the 7:30 Report or whatever it is called these days, so you can get there. I think the thing is gathering the support of people, ordinary people. One of the things I think that differentiates IA is the fact that we don’t talk down to people, we don’t try to, like a lot of journalists tend to do, regard ourselves as being the gatekeeper. We actually try to talk to people on a one-to-one basis, listen to what they are saying, we engage with people a lot through social media, Twitter especially, and that tends to help us inform our commentary because we are actually listening to what ordinary people are thinking about on various topics. I share stories from a lot of other publications as well, it is not just purely about IA. I am actually very passionately interested in the news and the truth, and I am strongly in support of all good journalists, whatever publication they are in. But I can assure you I do share our stories, particularly from Michelle, because those editorials, I play a part in helping Michelle write them, I use to be the editor for ten years, she is doing a terrific, fantastic job, but it is sort of a team process getting out that weekly newsletter. I can assure you I do share those stories and promote them.
25:11 Katherine (student): I guess going off of that, how did IA first get a following? Was it through any social media channels or yeah, how did that come about?
25:24 Dave: I didn’t have quite the social media following back in 2010 that I do these days. I have to admit that I had a little bit of a, a little bit of a lucky break in the sense that I was Media Director of the Republican movement so that gave me contacts to all, lots of media contacts, lots of contacts with people who were actually news politicians and so on. That assisted me to begin with, in being able to get IA noticed by various people but that mostly helped me get good writers. Like I said earlier, people like Barry Everingham and Tess Lawrence, you know they saw that we were widening, saw that this publication was taking on submissions and stuff, and they came to me so. The fact that I already had pretty good contacts and had a bit of a profile myself at that stage, that really helped. But I think that has all disappeared, no one remembers that I was Vice-Chair of the Republican movement these days and it wasn’t even that big of a deal back then. God, we are not a republic yet, so I obviously wasn’t that great.
26:49 I think the way to get a bit of, the way to actually get out there is to build up your social media profile. I think Twitter is brilliant, Twitter far more so than Facebook because Facebook has its algorithm, Twitter, everything that you tweet will go out I think, to your follower’s timeline. So that means if you put a story out, say for example as Pam said, I tweet a story about our editorial, it goes out to all my followers, I think I have 36,000 or something, to all my followers and then if they retweet it, it goes out to all their followers so if they have 1000 or 500, and then if those people retweet, it is the multiplier effect. I think this is probably not a popular opinion amongst the journalism industry these days which regard Twitter as being the evil monster, things like Leigh Sales, said it, what was is it, something like racist, leftist abuse. But I think that is a way of basically popularising yourself and unfortunately in the age that we live in that’s what you need to do, you need to actually promote yourself and that will help you develop your profile and get your publication noticed rather than being in my situation and having had those contacts if you don’t already have them. Does that make any sense?
28:24 Katherine (student): Yeah, thank you, yeah definitely something to think about.
28:28 Dave: Yeah, and I think, look, and I will just say one other thing. In terms of getting a following on Twitter and I am sorry for talking about this so much, but I think it is important. If, to get a following it is important to be authentic. I think a lot of people, there is a lot of rubbish that is spoken about, how you should actually tweet and what you should say. I think if people see that you are actually honest and authentic that’s, in today’s very sort of confected PR driven world, that sort of really helps people to take you into their heart a little bit more I think, authenticity. It is the prime reason that someone like Pauline Hanson has got a following. So, authenticity is not necessarily a good thing, but I think that people do cherish the fact that they know that this person is actually speaking from the heart.
29:30 Pam: Dave, I wonder what your view is on the media as it exists at the moment? I am talking about, you know we have such a concentrated media in this country, and it seems to be getting more and more concentrated as we go on, rather than less. Is there a place for independent media? Do you think that there is a future for independent media?
30:03 Dave: Absolutely. I wouldn’t waste my time if I didn’t think there was a place. You know, that’s a very big question. So, the media, look watching a, going to a lecture several years ago which talked about the increase in public relations. Around the time of the Second World War, it was one public relations person to one journalist, back in about 2009 I think I went to this MEAA lecture in Brisbane somewhere, and now I think the disparity is seven to one. So, there is seven PR people to one and as you understand, in your journalism course you will have had press releases and you turn it into a news story in say news writing or whatever the equivalent is. This is the majority of the information that we are getting and of course when you are getting most of your information through public relations, that means that you are obviously getting a perspective. The stakeholders are putting out these press releases to try to massage their image and create a certain perspective about themselves, so that is probably the number one big problem, this rise in public relations and PR journalism.
31:30 Number two in Australia we are in a unique situation where the Murdoch media has such a massive dominance as we said, 70% of the circulation roughly. Also, it presents a very stable narrative, well that’s not to say sometimes they don’t go against the Liberal Party but generally, it is a very conservative pro-business, low regulation, anti-taxes, anti the poor, ‘dole bludgers’ as they call them. Almost an anti-social perspective on Australian society and this, it can’t be denied, does filter down into the general population when it is what you hear constantly. This sort of stuff, say for example refugees being sort of evil, trying to bash their way into our country when there is really absolutely no issue there whatsoever, we accept very few refugees, a whole range of different things. But that skews our media in this country into a place that is not really seen almost anywhere else in the world. People talk about, I know Four Corners recently did that two-part special on how News Corp helped Trump rise, but News Corp have much, much more influence in Australia than they could ever possibly hope to in America. Again 70%, in the UK, Murdoch has amazing market dominance, but it is only 42% over there, his ownership of things like The Times, The Sun etc, etc. In Australia, the dominance of this one media proprietor effectively skews our democracy which I think is a bigger problem than our media itself. It is not to say every story that goes into News Corp publication is you know, is set to one ideology, in fact, quite a lot of the news stories that we read in The Australian, the news stories are probably quite balanced and I know that there are many good journalists at these publications, but simply having a person who has really no scruples about, say for example changing a prime minister, getting his way whatever means necessary is actually a cancer on our reporting in my opinion, it actually really affects the national psyche.
34.26 So in answer to your question, do we, is there a place for independent media, absolutely there is a place for independent media. It is because a lot of people recognise there is a media imbalance, and it will only get bigger. I have high expectations of independent media. And there is an old saying, short sleeves to short sleeves in three generations. Murdoch came about because his father, Keith, gave him a newspaper in Adelaide. Murdoch, a brilliant businessman turned it into a massive global empire. His sons I don’t think are really in the same class, he can’t live forever. I would expect that in the same way Rosebud, same way that Randolph Hearst collapsed, mind you it still exists, that Murdoch will go the same way so there is a lot of…
35:26 Rebecca (student): Sorry, I do have a question and it kind of links up with what Eva is trying to do as well, and it is maybe too big of a question to actually come up with a solution…
35:40 Dave: Just ask…. *inaudible*
35:42 Rebecca: Sorry I missed that.
35:45 Dave: I said just ask it and we will try.
35:49 Rebecca: I will do. Given that there is this really, you know, this icky situation happening in mainstream media, and I think we are all aware of it whether we study the media or not, I think that instincts as a human being kind of click in at some point and make you go okay, I am literally reading the same thing from publication to publication. But I feel like we are at such a point in history where everyone’s trust has been so eroded that we are actively looking for the solution, independent media obviously being a really good solution to that, so do you have a plan to try and extend the reach for IA?
36:36 I have to hold my hand up at this point and say prior to receiving Pam’s email, I hadn’t actually heard about you, I am just wondering how we could have met online sooner given that I am a media student, I am actively looking for new streams of information because I have massive distrust for everything that shows up on my iPhone every morning. And it links in with what Eva is doing as well, because obviously, we are trying to create this movement where we can join, get more ears across what we are trying to say, like trying to find the people who are really kind of struggling at the moment and looking for alternative avenues to get information and share information, and the same question goes for what we are trying to do, how do we find more of those people who are disenfranchised to try to bring them all together and go here is your place, like we create a place and tell, make sure they know where that is. Do you have a plan for that?
37:43 Dave: That is a big question and there are a few different parts to that. The first part of it I think was that you were talking about and how do we extend our reach? And that is obviously the key issue, I mean that’s, you wouldn’t have a media organisation if people didn’t read it, it would be a waste of time. We are, well it depends on which way you look at it, we get about the same number of hits as Crikey. Have you heard of Crikey? You’ve never heard of Crikey? Okay.
38:19 So generally, I understand it is very difficult to even hear about something like Independent Australia if you are, if your, the majority of your consumption is mainstream media, and most people’s media consumption really falls around, and I am not saying this is you, but it falls around television and radio, right? A lot of people don’t read the newspaper, a lot of people certainly don’t get online, and the reality is, despite the government views being the fact that there are so many options for the media now because of online, to relax media ownership laws which they did in 2019, that the vast majority of people do not get their news online, that is the reality.
39:15 In terms of, in terms of why you haven’t sort of seen me, I was on The Drum once and I think I did a pretty good job, but they have never asked me back. I don’t get asked onto Q&A, I do get interviewed on the radio fairly frequently. It is very difficult to actually get out to a different audience unless you are able to have a presence in the mainstream media, that’s just the reality. What we are trying to do is to get, to just try as much as possible to be excellent at what we do, to get better quality columnists and we think, maybe naively, that over time that will prove its own rewards. I mean we are getting bigger all the time, even though you’d obviously never heard of us, there is no doubt that we are not huge. You know there is only about seven people who work for us, so we are a small publication.
40:19 But the last part of your question was, how we bring together these desperate people who are, who are not happy with the way, with the current state of the media and the country is, Eva’s fairness issue. As to that, I can’t really say. I think that it is a big problem, my opinion is that part of the problem in Australia is that there is a large disassociation with politics. People are not really passionate about politics. Largely because most people feel like they are completely powerless, we have got these two major political parties that both operate under this orthodoxy of near liberalism, and the parties, the only way to actually get to the top of these parties is to join them. They have membership of about 0.1% of the Australian population so they are effectively a sort of elitist institutions, and if you actually drill down, you will find the only way to get to the top by joining these parties is to know someone, so there is that aspect as well. I think if there is one way we can overcome the problems in our society, then that would be to have a more multi-plural, multi-party democracy, similar to what we have over in Europe, where you need to have coalitions to actually get government, where there is sort of a rainbow of different coalitions and people work together. They don’t just have this two-party system that you have got in America and Australia.
42:19 Eva: Can I come in?
42:20 Dave: Eva might want something to say about that.
42:21 Pam: Eva you join in.
42:21 Eva: I think I do very briefly. I think one of the reasons that I framed the thing the way I have is because I have been involved in all the things that Dave is talking about, you know I am an ex-member of the Labor party and various other things, and you get caught into something which is the current framework. What I am trying to do is break out of it because what I am actually finding, and I’d be interested in other people’s comments on that, is people switched off, they don’t want to know about it, they are pessimistic, and pessimists are the worst people you can deal with politically because they expect the worst.
42:57 Dave: It doesn’t help the…
42:58 Eva: It is really hard to engage people who are continuing to do that and most of the, if you like the more radical left, is busy digging up further dead bodies of bad policies and bad ideas and corruption and various other things, and I think people have just switched off, they are bored with it, they can’t cope with it, it makes them feel inadequate so they just switch off. I mean I try and talk about some of the things I want to do, and you can almost see people wanting to clap over their ears. But then you find the ones that still want to be optimists. And I have always quite liked the idea, one of the things, one of the quotes I make quite often is that ‘we want to put utopia back on the agenda’, because I think most people don’t know that we can actually improve things.
43:32 And I really like Oscar Wilde’s quote which is “Utopia is the next island to the one you have just landed on”, in other words, it is not something we can define but it is something we should know is somewhere out there and we should be after it, put the optimism back in. Maybe If we start a discussion about trust which practically nobody mentions apart from in a very narrow criminal sort of way of carrying on about it, and if we start talking about the idea of fairness, I mean fairness was very much part of the Australian political and social agenda, that maybe people will begin to think that there are other ways of looking at things and maybe sort of get into it and start setting up groups and setting up ideas because at the moment the main thing I find that is killing us as dead as a dodo is pessimism and I think the left and the right are equally guilty.
44:33 Dave: What is your opinion about, Australia has got a very unique system of democracy which focuses around strict party discipline, you are talking about fairness, so largely, all the parties you either vote the same way or you get expelled from the party, right, and then you lose your seat because obviously, it is a bit of a racket. What is your opinion about that, is one of the ways that we could increase a bit of fairness in our democracy to relax this very unique system in Australia which is unlike anywhere else in the world? In America you can vote against the party and still get on, same in the UK, that’s why they have whips. What’s your view on that aspect?
45:22 Eva: Well so far, the effect of the minor parties seems to be minor, you know basically The Greens keep telling us that they're a social movement and not a political party so they can’t string their particular policies together in a way that makes sense. Because it might be betraying the democracy of the words of the people who put them up at the last conference and the Labor Party keeps counting numbers which means it sort of gets it there.
45:47 Dave: I am not actually talking about having more parties, what I am talking about is having our elected representatives actually being able to represent their electorates rather than represent their party, because it is the strict party discipline aspect which I think tends to steer our democracy because it means that a majority of one party, which ends up, you might have say, say the Liberals have 51 out of 100 seats. I know there are 150 in the House of Reps but let's just talk about that, and so all you need is 26 Liberals to support a particular motion and that’s passed, so you a majority, you have a minority of the overall because they are effectively representing the corporate institution of the party rather than representing their electors. But what I am talking about is the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a method generally, for politicians to be able to vote against their own party and still continue their career. What I was asking was, do you think that reduces our democracy rather than the whole getting more minor parties, that wasn’t really my intent.
47:00 Eva: Yeah, I think you know, and I think it is one of the most interesting things that’s happening at the moment is the popularity of the independents, which to some degree is pushing the sort of the idea that you are pushing. Whether or not you could actually have an entire government of independents I don’t know, I suspect there would be far too much deal-making in a sense, because you know the parties can’t control them. I think that is going to be a very difficult model, I think we do need to get a lot more voices into it, but I suspect we need to get a lot more voices into it by giving people more faith that they can actually create a better society and put the social back on the agenda and kill of bloody neoliberalism which is the most disastrous thing that has happened. You know if we are going to get some changes, we need to start talking about the fact that human beings are social beings.
47:47 Dave: I am talking about the ability of people to vote on your conscience every time, you know a conscience vote. What I was talking about really was the ability for members, because obviously, they are not going to take a poll of their electorate, but to the best of their ability representing them and that may mean going against their interests by voting on their conscience, on their skills. What I am saying is if we had a federal anti-corruption body and joined the FIN Party which is run by, I am non-partisan, which is run by Ross Jones, our investigations editor, that’s the Federal ICAC Now, that’s a single-issue party. I think if you had an ICAC, an integrity commission, then that would assist in engendering more confidence in our politicians, it would at least be a start.
48:44 Pam: How do we change the way that people think? How do we change the way we act? Is that the role of the media? Can that become the role of the media to change…?
48:53 Eva: The media contributes. I think the media contributes considerably but you know it's part of it, and these days the media floats in all sorts of ways and sort of voices along various items. Do we want people to do, we are much more fragmented about where we get our data and what’s happening, and I just think that’s part of the future that we have to talk about. We have to talk about a future which is social, not financial, and that’s the big difference. One of the reasons that this worries me is I was born in Vienna in 1938, who can work out how old I am? But it is significant because ten days after I was born to Jewish parents in Vienna, Hitler marched into Vienna, and I grew up with a very strong feeling that I couldn’t understand how countries like Germany and Austria, which were relatively civilized in the European sense, could be turned into who they were. And I just think that actually happened and I am a great fan of Hannah Arendt, you know, The Banality of Evil, because she says that basically what we don’t do is think and I just think, and I spent, and what scares me at the moment is that we have got echoes of the Weimar republic and these sorts of things are not going to be fixed by a corruption court.
50:19 Daniel (student): Yeah hey, that was like a really fascinating exchange to watch in terms of like, it feels a little bit like you are both for want of a better way of putting it, you are both kind of coming at this like neoliberal capitalist realism problem from a slightly different angle. So, but I think there is a mutual acknowledgement of what the problems and barriers are, but a disagreement about what the, you know which problem is the first one that we need to deal with. So, my question kind of relates to that in a sense, so we have discussed, you guys discussed the relative pros and cons for example of having, of ways of having let’s say a multiplicity of voices in Parliament, so you know more independents, more smaller parties, people taking conscience votes on everything, they are all plausible solutions to the same problem which is getting a democracy that is genuinely representative. So, the first part of my question is what do you think about alternative models for democracy, so say for example direct democracy, autocracy, things like that. And could they solve that problem? And the second part of the question is what do you think of, is there a need for that kind of multiplicity of voices to be echoed in a more overtly partisan press? So for example, there is a kind of divide in you know, for a want of a better way of putting it, ‘western democracies’, I know that is a super problematic term but let's use it as the short-hand that it is intended as, where in countries like the UK, the U.S., Australia, South Africa etc, we have, we have this kind of expectation that the media is non-partisan, it never is but that’s our kind of ‘model’ for the journalistic ideal, impartial.
52:54 Whereas in for example a country like Germany, the press is quite overtly partisan, like you know for example, like Bild you know that is the CDU paper or you know that Frankfurter Allgemeine, that’s the FDA paper and so on, so their papers have these kind of overt political alignments and people tend to read based on the slant that they feel most aligned to, for want of a better way of putting it. So yeah, what are your thoughts on that?
53:03 Dave: Look, Independent Australia is the journal of democratic thought, so we strongly believe in democracy, hence why obviously I was talking about those, you know some of the problems that I have identified and have written about in our democracy. That is not to say that there is not a whole gamut, as you point out, as Eva pointed out, of different things that we need to do to strengthen our democracy and that doesn’t all revolve around changing the way in which we conduct ourselves in parliament.
53:41 In terms of alternative democratic systems, I think that one of the big deficiencies that Australia has is that we don’t have, like the Swiss do, we don’t have the ability to put laws, the citizens don’t have the ability to suggest laws or the ability to overturn laws which they do in that country. It is also something that happens in certain states of the U.S., like California, so citizen instituted democracy I think is something that is a lack in Australia.
54:18 In terms of the partisan press I actually don’t have a problem with the partisan press. I lived in London for about a decade and the thing about having a partisan press, as you called it, or a press that I would say is focusing on appealing to a certain demographic, is actually a sign that you have got a healthy media industry. Over in the UK you had The Sun which appealed to, let’s be sort of very generalistic, people who liked the page three girls and tradies in white vans. You had The Daily Star which were probably tradies who were out at work but still sort of liked those page three girls. Then you had The Times, which was meant to be the paper of record, then Murdoch took it over, but it still appealed to a more educated class. You had The Guardian, which was sort of educated lefties, you had The Independent which were people who didn’t particularly like The Guardian but who were in the same sort of demographic. You had The Daily Telegraph who were bankers. You had a range of different publications appealing to all different sections of the community. So, in the sense of Murdoch in Australia, I don’t have a problem with him portraying or pushing a particular barrow, the problem is we don’t have the diversity of voices. If we had the diversity of voices, each with a loud voice, right, then it wouldn’t be a problem.
55:50 You know you talked about Germany and similar to the UK, it is that sort of multiplicity of voices. In Australia, we don’t have that. We have got one voice with a megaphone, and we have a couple of other little whispers like IA out there, that is not a properly functioning democracy so that is how I feel and think about that. And on that note, everyone I am sorry, but I am going to have to go. It has been a really fascinating discussion; I have really enjoyed it.
56:15 Pam: Absolutely, if Eva wrote it would you publish it?
56:22 Eva: It depends on how well it is written presumably, *laughs*.
56:25 Dave: If I had vaguely heard of her at one point, yes of course we would. If something written by Eva would be, not only be beautifully written but it would be, what’s the word, eye-opening and intuitive, it would have wide appeal, there is no doubt about it. Eva is great.
56:55 Pam: Thank you, Dave. What about produced by some of our students if it is of the quality?
57:03 Dave: Oh absolutely, yes for sure. Of course, particularly you know based on the range of very intelligent students that I have seen here today. You know, I have been very impressed by all of you.
57:10 Pam: Excellent, well thank you so much for giving us so much of your time Dave. I mean we only normally run an hour, but I was so reluctant and frightened to try and stop this conversation.
You can follow founder and publisher Dave Donovan on Twitter @davrosz. Also, follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.
- BOOK REVIEW: How to improve Australia’s Democracy – Breaking the Vicious Cycle!
- Right-wing governments are a threat to both U.S. and Australian democracy
- Technology and the internet threaten to undermine democracy
- Ten steps to save the democracy
- Democracy for sale: Will new push for donations reform force Turnbull to act?
Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.