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Pagemaster: Brendan O'Neill (brendan@mail.informinc.co.uk)

Wallaby free?

What a weekend for Australia. The Wallabies won the Rugby World Cup in the early hours of Sunday 7 November, and the nation could have woken up from its collective hangover freed from one of the most anti-democratic institutions in the world. But it didn't.

As an anti-monarchy Pom living in Brisbane, I watched gloomily over recent months as it became more and more predictable that Australia would vote 'No' to severing its ties with the queen. The public has little particular attachment to HRH, and for a long time polls have shown that most Australians are in favour of a republic. Fervent monarchists like 74-year old grandmother Gilda Trigar-Benvuti, banned from polling booths in Brisbane after turning up to cast her vote in a Union Jack dress (no advertising allowed inside polling stations) are few and far between: one poll even indicated that only one in 10 of those voting 'No' actually wanted the queen to be head of state.

So why did republican Australia not vote for a republic when it had the chance? Quite simply: the voters didn't like the republic on offer. Prime minister John Howard proposed the model of a president chosen by himself and approved of by two thirds of both Houses of Parliament. Not so much throwing off the shackles of an unelected monarch, then, as a backhand way of ushering in a new unelected appointee. Consequently, the No campaign was an unholy alliance between 'direct electionists' (republicans who believe in a president elected by Aus citizens) and the dreary group Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy. And their message was not 'up with their queen', but 'down with our politicians'.

Their joint advertising slogan 'Vote no to the politicians' republic' said it all. This was a vote against politicians, and there was certainly nothing radical about it. A letter from a Courier-Mail newspaper reader sums up the prevailing sentiment: '(It's) a referendum that...gives all Australians a unique opportunity to vote on issues that don't matter a damn. Changes that affect daily life such as the introduction of a GST (VAT) are decided by politicians only. Make this an "I hate politicians and their elitist mates" referendum and vote "No".'

The No vote was not a positive endorsement of the queen's rule. Instead it expressed a more modern anti-democratic sentiment than old-fashioned monarchism. The scorn poured on elected politicians reflects public alienation from the entire system of representative democracy. And as a letter to The Australian newspaper said: 'Politicians are in government because voters elected them. If politicians cannot be trusted then voters by definition cannot be trusted.' In emphasising the irrelevance of politics, the campaigners emphasise the irrelevance of their own views and decisions.

But then, do you blame them? Getting rid of the queen - who has never been elected to head either Australia or Britain - is one thing. Replacing her with John Howard's pet politician is another thing entirely. That the Australian government did not see fit to offer people a genuine republic - only a political stitch-up - indicates a certain contempt for the electorate. That the electorate chose an ageing granny with no democratic authority over its own politicians shows just how mutual this feeling is.

Liz Frayn efrayn@hotmail.com

I want my MP3

The record industry is getting hot under the collar over the latest technology that allows internet users to exchange near-CD quality music over the net. The audio format MP3 allows the compression of files so that they can be reduced to roughly an eleventh of their original size, without any perceptible loss in sound quality. Music which once took many hours to download can be done in minutes.

Sections of the music distribution industry allege that MP3 encourages piracy and results in loss of revenue. Attempts have been made to outlaw the use of the format altogether, with lawsuits issued against MP3 players such as Diamond Multimedia System's Rio, MP3 search engines and websites containing MP3 material. According to industry figures in Britain, over 30 MP3 sites have been shut down. In the rest of Europe more than 2000 sites have been removed from the net.

The real reason for the industry's attack is that it fears the changing environment of the new technology and losing control of music distribution. For decades the recording industry has been able to lock its talent into contractual agreements, knowing that artists had to sign up with a distributor. The internet changes this. But if the existing music distribution industry is to be destroyed by progress in technological development, so be it. For too long the big five record companies have held a stranglehold over new artists and their audiences.

If the record industry has its way in wiping out MP3 then it will be a victory for the sectional business interests of record companies over technological innovation. It is symptomatic of these times that new solutions to old problems, such as pushing huge amounts of data through a telephone wire, should be greeted not with celebration, but by demanding criminal sanctions.

Alan Docherty is news editor of Internet Freedom


Now the year 2000 is finally upon us, the vast majority of people are confident that the effects of the millennium bug will be minor. In response to this show of extreme non-concern the government has decided to send each and every household a brochure assuring us that not much will go wrong. We know!!!

Perhaps the government fears accusations of complacency, and thinks that it should be seen to be doing something. Or maybe the Y2K bug is one of the 'forces of conservatism' and must therefore be attacked and cajoled on principle - even when it is on its back with its legs waving in the air.

But really New Labour seems to think that the biggest Y2K bug is now in our heads and that our propensity to panic is the main problem. This bizarre second-order panic - their worry is our worrying - is the main justification for constantly restating 'don't get all your money out of the bank, don't hoard food, don't worry about planes falling out of the sky, your toaster will probably not kill you...', and so on.

The assumption seems to be that any news - or even rumours - of Y2K problems will set us off into a survivalist shopping/hoarding frenzy. More likely is that the main effect of news of a worthwhile Y2K hitch would be the welcome relief of media tension - the press has been waiting over two years without even one decent story.

There will, no doubt, be some real Y2K problems on 1 January. Thankfully people's adaptability will ensure these are resolved quickly and efficiently. Nations and corporations that have not obsessed on Y2K preparedness will overall be better off than those that have run off in search of bug-free guarantees. In the meantime, I will join the rest of the public and be relaxed about Y2K. I intend to get very relaxed.

Finally a disclaimer. If you haven't made a copy of your valuable computer data and you lose it, don't blame me! Not keeping a backup of your files is asking for it any day of the millenniums.

Mark Beachill is a computer programmer

The what's NOT on guide

FIGHTING TALK: Hollywood Reporter editor Anita Busch has called the film Fight Club 'the kind of product that law-makers should target for being socially irresponsible', while Bill Clinton is threatening to legislate against violence in films. He is backed up by the Beastie Boys (perhaps they're bored with freeing Tibet) and the National Rifle Association (for whom Hollywood is a convenient scapegoat in the wake of the Columbine massacre). British film censors cut violent sections from two of the film's scenes, and replaced Helena Bonham Carter's line 'I want to have your abortion', delivered during a sex scene with Brad Pitt, with the more palatable 'I haven't been fucked like this since grade school'. CRUCIFIED: A poster featuring Jesus Christ with an orange slice halo and the caption 'Jesus was a vegetarian', promoting People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has been scrapped in Belfast. The Catholic Church has claimed that the poster was offensive but also inaccurate, since Jesus ate meat at the Passover. MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CENSOR: John Cleese has revealed that all material relating to train crashes was cut from the BBC's thirtieth anniversary Monty Python night, to avoid causing offence after the recent Paddington crash. He explained that the team 'always specialised in bad taste but there are some jokes you could never do'. Presumably, gently baiting Christians with The Life of Brian is as far as he will go. BLACK MAGIC: The South Carolina Board of Education is just one of several bodies threatening to remove the bestselling Harry Potter books from American schools, on the grounds that they 'have a serious tone of death, hate, lack of respect and sheer evil'. One shudders to think what they make of the Brothers Grimm.

Compiled by Sandy Starr

Reproduced from LM issue 126, December 1999/January 2000

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