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Still Not Happy John - Keeping Democracy in Its Place.

Still Not Happy John - Keeping Democracy in Its Place.

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Published by Tony Yegles
Chapter 14 on IPA and NGOs. The IPA and Howard's attempts to silence NGOs. ‘Still Not Happy, John!’ is published by Penguin. You can download it as an ebook.
Chapter 14 on IPA and NGOs. The IPA and Howard's attempts to silence NGOs. ‘Still Not Happy, John!’ is published by Penguin. You can download it as an ebook.

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Published by: Tony Yegles on Mar 12, 2013
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03/12/2013

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273
Keeping Democracy in Its Place
By Paddy Manning 
Independent activity, involving, at times, opposition to the State, is not opposed to democracy; it is essential to it. Democracyresides in participation in organisations, in the openness,the publicity, of struggle
 John Anderson, Australian philosopher 
B
ehind the term ‘non-government organisations’ (orNGOs as they are known in the trade) are the charities,churches, clubs, associations and unions that 4 million Aus-tralians give time or money to each year.Professor Mark Lyons of the University of Technol-ogy Sydney writes that ‘non-profit organisations make animportant contribution to society through their demonstra-tion of, and thus encouragement for, collective action. They play a central role in the regeneration of social capital’.Social capital is the trust, tolerance and non-commercial values and networks in a civil society. Lyons adds that ‘Non-profit organisations also sustain and shape a demo-cratic political system. They are the “elementary schools of democracy”.’ This view is not confined to the soft left. The economi-cally super-dry federal Industry Commission said in a report on NGOs:
 
STILL NOT HAPPY, JOHN!274
‘The charitable sector underscores many basic values in Australian democracy. It exemplifies the principles of plu-ralism, free choice and the rights of citizens to participate inand take responsibility for their community. It helps ensurethat no government has a monopoly on the way society deals with its citizens – especially those who are most vul-nerable because of economic or personal need.’Here are three achievements of Australian NGOs:BUGA UP and other anti-smoking groups gave us banson tobacco advertisingthe Wilderness Society helped stop the damming of  Tasmania’s Franklin RiverUnitingCare provides crisis accommodation, non-profiaged-care facilities and other services to as many as800,000 Australians.Now lets ponder their legacy. In the nineteenth century,campaigns by NGOs helped:stop slaverachieve women’s suffrageban child labourput in place consumer protection laws.None of these reforms would have happened with-out organised community pressure from NGOs those
 
Keeping Democracy in Its Place 275
 dangerous ‘vehicles for the idea of citizenship’.For these reasons people are inclined to trust NGOs –often far more than mass-media outlets, multinationalcorporations or governments. That’s what a public relationsfirm found when it surveyed people in Australia, France,Germany, the US and the UK on the credibility of NGOsa year after the 1999 World Trade Organization meetingin Seattle was disrupted. The survey found that NGOs ‘aretrusted nearly twice as much to “do what is right” com-pared to government, media or corporations. NGOs suchas Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Oxfam and World Wildlife Fund have greater credibility than such corpora-tions as Esso/Exxon, Ford, Microsoft, Monsanto and Nike’(and donations to overseas aid agencies have been increasingat over 15 per cent a year for the last few years – a phenom-enal growth rate). The Australian Election Study (a mail survey of votersafter each federal election, conducted by the AustralianNational University) asked this question following the 2001election: ‘Would you say the government is run by a few big interests looking after themselves, or that it is run forthe benefit of all the people?’ Just under half of the public(48 per cent) thought the government was run for big inter-ests – and only 17 per cent thought it was run for all thepeople. A third thought governments were half run for biginterests, and half for all people.No wonder certain types are anxious about alternativeavenues of participation in democratic life.

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