Fer those of you visiting Serf Under -ground fer the first time, 🙂 I’m reposting me
blog policy stated in the First Edition …

“Serf Under -ground Journal seeks ter emulate Professor Judith Curry’s forum at Climate Etc, pertaining ter open society values of inclusive discussion between experts and non-experts, and her recognition that on all fronts of human investigation,
uncertainty prevails.”

‘Inclusiveness,’ say, there’s a value relevant ter democratic decision making, contrary ter trickle down guvuhmint by plato – nicist –  philosopher – king – types telling us what we need ter know. The subject of this edition, as indicated in the above heading, is about applying appropriate measures so that powerful coteries in the political system can no longer choose what information gets out. It’s also about determining who in the future will run the show, philosopher kings or the cits.

Some of us serfs who managed ter acquire a little book learning have found insights regarding ‘the great man syndrome’ in the history record. While experts have their place in a decision making process, their history of predicting future events ain’t good, as Nassim Taleb shows in ‘The Black Swan.’ I refer particularly ter many examples of experts’ black swan blindness cited in Chapter 10, ‘The Scandal of Prediction.’ )

Apropos top down decision making, a recently published book on Australian democracy by David Flint and Jai Martinkovits, ‘Give Us Back Our Country,’ ( Connor Courts Publishing, 2013.) presents arguments and supporting examples describing how Australian democracy is no longer working as it once did.


When the Australian self-governing colonies decided to come together they achieved Federation, not through politicians taking the decision for them, but as a decision   involving citizens  in how it should come about. Australia was already a democracy, its institutions, 1789 – 1901, inherited from the British Westminster System.  Flint and Martinkovits’ book describes the evolution of the Westminster System, proceeding after James 11’s abdication in Britain’s 1688 Glorious Revolution’, when William of Orange was offered the British Crown with limited powers, according to a Bill of Rights declaring ‘the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown.’ (1 Will.& Mar. sess 2c.2)  Two centuries later, in Corowa, 1893, Australia’s founding fathers showed good sense in drafting a constitution based on the Westminster System and also grafting on to it aspects of American federalism and Swiss direct democracy.


The central thesis of ‘Give Us Back Our Country’ is that Australia’s robust democracy has been eroded by a cosy interaction between factional power brokers, faceless men, and intellectual elites and we need to devolve power back to the people. Factional bosses control our political parties and elites have taken over our institutions which have become less accountable and increasingly wasteful of tax payers’ money. Author, Christopher Lasch, in  ‘The Revolt Of The Elites, (New York, 1995.) identifies upper class ‘liberal progressives’ from Humanities Faculties of Universities, who are now prominent in government bureaucracies and media, and who advocate centralizing top down social initiatives. A series of scandals concerning the power brokers has revealed a world, far removed from that of ordinary citizens, in which a premier and even a prime minister can be brought down by faceless cliques who reward one another with large sums from the public purse.

Flint and Martinkovits argue that the imposition of elite initiatives has had disastrous consequences , expanding government’s role through so called reform agendas, a cloak of infallibility for gaining increasing power. They argue that ‘electing a government in the 21st century is tantamount to signing a blank cheque on your bank account, guaranteed by your house, your assets and your income.’

Imposition of an elite agenda has led, for example, to limitations on freedom of speech of critics and government imposition of a carbon tax which, though punitively expensive, can’t reduce CO2. Supporting their acceptance of the theory of CAGW without firm evidence, the Gillard / Rudd Governments attempted to silence critics through ridicule by the government’s cronies in media outlets like the ABC, and by further attempted control of freedom of speech, when the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy, in 2011 initiated an inquiry into the Australian Media  led by former Chief Justice of the  Federal Court,  Ray Finkelstein, QC. The Finkelstein enquiry concluded that a new powerful News Media Council should be established to set journalistic standards with wide powers of enforcement, despite the fact that the Constitution gives no power to the Federal Government to pass legislation to give effect to such recommendations. Under opposition within the Party itself as well as from the opposition, the Media Bill was withdrawn.


At the same time as the government is usurping what were previously viewed as specifically the provinces of Australian citizens or responsibility of the States, the Government is falling down in its basic duties of Defence of the Nation, of Foreign policy and of Law and Order.

I guess we serfs don’t mind a bit of top down guvuhmint when it’s about keeping the citizens safe from invasion or mayhem in the city square. So let’s take a look at Defence, Foreign Affairs’ policy and Law and Order beginning with Defence.

Well, considering the importance of security of the nation, a Defence budget isn’t something you turn on and off as if it’s a matter of discretionary spending. Flint and Martinkovits observe that Defence requires long lead times and a seriousness transcending party politics. The Rudd / Gillard Government has taken up to $24 billion dollars out of the Defence budget, seemingly prepared to accept an increased strategic risk at a time when Asian Defence spending is rising significantly and when, as Major General Jim Molan observes, security threats to Australia may be higher than we have seen for decades. ( Chapter 2.)

Say, and what about Foreign Affairs, described in the Constitution as External Affairs, a core duty of guvuhmint ter protect its own borders and the interests of Australia and Australians beyond our borders? Well yer’ll be glad ter hear that the Foreign Affairs  budget was increased by $5.2 billion dollars in 2013, glad, that is, until yer hear the reason why.

The Australian Government has borrowed billions of dollars which the Australian tax payers will have to repay, interest then principal, to buy a temporary seat on the UN Security Council, a ‘vanity pulpit’ for the Foreign Affairs Minister, Kevin Rudd. Borrowed money to belong to a club, the majority of whose members are dictatorial and corrupt, eg  ref / Paul Volker ‘Report on the Manipulation of the Oil for Food Program.’  (07/10/2005.)  

And closer to home, when it comes down to managing our border security, the Rudd / Gillard government has dismantled the former government’s successful ‘Pacific Solution’ to illegal immigration, the majority of whom are not refugees from persecution but come from a safe third country, usually Indonesia. A weak policy on people smuggling has allowed 40,000 illegal immigrants to enter Australia, a number that could be multiplied by a factor of three as a result of the government’s family reunion program This ploy is designed to bolster the Labor Government’s voting constituency but also increases levels of unskilled labour and welfare dependency.  
Government negligence has also allowed mismanagement and corruption to flourish in the Customs Department. Veteran detective, Tim Priest, identifies systematic failings in Customs that have been known for years, e.g. a staggering 53 freight containers fully laden with drugs passed through screening at Botany Bay and had to be tracked down by NSW police.  Tim Priest wonders why the Federal Government has concentrated more than 25% of its staff in Canberra, an area with no sea port and only one airport and railway station.

Maintenance of Law and Order, an area of Federal responsibility, shared with the States, has become another failure of core responsibility. Serfs appreciate the idea that while every law restricts human freedom, as the sainted Hayek would say, a restricted Rule of Law, the basis of justice when non-arbitrary and consistently applied, allows us serfs ter go about our business peacefully and plan fer termorrow. We support maintaining this democratic process of non-arbitrary Rule of Law.  

So how is Law and Order working within Australia? It might surprise you to learn  that a comparison of crime rates in Australia and the United States show that the Australian crime rate is 43% higher than the crime rate in the US.. While America has more homicides from fire arms, Australia has 100% more assaults and 150% more rapes than the US,(  Flint and Martinkovits consider that this is due to weaknesses of government policy, a ‘go soft on crime’ message to potential offenders as a result of  a plethora of bureaucratic constraints on police and trial procedures. The authors cite controls on trial judges and evidence entrusted to juries, and encouragement of tax-payer funded appeals, often for relatively trivial reasons as contributing to the increase in crime. Failing control on illegal immigration and also release of the dangerously medically ill from institutions into the community are also factors that could be contributing to issues of law and order.


Flint and Martinkovits present four proposals to empower the people with the tools of direct democracy; they are Citizen Initiated Referenda, Citizens’ Veto over existing laws, Recall Elections, and the reintroduction of Grand Juries.

Citizen Initiated Referenda (CIR) would give citizens the power to introduce a referendum that if passed by a majority of voters would become law regardless of what the politicians say. There are forms of CIR around the world today, all based on   the idea that if a certain percentage of citizens sign a petition that a certain law be put to the people, a referendum must be held. Switzerland has a robust tradition of CIR,  resulting, in some years, in several proposed laws being put to the people. Twenty-five of the American states also have some form of CIR. The authors consider that if the electorate have this power they will become more engaged in the political process and become more responsiveto what makes good or bad policy.

The Citizens’ Veto similarly gives the people the opportunity to repeal an unpopular law. A Citizens’ Veto would weaken  the politicians master – servant relationship with voters. It is unlikely that the Labor Government would have introduced its unpopular carbon tax had the Australian voters been empowered with such a veto.

A direct democracy initiative of Recall Elections, a feature of  a number of states in the USA, is another means of  keeping politicians in check. Recall Elections allow  citizens to petition for an elected official to be dismissed and to face the voters afresh. In recent years, in Australia, certain members of both sides of government, dogged by claims of corruption, would likely have been subject to Recall Elections.

The institution of the Grand Jury came to some of the Australian colonies just as it was declining in England. Grand Juries were first mentioned in the time of Henry 11, the task of The Grand Jury was to report on breaches of the King’s peace and it evolved to become a body deciding whether there was sufficient evidence for a prosecution to be brought before one of the visiting assize judges of the Court of King’s Bench in London.

In Victorian times committal proceedings were heard before a magistrate and grand juries were on the way out. The founding fathers in America believed the Grand Jury was an institution worth preserving as a means of citizens being able to check the excesses of governments and it is still operating the in US under the Fifth Amendment which is part of the Bill of Rights.  The purpose of the Grand Jury remains what it was in England and a jury of 16 to 23 individuals chosen randomly from registered voters is frequently convened to decide whether to recommend prosecution in corruption and organized crime cases. A Grand Jury elects its own foreman and is not chaired by a judge. It is truly a citizen body. The grand jury disappeared in most of the Australian states but continued to exist until recently,
on paper at least, in Victoria under section 354 0f the Crimes Act, 1958. After some unsuccessful attempts in recent years to convene grand juries, one relating to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the section was repealed in 2009.

In Australia we have a range of institutions which carry out investigations into corruption and organized crime. The problem and difficulty of parliamentary investigations and royal commissions, though, is that they are instituted by the Government of the day and are politically orientated. As Flint and Martinkovits claim:  ‘There is a gap, a democratic deficit.  And that is the ordinary citizens are in no way involved in this investigation.’ (Ch 22.)

While a fallible serf agrees with the principles of checks and balances on guvuhmint by means of a grand jury and is in favour of inclusive discussion on other initiatives of direct democracy, history tells us that human actions sometimes have unintended consequences.

Citizen Initiated Referendums and Citizens’ Veto could be vulnerable ter the kind of behind the scenes manipulation that we are trying ter prevent within the guvuhmint, but potentially facilitating outside guvuhmint through the machinations of elitist activist groups like ‘Get Up’ exploiting the power of social media.Guess yer would need a bi-partisan body of lawyers assessing the implications of these kinds of constitutional changes. Safeguards would need to be built so as not ter undo mandates voted for in the preceding election, for example, as distinct from vetoing legislation enacted contrary to a pre-electoral promise, such as Julia Gillard’s broken promise that her government would not introduce a carbon tax.

Apropos activist group ‘Get Up,’ in October 2012, the then Opposition Senate Leader, Senator Abetz wrote to the Australian Electoral Commission recommending that Get Up be declared an associated entity which would refute the claim by National Director, Simon Sheikh, that Get Up is  strictly ‘issues driven and unaligned with any political  movement.’  ‘Politically unaligned’ is the shtick by which the 380,0000 of Get Up are induced ter pay cash ter support their campaigns. As Senator Betz argues, it has never been a non-partisan independent body. Get Up’s current board includes Amanda Tattersall, a former staffer for NSW Labor MP Meredith Burgmann, its founders include Labor Minister, Bill Shorten, and ex PM Rudd’s former Press Secretary, Lachlan Harris.


It is important to remember that Australian Federation was not achieved by the politicians but by decisions coming from Australian citizens. What was nor envisaged
at Federation was that representative democracy would fall under the control of factional power brokers and electors would be obliged to choose between candidates too often selected for their allegiance to a factional power broker and the elites who gained control of many key institutions.

The authors of ‘Give Us Back Our Country’ argue that the only solution to the breakdown in democracy is to make our politicians more accountable by introducing into Australia the tools of direct democracy. To achieve the institutions of direct democracy Flint and Martinkovits propose that a peoples’ convention, as in 1893 in Corowa, be elected with the task of working out a series of proposals to be considered by the people in referendum. A convention would only take place if there is enough public pressure to make politicians let it happen. Flint and Martinkovits invite Australian citizens to sign the petition on page 371 of their book or at their internet site @

A broad-based  constitutional convention  just might be able to identify productive reforms that safe guard free speech, make government more transparent and curb legislative initiatives beyond defined limits. Like Milton said, ‘Let truth and falsehood grapple, whoever saw truth put to worse in open debate.’


Yer might think that because a Bill restricting freedom of speech in Australia was unsuccessful that this is jest past history. Not so. Opponents of open society promoting paternalist guvuhmint never give up. Constant vigilance is required in holding the line or hopefully winning back the high ground in the debate.  Herewith   extracts from Senator George Brandis’ address at the 3rd Sir Henry Gibbs  Memorial Oration in Brisbane, August 17th, 2012. The Oration though, is worth reading in its entirety.

Senator Brandis addresses implications of political correctness , section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act, 1995, and of media controls recommended in 2012The Finkelstein Report  recommending the setting up of a new regulatory body, funded by government, to oversee the news media, a News Media Council with power to enforce decisions and apply sanctions.

On political correction George Brandis observes:

‘When he introduced section 18c in 1995, the then Minister for Immigration, Senator  Nick Bolkus, oblivious to  the Orwellian resonances of his rhetoric, told the  Parliament that it was designed to eliminate “speech crimes.”  ‘

… ‘The practitioners of political correctness have grasped the close connection between language and thought, so that by limiting that which may be said, they seek to limit what may be thought … As Winston Smith discovered, there is hardly any distance between speech crime and thought crime. So the attack upon freedom of speech is not merely about the censorship of language which the Left finds objectionable. At a deeper level it is an attack upon intellectual freedom itself.’

‘For those who take the trouble to read the Finkelstein Report , of even greater  concern than the recommendations is their rationale. For the underlying argument is itself an attack upon what Finkelstein calls the “libertarian ” case for press freedom , in favour of what he describes as  the principle of “social responsibility.” Now there are few who would argue that the press, as a powerful institution, does not have responsibility to society. But Finkelstein’s approach goes much further than that: by favouring the “social responsibility” argument over the “libertarian” argument, freedom of the press is not seen as the paramount public value, qualified by necessary but jealously circumscribed exceptions, rather it is displaced … Finkelstein is unambiguous about the purposes of the new regulatory body which he proposes: ‘It could not be denied that whatever mechanism is chosen to ensure accountability, speech will be restricted. In a sense that is the purpose of the mechanism.’  ‘

Hmm, jest as well the legislation wasn’t passed. But the attitude remains. It’s still about Plato – on – the hill saying, ‘Listen serfs, we will tell you what yer need ter know and what – yer – can – say.’

A standard tactic of  the Gillard government was to attempt to place controversial subjects beyond public discussion by invoking the superior knowledge of  selected “experts.” You disagree with a mining tax? Oh, but  Dr Henry says it is a good thing.  You disappear about about global warming? Oh but climate “expert” Tim Flannery says …

Here’s what a sceptical serf at Climate Etc. has ter say regarding experts in science:

‘… I guess I hammer this theme a bit hard here even though I have always supported science and been involved on the fringes of science for some 40 years or more. That’s maybe why I now have the attitude towards science that I do or as one of my brothers who has a science degree puts it; In science, you have to try ninety nine f.w’s to get that hundredth guy / gal who can really make a difference.

So I keep on coming back to the basics in that scientists, whatever discipline, culture, background, training or otherwise are just ordinary human beings with all the faults and qualities, good, bad, indifferent, skilled, incompetent, honest, dishonest, corrupt, you name it, that any other section of the population you might wish to choose from also has….’

ROM @ 11.25pm , 22/10/13.

(Yer can read the comment in its entirety at Judith Curry’s thread, ‘The Ethics of Framing Science.’ )


One’s-self I sing, a simple separate person,
Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-Masse.

Of physiology from top to toe I sing,
Not physiognomy alone nor brain alone is worthy for the Muse.
I say the Form complete is worthier far,
The female equally with the Male I sing.

Of Life immense in passion, pulse, and power,
Cheerful, for freest action form’d under the laws divine,
The Modern Man I sing.

Walt Whitman. Inscriptions.


  1. Hmmm, some very meaty material here. May have to re-read later.

    Us toffs like things short and flippant, but I can see what you mean about experts, serf. As Dame Edna said of Dr. Jim Cairns: “He’s not a make-you-better doctor.”

    Expertise may be necessary, but it’s also very vulgar. Experts are always a bit C-O-M-M-O-N, as Dame Edna would spell. And unless one is an engineer or dentist, one should never talk of one’s academic “training”. Like you need training to write the one millionth essay on which way the compass goes in that John Donne poem. Or a Marxian perspective on Derrida. Or a Derridan perspective on Marx. Or climate bloody science!

    Training. Brrr.

  2. I like what Dame Edna has ter say about experts. And
    NassimTaleb too regardin’ “The Expert Problem, or The
    Tragedy of The Empty Suit.” … Experts who tend to be
    experts: livestock judges, astronomers, test pilots, soil;
    judges, physicists, mathematicians, ( when they deal with
    mathematical problems,..Experts who tend to be … not
    experts… Find out by reading Ch10 of The Black Swan.

  3. “Two Cheers for Democracy: one because it admits variety and two because it permits criticism. Two cheers are quite enough: there is no occasion to give three.” – E. M. Forster

  4. Hi Jim,

    I have read Free to Choose. I like Friedman’s chapter, ‘What’s Wrong
    with Schools’ regardin’ a voucher system allowing the holder, freedom to
    choose the school at which school it’s used, not just @ guvuhmint schools.

    My next edition is going ter be on Schumpeter. Serfs refuse ter be
    constrained by their limitations.) I’m also preparing a mini thread on
    the talk by Matt Ridley i attended two nights ago.

    I enjoy yr comments on energy @ CE Jim, thx fer dropping by.

    Beth the serf.

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