There are few things which goad me into writing a stinging piece these days – most of the time, I like to be of a gentler persuasion. But when rights are overriden, blatantly and perversely, well that’s cause to get the pen out. The pen as we all know can sometimes be mightier than the sword.

I live in a small community called Goulburn. It’s inland from the east coast of Australia and is populated by approx 24,000 citizens. It’s a cliquey place and you need to be here for about 5 years before you’re considered a local. The people can be either very passionate or very apathetic. And after their passion is gone, their apathy is a case study on why they have a local government that has restricted their right to speak in a council open forum, has made council agendas harder to report on, and has set up a complaints forum which takes months to look into anything…if at all, and if you’re lucky.

Oh and local government staff has recently commented that public land is their land, and theirs to do what they like with. They don’t have to tell anybody anything on what they consider are ‘minor matters’. And they judge what is minor or not.  Hummmph!

This series of actions is designed, no doubt, to shut critics down, and send the message that we have much more power than you. And, the ultimate message? You can’t fight city hall because you will lose.

So just how did this big headed, unrepresentative local government body get away with such a blatant attitude of disrespect and dismissal of  the people that it is supposed to serve? Yep, you guessed it, the majority allowed it too.

Democracy works on majority rule and it relies on either most of the people wanting or protesting a certain thing, or enough participation (lobbying) of interested groups to turn the tide. When the majority has been so burned, so many times that it’s passion and will has been eroded, and apathy has set in, well it gives those in power with their self-interested agendas and intentions, a freer reign.

And that’s what’s wrong with my small home town, inland from the east coast of Australia, at the moment. It could be a well represented democracy, but instead whenever a public meeting is held, such as to find out more about the councillors up for election, there is lucky to be 100 people attend. The good people of Goulburn have simply turned off. Switched off. Couldn’t give a damn. Couldn’t give a rats…whatever. They are stone cold sober with apathy and, as a result, they’ve got an arrogant, unrepresentative local government that twists the truth and makes a mockery out of the concept of democracy.

What’s the message here? Well I guess there are good communities where the people care about each other, and there are those that care but couldn’t be bothered. That’s how apathy comes about. The passion runs hot for a short while, people get sucked into believing in the ideal and slowly, but surely, they are knocked down, disillusioned and often bullied into inaction. After a while they begin to think that complaining, rallying against something or rocking the boat is just not worth it.

The real moral here is that apathy, like cowardice, allows dictatorships to spring up – and the longer apathy prevails, the more rights we lose – subtly at first and then arrogantly and blatantly. We live in a democracy in Australia, but is it a representative democracy? Not a lot of the time for the individual and certainly not for me in Goulburn when it comes to my dismal local government.

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