Saturday 23 Oct 2021 | 12:50 | SYDNEY
Saturday 23 Oct 2021 | 12:50 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Afghanistan, democracy, foreign policy, etc


Sam Roggeveen


8 October 2009 16:32

Dr Christian Enemark from Sydney University writes:

As a hearty supporter of warts-and-all democracy, allow me to leap to the defence of Andy Butfoy. Mark O’Neill’s reply assumes a severely limited notion of democracy and exaggerates the influence of foreign policy on the voting public.

It is simplistic and dangerous to assume that the re-election of Bush, Blair and Howard amounts to the bestowing of democratic trust in and endorsement of their respective foreign polices on Afghanistan. We the punters elect our leaders on the basis of their performance and/or promises in numerous areas: climate change, employment, interest rates, child care, health, education, you name it. Foreign policy is just one consideration among many when we cast our vote. Just as Howard was not re-elected in 2004 on foreign policy grounds alone, so he attracted electoral punishment in 2007 for a variety of reasons.

Far from showing contempt for anybody’s choices, Andy Butfoy is simply living the democratic ideal of free speech. May it always be the case that those in the minority are allowed to criticise government policy, especially when that policy is putting Australian lives at risk.

The justice of Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan was not settled for all time in 2001. Rather, it is and ought to be the subject of ongoing political negotiation. As it happens, it now appears that more and more Australians are seeing less and less point in Australia’s military involvement. It is not so ridiculous for Andy to suggest that distrust has played a part in this, and it is foreseeable that the concerns he raises might soon resonate with majority opinion.

But if Mark O’Neill ever finds himself in the minority, we should listen no less carefully as he exercises free speech.