Liberal V. Conservative in Oz

Ally often has an amusing turn of phrase, recently she said that another blog she had read “reminds you of the time the light went on for you and you realized that conservatism was not as dorky as it originally sounded – hell, maybe even those dumb conservatives had a point”.

It got me thinking about this same political divide here in Australia for those who might be coming to a similar realisation. Here our conservatives are called “Liberals” (which only confuses things slightly), our “Democrats” are a tiny faction without any real bite, our democratic socialists are called “Labor”, and the real growing force in left wing politics is the “Greens” (who sound more like a family than a party – with that name & all the squabbling).

The trouble is no one party suits my beliefs. The original basis on which the Liberal Party was formed is actually closer to my beliefs. The trouble is that they’ve become more like the Labor Party. The trouble with the Labor Party is they’ve become more like the Liberals. So who do you follow? The Democrats who could not find a policy if you mailed it to them at home? The Greens whose radical agenda should scare anyone who can think?

It’s hurting my brain to think about it – there are no real libertarian conservative parties here. I might have a nice cup of tea and lie down with a nice Trollope instead.

More on Compulsory Voting …

Chris in a recent post over at Points of Information has a nice perspective on compulsory voting: “forcing indifferent people to turn out means that you drastically increase the amount of noise in your electoral system, reducing the quality of the results you get”.

One thing Chris might not understand about the Australian electoral system (him being a ‘foreigner’ to these shores and all) is that although there appear to be two major parties they are really just one party.

This may seem like a paradox. Once in the distant past there were two completely separate parties:

  • the Liberal party, who represented business, small government and growth
  • and the Labor party, who represented the working class in association with the labour unions

However, during the 1980’s both parties turned into one party. The Labor party embraced business, competition and globalisation. While the Liberal party adopted popularist policies to placate the masses and agrarian socialist policies to placate their National party coalition partners. Both parties met in the middle & have not moved apart since.

Since that time there has not been much difference between the two parties. I reckon you could save all that money on an election and just toss a coin to decide. In essence the Australian political system is an oligarchy. The members of elite who rule Australia went to similar schools and universities (a frightening number of them are lawyers). They are all cut from the same cookie dough with the same cookie cutter.

In both parties there is an extreme rump. For the Liberals the rump is on the right wing of politics, and for Labor the rump is on the left wing. Neither rump seems to have much luck with either policy or portfolios.

So, Chris’ comments regarding the usefulness of compulsory voting are true. The noise in elections is increased, the results don’t really matter and everyone feels like something important happened.

Labor returning to IR ‘dark ages’

John Howard claims that “Labor [is] returning to IR ‘dark ages’“, The Sydney Morning Herald, August 7, 2004

“The Prime Minister, John Howard, has slammed Labor’s workplace relations plan as antiquated and irrelevant, warning of a return to the regulatory dark ages should the Opposition win government.

But the Opposition workplace relations spokesman, Craig Emerson, said Labor was proposing a federal system similar to that now operating in NSW and Queensland, two of the strongest performing states.”

Later in the same article: 

“Housing Industry Association national executive director for legal services Scott Lambert said Labor’s plan to abolish the building industry taskforce would increase the power of building unions, reduce productivity and increase costs.”

I hate to agree with such an annoying and colourless man as John Howard. BUT a return to the old style collective bargaining model is anti-productivity, anti-competition and just plain stupid.

To say that we should do this because New South Wales and Queensland both do so is an irrelevency. In fact, Queensland is about to descend into electrical power problems with it’s state owned power suppliers in the very near future, and New South Wales is about to descend into industrial anarchy resembling the 1970’s. The rail staffing problems are merely a harbinger of future union problems for NSW.

Business in NSW is performing strongly for a number of reasons, none of which is related to the industrial relations system, which consistently hamstrings business. The industrial relations system in NSW, especially with regards to the unfair dismissal legislation is particularly difficult for business large and small. It is definitely a dis-incentive to hire permanent staff, becuase if you choose the wrong person it is almost impossible to get rid of them. This only adds to the problem of casualisation of the workforce – which Labor & the Australian Council of Trades Unions have been bleating about for ages. Have they stopped to think that it is their shortsighted policies that are exacerbating this problem?

The answer to this is not more regulation. The answer is to make it easier for people to hire the right person and to be able to remove staff who have not worked out for one reason or another.

PS: My personal political viewpoint is of the ‘a plague on all of your houses’ variety

American Presidential Candidates & their Hair

It is fascinating to note the abundant and well groomed hair of all of the Presidential candidates in the US. This is very different to Australia where neither of the current contenders for Prime Minister has very good hair at all.

In fact, a recent survey by Wahl – the hair clipper manufacturer – indicated that:

“the majority of Americans overwhelmingly voted for Bush’s hair over Kerry’s (Bush – 51 percent; Kerry – 30 percent; neither-10 percent; don’t know- 9 percent.) “

It will be interesting to see if Wahl’s prediction holds.

Points of Information – We’re off to see the wizard …

Points of Information is an amusing Canadian take on the quaint Australian custom of compulsory voting in elections (i.e. the government punishes you by way of a fine if you cannot be bothered to get of bed and cast a vote in municipal, state & federal elections). As Tim Poon comments:

“Well, I dunno. I appreciate that voter participation is a key part of democracy, but punishing folks for not voting seems a little harsh. Of course, I’m not sure that bribing voters is the right approach, either. Is a “compulsory” voting process a “good thing” for democracy?”

Well it does mean that everyone votes (or most people) BUT does it mean their vote counts for something? I’m not so sure about that!

WatchBlog: 2004 US Election News, Opinion and Commentary

“What. WatchBlog is a multiple-editor weblog broken up into three major political affiliations, each with its own blog: the Democrats, the Republicans and the Third Party (covering everything outside the two major parties).

Why. Let’s face it, politics is confusing. Sometimes it’s difficult to know who to believe, who to listen to and who to support. We’re here to help. Posting on a regular basis are editors representing each major party. Stay informed. ”

Source: WatchBlog: 2004 U.S. Election News, Opinion and Commentary

This is neat – all the factions side by side in one convenient place for tracking commentary on the US election.

It’s interesting that blogs are not as visible and influential with regards to the Australian election.

While there is the sad Malcolm Turnbull site (he’s so terribly earnest) that has a blog on it and a lame Democrats bulletin (don’t forget their catchy new slogan ‘the lie detectors’ – hmmm wonder if that will help us forget the last fiasco?).

There is certainly no equivalent site to that I know of. Although as usual I’m happy to be proved wrong on this.

Cultural Gap Between US & Australia

It is not always apparent to the casual observer how significant the cultural differences between Australia and the United States really are. One particular difference that really strikes me is the respect for authority. Americans seem to have a high level of respect for authority & for the apparatus of the state. In Australia respect for authority is not so high. Instead there is an irreverence towards authority, as evidenced by the *tall poppy syndrome which is prevalent.

One good example is the reverence in which Americans seem hold their president, or rather the role of president. Even former presidents seem to be treated very respectfully. But in Australia this is not the case.

In general, Australians constantly question authority and are suspicious of those in authority, while asking why the government isn’t doing something.  I think this results from the founding of the country as a convict settlement.  Also the large number of Irish immigrants to Australia who suffered from religious persecution likely influenced this way of thinking.  In Australia Catholics were treated as second class citizens until quite late in the 19th century and even into the early 20th century.  The church and state were one as in England, and those who did not follow the state religion were excluded for participation in education and the economy in various ways.

Whereas in the US separation of church and state, together with a history focused on independence from English rule saw a very different sensibility arise.  This seems to have led Americans to respect their leaders and those in authority precisely because of the historical fact of independence.

The other key area of difference between these two nations is religion.  The influence of the Christian religion in the US is vast, whereas in Australia it is effectively a secular nation & religion plays little part in public life.  In Australia religion is a private practice and it seems to many people to be ill-mannered to bring it up in public debate.

Culturally Australia seems much closer to Britain than to America, although this is gradually changing now in the 21st century.

Given these types of fundamental differences together with so many similarities I think it entirely possible for Australians and Americans to completely misunderstand each other.  After all as Sir Winston Churchill noted in relation to the British and Americans there is ‘common language which separates us.’   The thing is because the two nations are similar and have much in common it is easy to miss the diversity that exists between us.

* Tall poppy syndrome = “The tall poppy syndrome refers to the behavioural trait of Australians to cut down those who are ‘superior’ to them. It is used to explain why most politicians, some academics, and the occasional millionaire, commands a level of community admiration inferior to that of a toilet cleaner.”


The great maternity leave debate

I do not have children, nor do I plan to reproduce – so I suppose you could say I have no skin in this particular game. But I’ve been thinking about the debates around maternity leave and the low birthrate that have occurred recently in Australia.

The key problem does not actually seem to be paid maternity leave for a number of weeks after the birth, rather it seems to be the fact that one must support the child for at least 18 years after the birth. Nowadays there are few women who do not have to return to work to support their families. Given this situation it seems to me that the real problem is not maternity leave, instead it is the lack of cheap and available childcare.

The solution to this problem is obvious! The government should provide childcare on the same basis as it does school education. It should be a universal right in this country. Since many women (and men) would like to have children this would support a rise in the birth rate by removing a key impediment to child rearing. I must admit I would prefer my taxes go to universal childcare than to some other things.

ALP Politics in Australia Getting Weirder …

Just when you think politics here is settling down to the usual pre-election party favour handout phase someone somewhere does something entertaining.

This last week it has been the adoption of ex Midnight Oil front-man and sometime greenie, Peter Garrett, as an ALP candidate for a safe federal seat in Sydney. As a person who has always appeared quite idealistic it will be interesting to see what happens with Mr Garrett as the ALP party machine does its thing.

Will he hold up to the pragmatism (a.k.a. ‘moral vacuum’) that is party politics, or will he snap? I do hope it goes better than last time they co-opted someone (does anyone remember Cheryl Kernot?)

One thing is certain, Peter Garrett, with his past as a rockstar who made a variety of ‘alternative lifestyle’ choices, is bound to remain popular with the media and entertain many of us over the next little while!

John Howard, Australia and the United States

I keep wondering when John Howard will go to the next logical step?

First we became the deputy sheriff for the US in Asia, then we went to war by their side in Afghanistan and Iraq, now we are making a free trade agreement with them.

Surely the next logical step is Australia becoming a US state. Perhaps then we could remove some layers of government here?

For example, we could abolish the state governments and turn the Australian federal government into another US state government. It’s not such a silly idea really!