Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Changes Ahead?

The Australian federal election is just a few days away. Two things you ought to know right off the bat--voting is compulsory here and it occurs on a Saturday.

Besides those obvious differences, however, there are other things about this Aussie election that I am quite intrigued about, from my standpoint as a lifelong consumer of American politics. First, there really is no discussion of "social" hot button issues here, such as abortion, school prayer, evolution, stem cell research, or flag burning. Instead, the candidates talk about the economy, interest rates, long-term energy plans, aboriginal issues, and what Australia's role should be in accommodating UN refugees. Based on what I have seen in the past four months, I think this year's election is really a referendum on John Howard's industrial relations laws. When Howard's party took control of all levels of government in 2004, he enacted several workplace changes that undermined the power of union contracts and collective bargaining (replacing them with the euphemistic "WorkChoices"). Kevin Rudd, the leader of the opposition, has vowed to roll back these changes if his party, Labor, wins the election. In turn, Howard's Liberal party has been running ads suggesting that the days of strikes and powerful union bosses will return to ruin Australia if Labor wins. On top of this, the federal reserve has raised interest rates six times in recent months.

The politics of climate change are also quite prominent. Both parties acknowledge that climate change poses a real challenge, but the Liberals don't seem to be especially worried about it. Keep in mind that Howard's government in Australia and Bush's in the United States are the two notable exceptions to the 172 parties that have signed the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases. Both Labor and the Liberals support the export of Australia's vast stores of uranium (and coal) to other countries, but only the Liberals want to build more nuclear plans here.

The most astonishing thing about the Australian election is the lack of concern about what is perhaps the most volatile issue in contemporary American politics. I have watched several hours of speeches and interviews involving John Howard and Kevin Rudd this week, and nothing was ever said about Iraq, Afghanistan, or "The War on Terror." For the record, Rudd has vowed to pull out the 2000 or so Aussie troops in Iraq next year, whereas Howard has said he will maintain his commitment to the Coalition Forces. But, as I have said, this issue hardly gets a mention.

If Howard is indeed voted out this weekend, I am interested to see how the American media will cover the story. I have a feeling that someone will try to make the attribution that he was voted out because of his support of the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, even though he was re-elected in 2004. But, you read it here first. Despite shepherding one of the best economies in Australia's history--or maybe because of it--John Howard will lose this election because the people felt comfortable enough to try something else.

11 comments:

The Author said...

An excellent post. Thank you especially from my point of view for summarising this because I've been really concerned about understanding Aussie politics.

PS the map also puts things into excellent perspective! Excellent job!

Mooselet said...

Very well written, and I think you're right. Howard will lose the election due to the perception that WorkChoices is the worst thing to ever happen to modern Australians.

I think it will barely register on the American media radar, except maybe for Leno to reply the Rudd ear wax incident.

Mooselet said...

I really should clarify that the reason for Howard's loss is my take on it, not yours. Yours was also a valid point. I'm a little slow today...

The Prof said...

Thanks, you two! I do wish I could vote on Saturday.

Brett said...

Alison and I have been enjoying the opportunity to observe this election process without really caring who wins. It's so much easier to view the process with a little objectivity, isn't it?

Dobbs said...

Another issue I hear brought up a lot by people at work is immigration and boat people. A lot of people I know strongly support Horward because of his boat people policies.

I think the biggest thing working against Howard though is that he has PM to long and people just want somebody different.

Audra said...

Hmmm, I swore I left a very witty comment here yesterday...I have trouble reading those mushy letters...old age...or are you censoring me?

Anyway, what I find very interesting about this election is that, although Howard and Rudd are the frontrunners, you aren't really voting for them to be PM. I think the focus is on the issues and party platforms because, afterall you are really selecting a party to lead the country.

What is wacky to me, is that the small district of Bennelong has the power to essentially unseat John Howard by voting in Maxine McKew. So the Liberal party could still win, but Howard may not be the PM.

It would be like a presidential candidate losing the office because he didn't take his home state.

Still, the lack of sensationalism and scare tactics in the campaigns is refreshing, as is the very short season.

Dobbs said...

I agree with Audra that the short campaign season and a focus on issues during the election is a welcome relief from the US campaign that seems like it began right after the last election with candidates with no firm beliefs.

The Prof said...

Excellent comments, everybody. I hope you enjoyed the election night coverage as much as I did! And, Audra, I would NEVER delete your (or anyone else's) comment!

Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis and an excellent blog! Welcome to Australia.

Chatabox Girl said...

Shows how laid back we are, I didnt even know the elections were coming up!! I knew about the New Zealand ones. I have no idea if i can vote here or not anyway. Gosh how confusing!