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The Australian Election

By Jacques Chester in Op-Ed
Fri Nov 09, 2001 at 09:53:29 AM EST
Tags: Politics (all tags)

Tomorrow, Australia goes to the polls. We will be the first english-speaking nation to do so since September 11. We have a two-party dominated system with a smattering of influential smaller parties. The issues are broad, but both major parties are pounding on immigration and terrorism as their major themes.

Seeing as most of you are not Australia, what has this to do with you?

A lot, as it turns out. Political parties relate to each other internationally and study foreign elections. What Labor does in England percolates to us in Australia. US Republicans are invited to make speeches in Australia, and not a few of them take home a new perspective on their own system. Canada, Australia, Britain, the USA and New Zealand all enjoy an english-speaking population, all flow from earlier British colonialism, and all of them have borrowed ideas from each other.

Take for example the secret ballot. While it was invented in ancient greece, it was for a very long time forgotten and unused. During the time of Australia's colonisation, it was rediscovered. So radical was the idea that it was known internationally as "The Australian Ballot".

As an earlier front-page article alluded to, a major issue in this election is immigration. Enormous political static has grounded via broadsheets and current affairs programs on the issue. The incumbent party, the Liberals, have as usual managed to select the terms of debate by describing people arriving in leaky boats as "queue-jumpers" and "illegal immigrants". Their intellectual opponents - not found amongst their political opponent Labor[1] - have attacked new border integrity laws as inhumane, much as they have attacked the arbitrary imprisonment of unprocessed immigrants as inhumane.

Needless to say, emotion has usurped logic in the debate. My own position falls somewhere in between. On the one hand, I recognise that many of these people are fleeing genuine terror. They have given their life savings to dubious people-smugglers. But they are illegal immigrants, not only by Australian law, but by international treaty. While intellectuals lambast the Government for breaking treaty on the rights of refugees, the Government has not. International treaty rights extend to people who seek asylum in the first country they get to. "Third countries", traveled to afterwards, are exempted. This is why people-smugglers, themselves acquainted with treaty laws, carefully destroy any means of identifying where refugees have come from. Lately, a lot of Australia's arrivals have been Afghans. They arrive on boat, and yet, Afghanistan is a nation with no boat access to the Indian Ocean.

The debate rages ever onward. The Liberals and the Australian Labor Party (ALP) have entered into a fire-sale of human rights. The answer was never to turn away the Tampa. The answer was to find the people smugglers and to stop them. The answer was to pay for refugees to be helped in Pakistan, Iran, and anywhere they cross the Afghanistani border. The answer, frankly, was not to let it get this far in the first place.

Political discourse, conducted these days 10 seconds at a time, has unfailingly managed to jettison the deeper nature of the crisis. Not just the "unwashed masses" (to use the previous poster's expression) have ignored the broader system at work, but so to have the critics of the Liberal government's policies. The news bulletins, the current affairs programs, the talkback radio shows, even the highbrow broadsheets have fallen into a local minima of debate. Standing inside, it has been basically impossible to see anything without political colour. It was left to each of us to piece together the big picture by ourselves.

The failure to deeply examine issues and policy extends still further. Nothing is being debated anymore. Comments by politicians are no longer viewed by "the media" as having intrinsic intellectual value of their own. Rather, they are tactical moves. This comment is canny, that one a blunder. It is not the content of the message that matters anymore, not what has been felt, or thought or said. What matters is the political ground "gained" or "lost" in the mad court of journalists rushing breathlessly hither and thither.

I suppose that it is fashionable these days to bemoan the end of the governability of democracies. It is common to for us to denounce the politicians, or the media, perhaps spin-doctors or modern materialism, or all of them; and accuse them of producing the decline of the democratic process. To that list I'd personally add compulsory state education and the changing feedback mechanisms available to political parties.

Whatever it is, it means that tomorrow's election will be a dud, no matter who wins. If the Liberals, led by Prime Minister John Winston Howard, win, it's full steam ahead for 50s social policy. And if the ALP, led by Kim Christian Beazley, win, it's full steam ahead on 50s economic policy. In an ideal world, both parties need to lose, and badly. In that ideal world, Costello will take over the Liberal party and bring it home to its crusading-for-freedom-and-conscience roots. In that ideal world, the ALP will realise that the Unions are no longer the Workers, and that it must cease its spiteful infighting and branch-stacking wars. Defeat needs to be thrust onto them, to make them reconsider themselves. They need to look at how they work towards things, who they trust, and what they value. They need to look at what they believe - and more importantly, what they used to believe, once upon a time.

[1]: Whilst in Australia the word is spelt "Labour", the party is nevertheless officially "Labor", sans 'u'.


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This election
o has no relevancy to me or my country 25%
o is a litmus test for the next few years of western politics 21%
o will be won by the Liberal Party 6%
o will be won by the ALP 6%
o will be satirised by an Inoshiro reference 40%

Votes: 32
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Also by Jacques Chester

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The Australian Election | 35 comments (18 topical, 17 editorial, 0 hidden)
Disclaimer (4.20 / 5) (#1)
by Jacques Chester on Thu Nov 08, 2001 at 07:55:46 PM EST

On reflection, this should've gone in the article.

I am a member of a campus Liberal club (quel horreur!). But this is a democracy, and I can vote as I bloody well like.

In a world where an Idea can get you killed, Thinking is the most dangerous act of all.

*shrugs* (4.00 / 1) (#23)
by cthugha on Fri Nov 09, 2001 at 05:10:42 AM EST

The story seems to reflect a thoughtful author capable of formulating a cogent, reasoned position. It's nice to know there are a few intelligent, thoughtful Liberals left, although they certainly seem to be an endangered species :).

[ Parent ]
And for the ALP (none / 0) (#33)
by Jacques Chester on Mon Nov 12, 2001 at 02:42:29 AM EST

I recommend you keep an eye out for Lev Lafayette. He is the most genuine left-intellectual I know, and he gives me hope for the ALP's future.

In a world where an Idea can get you killed, Thinking is the most dangerous act of all.
[ Parent ]
I'm glad you posted this (4.00 / 1) (#28)
by daani on Fri Nov 09, 2001 at 07:39:33 PM EST

I have to tell you this was a real eye-opener for me. I read the article, and while I didn't agree to the letter with all the authors points, I accept it as a reasoned, humane view.

Then I find out the author is a member of the Liberal party! While I am not saying that the opposition has been any better over the same period of time, I have recently come to dislike the libs intensely because they have done more to pull Aussie politics in to the gutter that anyone else in history. I mean things like:

1. The appalling use of refugees for political points. Whether you agree or disagree with the current policies, you must see that our pollies are playing games with peoples lives to score political points.
2. The bloody TV adds for the GST, work-for-the-dole etc, combined with the outrageous "consumer protection" laws introduced with the GST (Businesses forced to up prices more than 10% were sued if they blamed the GST for the price rise). Talk about abusing power.

And today I'll end up preferencing Labor and I hope they'll win government, despite the fact that the Labor party as good as supported all the things I was appalled at!

Anyway the point I was going to make before the rant started is this:

The author of the article will (prob'ly) vote Liberal. Not because he supports what they've done lately, but because he thinks they may magically revert back to the original values of the party. And I'll vote Labor for the same reason. And whoever gets in will just carry on with the downward spiral, desperate to find the absolute lowest common denominator.

I mean obviously I'd prefer a government following the traditional principles (much more libertarian than now) of the Liberal party over the current Labor offering.

Actually I was wrong - this is just a rant. But I am glad to know there are a few sane voices in the other half of the Labor/Liberal coalition.

Vote for a HEMP canditate if you can - at least they've got one good idea.

[ Parent ]
Revival ... (none / 0) (#32)
by Jacques Chester on Mon Nov 12, 2001 at 02:40:25 AM EST

Then I find out the author is a member of the Liberal party!
Alas, it isn't so. I am a member of the University of Sydney Liberal Club, which technically speaking, has no relation to the party. But I'll be joining the Young Liberals via the active and influential Newtown branch sometime soon.
I have recently come to dislike the libs intensely because they have done more to pull Aussie politics in to the gutter that anyone else in history
Unfortunately, nobody comes away from refugees with clean hands. One could point to Keating's policy of appeasing Jakarta. Why criticise the US for propping up and supporting murderous tyrants, when the ALP did so in our own backyard? For all the twaddle about diplomatic engagement with Indonesia, very few people realise that Howard's (very expensive) intervention in East Timor was a huge moral break with the past. Didn't get him much brownie points, though, did it?

The basic fact of politics - indeed, life! - is that everyone's shit stinks from time to time. The policy diets of politicians change as one moves from fringe to opposition to government, as one shifts from vegan purity to the meaty realities, the day-to-day greasy ambiguities of Getting Stuff Done.

That said, Howard polarised debate, and the party will probably engage in some quiet rumble-tumble debate within itself. I suppose we expect Simon Crean (Simon Cringe, to his detractors) to succeed Big Kim, with the consequent repolarisation of the ALP and plunge in popularity. This means that Howard might be tempted into staying on longer yet, which is a pity. Costello is of another generation with a coolheaded moderate position. He would make for a healthy change from Howard's steak-and-kidneys approach.

The author of the article will (prob'ly) vote Liberal. Not because he supports what they've done lately, but because he thinks they may magically revert back to the original values of the party. And I'll vote Labor for the same reason.
People often express surprise at my Liberal affiliation. There's an underlying theme of "you're decent, they aren't, what are you doing in their company?"

The main answer is simple. The Liberal party will not "magically revert to the original values of the party". The Party came to where it is due to people pushing it in that direction. The pathway to magical reformation is likewise to be found in individuals with common purpose setting out to reform the party's structure, purpose and tone. History rightfully remembers the people who got up to do things, and generally forgets those who wrote newspaper columns at the time. History will forget the Sydney Morning Herald columnists, Triple J presenters and furious letter writers just as surely as it will forget Quadrant and the Institute of Public Affairs. But it will remember Beazley, and it will remember Howard, because they went out and did things, rather than talking about it.

Talking at, around or against the Liberal Party will not change it for the better. Only by luring the passionate freedom-lovers and believers in the "Best of the West" can we rekindle the sacred flame, so to speak. Further up in the party, a quiet sense of desparation pervades as vanishingly little real talent and firey hopefuls enter nowadays. Eventually someone like Menzies' Group of Six will emerge to re-energise the party, or perhaps someone like Julie Bishop will slip into seniority. Only time will tell.

In a world where an Idea can get you killed, Thinking is the most dangerous act of all.
[ Parent ]

Political discussion (4.50 / 4) (#4)
by EvilTri on Thu Nov 08, 2001 at 08:31:10 PM EST

Am I the only person here, who thinks that these elections have degenerated to name-calling? Unfortunately all parties seem to be fallen quite low. Instead of social change, and economic policies, what I see in this campaign reminds me of a few kindergarden kids arguing about who knocked the building block tower down, and who's toy it was in the first place.

We're seeing politicians knitpicking what others are saying, combing through speeches to find minor problems, and making declarations about them on tv.

I guess I expected more policy, and less name-calling. I feel like we should elect someone because of their views, and their vision for the country, and not because they would look like the good guy on Jerry Springer...

The Vision Thing (4.66 / 6) (#8)
by Jacques Chester on Thu Nov 08, 2001 at 09:00:01 PM EST

I've met Kim Beazley. He is a nice guy, and his is as sharp as razors found under the pyramids at Gaza. He does have the vision thing, to a certain extent, but you don't get to hear about it.

Ditto John Howard, in a Brady Bunch kind've way, and the same again for Peter Costello. It's a common mistake to think that politicians are simple, loudmouthed or brutish. Most of them are deep, complex people with some very genuine reasons for doing what they do. I've met very few politicians who are actually out-and-out pricks (Shane Stone, former Chief Minister for the NT, being one of them).

You do not stand up to be hated, to be lampooned, to be hounded, to be consistently slurred and misunderstood, for nothing.

In a world where an Idea can get you killed, Thinking is the most dangerous act of all.
[ Parent ]

Oh God ... (4.50 / 2) (#14)
by joegee on Thu Nov 08, 2001 at 10:36:51 PM EST

maybe you've been letting too many Americans speak to Aussie political groups. It sounds like you're encountering some good old fashioned American-style mudslinging. :/

<sig>I always learn something on K5, sometimes in spite of myself.</sig>
[ Parent ]
Policies (4.50 / 2) (#17)
by malcolm on Thu Nov 08, 2001 at 11:55:36 PM EST

Unfortunately, TV appears to have done this to our political process by training us to have an attention span of exactly 30 seconds.

However, if you want policies, go get them. I have found TripleJ's site invaluable:


[ Parent ]
Both parties can lose (5.00 / 2) (#20)
by malcolm on Fri Nov 09, 2001 at 12:11:58 AM EST

OK, that last paragraph is really getting to me. How often does it need to be said? There are more than 2 parties. You can vote for someone else. Knowing that one of these 2 is going to win is not a valid excuse for voting for someone you don't want to be in government. You would want a politician to vote rationally according to their ideals, not just go along with the popular line - so why should you do so? (Apologies to Ralph Nader for the bad paraphrasing)

It's because people think like this that we are in a situation where we only have a choice between 2 groups of old-boy conservatives.

Greens, independants and others can and do make it into federal seats. They tend to make things unstable but at least voting for them draws some attention from the government. Just be careful of which independants you vote for - I don't think I can stand another 4 years with that idiot Alston as minister for communications.

Both parties ARE losing.. (none / 0) (#30)
by stormie on Sun Nov 11, 2001 at 06:52:54 PM EST

OK, that last paragraph is really getting to me. How often does it need to be said? There are more than 2 parties. You can vote for someone else.

Truly. Although I'm disappointed by the outcome of the election, I'm delighted to see just how much the disaffection with the two party system is growing. Check out this article from the Sydney Morning Herald. And I'm very proud that in both my electorate Sydney, and neighbouring Grayndler, more than 25% of votes were cast for "minor" parties.

Remember, nothing lasts forever. It might seem that it's been Labor and Liberal forever and always will be, but it can change. And the more they become clones of each other, the more likely that change becomes..

[ Parent ]
Oi oi... (none / 0) (#31)
by Jacques Chester on Mon Nov 12, 2001 at 02:06:22 AM EST

I'm enrolled in Sydney, and I scrutineered for the Liberal candidate there on saturday night. At "ground zero", so to speak, we saw the Liberals pick up extra preferences from the Democrats, and Labor bled first votes to the Greens - which came straight back, of course.

But don't get too excited about Grayndler and Sydney. There are few seats more unlike median Australia. Until the whole country is turned into the fringes of the University of Sydney, don't expect the trend to become strong nationally.

In a world where an Idea can get you killed, Thinking is the most dangerous act of all.
[ Parent ]

Point about third countries somewhat questionable (5.00 / 1) (#22)
by cthugha on Fri Nov 09, 2001 at 05:06:03 AM EST

Your point about third countries may be technically valid based only upon a reading of the convention, but there are are a couple of practical problems.

Firstly, this map shows that most of the countries on the route from the principal refugee 'hot spots' (Iraq and Afghanistan) have not ratified the convention, and are not obliged to take refugees. Neighbouring countries that have ratified (e.g. Iran and Pakistan) are already reaching their tolerances in terms of the number of refugees they can take.

Secondly, there is the problem of non-compliance. As the immigration minister is so keen to point out while expounding upon our 'generous' stance, Australia is one of the few countries currently accepting refugees. The lack of ratification, together with the lack of compliance, means that the two main ports of call for these people are therefore Europe and Australia, and Europe has a far bigger problem than Australia. Australia doesn't even fill its annual quota of 12,000.

Check the UNHCR for more.

first country (none / 0) (#25)
by boxed on Fri Nov 09, 2001 at 07:00:53 AM EST

...treaty rights extend to people who seek asylum in the first country they get to.
The first country they get to that they are not at the same time fleeing from. It is very common that refugees have to pass through countries that threaten their very lives to get the the so called "first country". Afghanistan does not have a coast, yes, but the area of countries that want to opress and kill those refugees have a big coastal region.

human-smugglers (none / 0) (#26)
by boxed on Fri Nov 09, 2001 at 07:05:23 AM EST

People who smuggle humans are not the enemy. They exists because people are suffering and dying and our contries are shutting them out. Stopping the smugglers will kill people.

Its all over bar the shouting - we have all lost (none / 0) (#29)
by DavidatEeyore on Sun Nov 11, 2001 at 05:10:50 PM EST

First of all, I would like to thank Jacques Chester for reminding us that there are still thoughtful people of principle within the Liberal party other than old war horses like Malcolm Fraser and Ian MacPhee. The results with a definite swing to the coalition, now pose several problems for the ALP.
1:- who will lead the party and bind the divisions already starting to appear?
2:- how will the party restructure itself to become a 'broad church' again? (The Libs like to think of themselves as this, even though they have moved to the hard dry right decades ago!)
3:- will the ALP consider coalition with the Greens/Democrats or others of a democratic socialist nature?
Perhaps it is time for a new party...

Key Issues (none / 0) (#34)
by Jacques Chester on Mon Nov 12, 2001 at 02:56:52 AM EST

(1) is buried beneath the Howard onslaught, at least for now. In the meantime many will prepare for the post-Howard era.

(2) The broad-church idea, so central to the Menzies-era party, was as you say flushed by Hewson's/Howard's hard-dry revolution of the 1980s. However, Costello shows promise as a moderate uniter, possibly promoting Julie Bishop and others to balance a dry cabinet.

(3) I suspect that Labor will do what it has done more and more: coast on preferences. It may come to pass that the Greens will become ALP-sized, become the new leftist party, be invaded by rightists, factionalized ... eventually people start voting for botique parties, giving preferences to the Greens ... you get the idea. The ALP faces a terrible catch-22. The electorate is drifting right, needing a following policy spread. But their solid core of votes is leftist, and will abandon them without remorse.

Apart from what you said above, the other two key issues I see are: (4) Explaining our ideas. Liberals generally assume that everyone has read Burke and Adam Smith. This makes explaining many ideologically-motivated policies (and there are a surprising number) difficult for Liberals, especially as "free enterprise" rhetoric sounds pretty boring versus "jobs, families, health, uplifted plains" type stuff. Menzies spun the Liberal party from the silken thread of his fantastic speeches. But few true orators remain in politics. Kim Beazley was one of them, and what the last five years have proved is that oratory is useless in the TV-election world.

(5) Recruiting and grooming talent. Right now the Liberals are seen as mean-spirited, spiteful, racist, sexist and homophobic. This makes it very hard to be a Liberal when you are young. Peer pressure is as true of one's intellectual positions as anything else, and this means that the Young Liberal is subject to considerable ridicule and spite from a lot of people.

This means that the incoming stream of talent is disturbingly narrow. The University of Sydney Liberal Club is the largest in the country with about 300 members, of those, perhaps one in fifteen ever becomes involved. Of the active core of 20, about 10 will eventually drop out of the scene, 2 are loony right, and only about 8 will ever get anywhere in the party. Of those 8, perhaps 3 are serious intellectual liberals. Repeat this pattern nationally, and scale appropriately, and you can see why single figures can dominate an entire state apparatus. Rising in a political party is far easier than most people might imagine, simply because the numbers are so small and the talent thinly spread around.

In a world where an Idea can get you killed, Thinking is the most dangerous act of all.
[ Parent ]

RTFP, Jacques! (none / 0) (#35)
by Jacques Chester on Mon Nov 12, 2001 at 03:08:29 AM EST

Righto, I thought you were referring to the Liberals.

(Opens mouth, inserts foot).

In a world where an Idea can get you killed, Thinking is the most dangerous act of all.
[ Parent ]

The Australian Election | 35 comments (18 topical, 17 editorial, 0 hidden)
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