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