Campaigning in Oz
September 13, 2004 11:31 PM   Subscribe

Sunday Night's Election Debate  —  National security issues loom large, voters are admonished not to decide to “cut and run”. Medicare and the economy were also points of contention. The greens are being attacked as “commies”. John Quiggin has some observations.
posted by Ethereal Bligh (20 comments total)
EB, I really appreciate a politics post from somewhere outside of America. That being said, I know nothing about Australian politics. So for this and perhaps future politic posts outside the realm of common knowledge, it might be helpful to include a link that explains a bit about the election itself. Not a very good example, but was the best I could find after a quick Google.
posted by Happydaz at 12:02 AM on September 14, 2004

I can help you a bit there.

There are five notable parties. Labor (centre) and Liberal (right) / National (far right) are like Democrat and Republican, only they're even more like each other than the US parties are.

The two minor parties are Democrat (left, just) and Green (left). The Democrats had a serious bout of internal politics recently and are pretty much a non-event. Meanwhile, support for the Greens is growing rapidly. I joined recently, while the "Free Trade Agreement" was going on.

The current Prime Minister, John Howard, leader of the Liberals who lead only due to a coalition with the Nationals, is so deathly afraid that the Greens will score the balance of power in the Senate (Upper House) that he's resorted to slurs, slander and libel in order to push people away from the Greens.

The leader of the opposition Mark Latham, has previously referred to the Liberals/Nationals as a "conga line of suckholes" and he's been speaking out against closer ties to the US. However, he's been backing away from these statements as the election draws near.

The mechanics of the election are:

* Local reps (based on small regions) are elected to the House of Representatives.
* National party reps are elected to the Senate. Only half the senate seats are up for election come October.

While I only vote for my "member for Swan" for the House of Reps, I vote directly for all the people wishing to enter the Senate. Since minor parties have significant problems winning a majority in any given area, the Greens and Democrats really only exist in the Senate, which is a shame.

We have preferential voting. You don't just vote for one person, you rank all the people on the ballot.

Interestingly, we have a system where by if a party gains at least 4% of the vote in a given area, or for the Senate, they get $1 for each primary vote -- each box where they get a 1. This is kept quiet by the major parties, who encourage the "a vote for the minor parties is a wasted vote" mantra despite the fact that you could, for example, vote 1 Green and 2 Labor if you wanted to vote out the Liberals and it would still be highly effective.

As for the issues: The major parties are so similar that it's hard for me to workout how you would decide between them. I have no recollection of my life being consistantly better or worse under any given party. They both play the man, not the ball.

Most of the issues I care about, plus some others, are listed on the Greens' homepage: (Give it a moment, it's a slow server.)
posted by krisjohn at 12:39 AM on September 14, 2004

i love being a commie.
posted by kv at 1:38 AM on September 14, 2004

Hey! Last week you said were were like tomatoes! Have some consistency you bougeouis flip-floppers!
posted by kaibutsu at 2:13 AM on September 14, 2004

One thing the US could probably learn from is that voting for over eighteens is compulsory.
posted by johnny7 at 3:42 AM on September 14, 2004

johnny7: that's debatable... and it has been.

however, one thing I think the US could do with is preferential voting. that way, all the nader fans could've voted for him (and kept the consciences happy) and directed preferences to whoever they wanted, meaning that nobody 'loses' votes.

also, a standardised system that involves a simple bit of paper and pencil might avoid future issues with having to analyse small african nations.
posted by cheaily at 5:28 AM on September 14, 2004

I'm amazed we don't have a national holiday declared for elections day...
posted by kaibutsu at 5:30 AM on September 14, 2004

I'd be really gratefull if some one could explain the American system like Aus system was explained above.

I live in the electorate of Sydney. The Greens have a good chance of winning it !
posted by Burgatron at 5:36 AM on September 14, 2004

Preferential voting is a great innovation.
I also like the idea of election day being a holiday.
In the US, Veteran's day is close enough that it could be moved to election day.
What better way to honor the veterans than voting?

Now if we could get the same mean pay and benefits for the legislature as the people have, we'd be set!
posted by nofundy at 6:01 AM on September 14, 2004

In terms of debates, Mark Latham is pushing for there to be more, including debates infront of the public, not a pack of journalists. And I think that's fair enough, given the extra long election campaign we've been given.
As a wag at Crikey suggested, Mark Latham could just pick a venue and call a debate - the media would show up, and it's up to John Howard whether he does too. If he doesn't, he looks like a wimp.

Two things that stood out for me on Sunday's debate:
  • What was with John Howard's suit? It looked like he picked it up from a op-shop that afternoon!

  • What's with Mark Latham not looking at the camera? Conspiracy theories abound.

  • KrisJohn made a good summary of Australian politics. I'll add my bit too. I feel that compulsory voting adds a different dimension to Australian politics - while it's not strictly democratic, none of the major parties seem to want to do much about changing it. Traditionally it has been held that compulsory voting favours the Labor party, so the Liberals have has getting rid of compulsory voting as a vague policy for years, but I'm no longer sure if that's true.

    The reason is, compulsory voting forces the apathetic to vote. They have to choose someone. Once upon a time, the "apathetic" were the working class who generally voted Labor. At the moment, the "apathetic" are the suburban mortgage-set, who see something in the Liberal party.

    It seems to me that American politics is all about solidifying the base - getting interest groups on your side, making sure your supporters are fired up and go out to vote. In Australian politics, it's all about appealing to the apathetic voters, who wouldn't vote unless they have to - candidates therefore tend to focus on putting out highly specific policies in the hope that some swinging voter's remote control battery runs out and they're unable to change the channel when the policy is announced on the news. It's about grabbing people in with a single issue, so when undecided voters get to the ballot box, they can remember "Oh I remember John Howard mention this..." or "I remember Mark Latham promising that...". It's a bit infuriating at times, when you're commited to a party and want them to expand on their broader ideology. It's a technique John Howard has used well though, although usually in a negative way, as with playing the xenophobia card last election.

    The major parties are so similar that it's hard for me to workout how you would decide between them. I have no recollection of my life being consistantly better or worse under any given party.

    It's a bit of a fraud the way the Liberal party insist on dragging up Labor's economic record in the 1980s. Voters should remember - every state currently has a Labor government, and financial problems are few and far between. And on the question of interest rates, during Paul Keating's reign as Labor Prime Minister, interest rates fell from 17% to 10%. During Howard's leadship, they've fallen from 10% to 7% and have been climbing slowly for the last two years.

    Some other parties worth mentioning, because they can occasionally make a showing:

    Family First - the Christian right party, sponsored by the Assemblies of God church. Very minor, but they're making a national effort this year, and will be directing preferences to Liberal.
    One Nation - extreme-right nationalist party - believe me, they still have supporters north of the Tweed, and once again, preferences will flow Liberal. Important to remember given the high number of marginal seats in Queensland that Labor have their eyes on.
    posted by Jimbob at 6:22 AM on September 14, 2004

    I'd be really gratefull if some one could explain the American system like Aus system was explained above.

    There are three tiers of government: the legislative (pass laws) the executive (enforce laws) and the judicial (interprets laws). The legislative branch is made up of two groups: the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate has two senators from each state, and are elected every 6 years by members of their state. The House has a proprotional amount of representatives based on population, and are elected every 2 years. Judges are appointed. That leaves the executive.

    For simplicity, we'll just call the executive "The President". The President is elected every four years. The way it works in the States, there is a popular vote held. In order to get on an election ballot, you must be sponsored by a state-recognized party. There are a lot of them, but the only two that ever seem to come up with enough money to matter are the Democrats (on the left) and the Republicans (on the right). They big parties (Dems and Repubs) have a selection process whereby the pick the person they think would be the best president, (called the Primary Race). The winners go head-to-head in the general election.

    When you vote, you vote for one person (actually team -- as whoever is running will pick a "running mate" to be their vice president). The popular vote is tallied, and for each state, whomever gets the majority wins that states electoral votes. After all the votes are decided, the person with the most votes wins.

    The electoral college is one of the more controversial aspects of the election process, because you're not getting a "fair" count of the popular vote. In some states, for instance Nebraska, there is a small Democratic area in the southeast that would significantly contribute to overall popular votes, but the vast majority of the state is Republican, which means none of those votes really matter since, generally, all the electoral votes will be going to the Republicans.

    Hope this helps.
    posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:43 AM on September 14, 2004

    At least one US state is contemplating awarding its electoral proportionally based on the poll results. That is, if the candidate with the most votes within the state has 45% of the votes they would receive 45% of the state's electoral votes instead of the whole shebang (with, no doubt, complex rules to deal with rounding errors).
    posted by Songdog at 7:04 AM on September 14, 2004

    At least one US state is contemplating awarding its electoral proportionally based on the poll results.

    Actually (didn't want to confuse-up the last post by including this piece of trivia) Maine already does this, sort of. Votes are divided into congressional districts. Of course, there are only two, so it's a bit of a moot point.
    posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:16 AM on September 14, 2004

    Nebraska too, CD.
    posted by CunningLinguist at 7:29 AM on September 14, 2004

    I think the Greens, internationally, have a problem. Almost by definition, they want linkages between policy issue with the environment. But for most actions of government, the linkages with the environment are tenuous, at best.
    And if you get off the subject of the environment, the Greens are a mish-mosh of philisophies, opinions and interests that do not unify them, but divide them.

    In other words, they are caught between making linkages of everything to "the environment", no matter how illogical; and factionalism, indifference, or utter neutrality to anything that can't be linked.

    The two major worldwide factions, though unconnected directly, advocate the status quo (conservative) or change (liberal), whether it is in the US, Europe, or even Iran. They do this because it is a natural dichotomy. *Everyone* is either in favor of the status quo, or change.

    However, who is opposed to "the environment?" What is the opposite of a Green? By trying to be universal, they lose their focus.
    posted by kablam at 8:48 AM on September 14, 2004

    Nebraska too, CD.

    Dammit, I had that in my original post, but editted it out because I wasn't sure (haven't lived here long, obviously). Not that it matters -- Nebraska is one of the most Republican states in the country. The unicameral legislature is kinda cool, though. The state capital building is divided up into two sections for each side, but they only use one of it for actual legislative work. The other side they rent out for parties and weddings. Heh.
    posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:50 AM on September 14, 2004

    There is a step in the process that Civil_Disobedient left out. The electoral votes are actually cast by Electors that are named by the different state legislatures. These Electors "pledge" to vote for a particular candidate, therefore when you vote for John Kerry in the State of Illinois (for instance) you are actually voting for a slate of Electors that have pledged to vote for Kerry. The Electors almost invariably are important members of that party's State aparatus (i.e. the Illinois Democrats). So the Electors are selected in November and in December they meet in their respective state capitols to form the "Electoral College" and cast their votes as they pledged. HOWEVER, they are not constitutionally obligated to vote for who they said they were going to vote for. That is, they can change their minds. This is by design and when they do so they are known as Faithless Electors (it has actually happened in the past). The Framers of the US Consitution wanted the Electors to have free will to respond to strange situations, like say a Supreme Court of the United States decision that hands the election to the losing candidate. There was actually some talk that some Bush Electors were going to change their votes but they lacked the courage to effectively end their respective political careers to save the legitimacy of democracy in the United States. Some states have passed laws that force the elector to vote for who they promised to vote for, but the Constitution does not obligate them to do so.

    In January the Congress counts the votes cast by the Electoral College and if their is no majority (something that is virtually impossible with only two candidates winning states), the House of Representatives votes for the President.
    posted by sic at 12:07 PM on September 14, 2004

    So EB, do you agree with Quiggin's analysis of the Iraq/Jkharta situation? Will Howard follow Aznar into the Coalition of the Willing's "Dustbin of History"? I would like to point out that Aznar lost the Spanish elections for many reasons, the involvement in Iraq and the resulting increased terrorist threat were just what pushed the electorate over the edge. It's very difficult to unseat incumbent governments. Do Howard's conservatives face a similar situation?
    posted by sic at 12:14 PM on September 14, 2004

    don't you wish george bush was fair dinkum?
    posted by quonsar at 2:16 PM on September 14, 2004

    Howard's conservatives don't really face that situation, sic - the electorate simply isn't as active and interested as the Spanish are - most people simply care more about home loan interest rates and family tax benefits than wars and terrorism. Howard has already fucked up many a time over the last few years. He has a history of being "conservative" with the truth - telling the media one story (with regards to refugees, or wars, or terrorism), then the "real" story comes out and he cries "the beurocracy never told me!" and some unfortunate public servant gets pulled through the ringer. But he gets away with it - it seems most people really couldn't care less how sleazy he is as long as they can afford to keep their investment property. While there are a lot of people who are really pissed at Howard (just as there are a lot of people who are pissed at Bush), I worry that they don't live in the right seats to make a difference.
    posted by Jimbob at 3:05 PM on September 14, 2004

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