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Apr 26 2012

For our readers down under, and all over

It struck me today, going through comments and posts, that we have a healthy international contingent at the big Z, and for those participants, the daily twists and turns of US politics may seem bewildering. Or at least a bit fuzzy; understandable, especially if you aren’t directly affected by them and don’t follow the insane drama 24/7. You all have my eternal envy if you fall into the latter category. Australia seems to have a strong skeptic community, plus they speak English! So, in the spirit of turn-about is fair play, I did a virtual walk-about through the political landscape down under.

It’s worse than I thought! I could follow a few of the broader strokes, but for the most part I was at least as lost as some of you must be reading my scribblings about our red, white, and blue democracy. What party is considered progressive, who are the conservatives? I could see some parallels, but there were other things that didn’t seem to fit neatly across the traditional left-right axis I’ve come to know and despair over here at home.

For one thing, the conservative party sounds fairly progressive on a lot of issues to me. Healthcare for example, I found no end of griping about Australia’s healthcare system, but there was plenty of consensus coming from the left and right that they do not want to ever, ever endure the nasty, miserable state of affairs afflicting Americans. That some of our southern mates even feel sorry for us, in the same way I might feel sorry for someone born to a poorer family in an impoverished nation.

On the other hand, I saw a fair bit of climate change denialism, some jabs at evolutionary biology and even an embrace for Young Earth Creationism (To wit, feel free to take Ken Hamm back and be bloody fast about it), and full-blown dominionist fundamentalism that would fit with the US evangelical right like a glove. Albeit without quite the level of vitriol so common here. Are there any resources, blogs, sites, where someone like me, who wants to develop a sound framework for Australia’s and/or New Zealand’s ideological divides with the least amount of effort in the shortest time possible, might zip through without getting swamped and lost?

15 comments

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  1. 1
    blindrobin

    Yesterday was ANZAC Day.

  2. 2
    michaeld

    I’m canadian but I have to say I’ve followed enough of the FTB etc to the point that I’m actually better read on american politics then some of my american friends, kind of scary that.

  3. 3
    echidna

    That some of our southern mates even feel sorry for us, in the same way I might feel sorry for someone born to a poorer family in an impoverished nation.

    Any Aussie who actually knows what your health care system is like feels this way. You may not know, but prior to our national health system, Medicare, going in (thank you Gough Whitlam) the most common cause of bankruptcy was medical bills. That’s all gone.

    I’m an Aussie who lived in California for 6 years, mainly GW years. There are a lot of ideological divides between left and right that are different. I think if you want to understand the differences in culture, you need to look at the nation when the constitutions were written. In the US, religious freedom, guns and slavery were issues. In Australia (1900), social justice was the big issue. These things diffuse over time, but they still affect the nation’s sense of itself.

    The creationism in Australia was imported from the US starting with Billy Graham.

  4. 4
    Aliasalpha

    I’m not an overly political person but as I see it:

    The labour party are our more liberal party but the liberal party are our conservatives.

    To further confuse the matter, the parties differ to a surprisingly small degree, mostly supporting the same things, being afraid of the same things and more concerned with covering their own arses than anything else like being effective or making intelligent long term decisions.

    The liberals tend to pander to religion a bit more but even moderate republicans would blast them for being too wishy washy about it. That said our current labour prime minister was planning to increse the budget for school chaplains (never did hear how that turned out, did she cave to the mass objections?) so again much the same.

    Don’t say we ever make things easy…

  5. 5
    jaystocker

    the party websites are probably the best way to go. here’s a selection of some state/national parties from australia arranged (more or less) from left to right:

    the greens: environmental and progressive, pro-all the important things. formed by a radical environmental protester (this was in the 70s, ish) bob brown, who just retired.

    the australian labour party – the mainstream ‘left’ party, currently forming minority government with the greens. pretty damned conservative on things like immigration though.

    the liberals (liberal-nationals in some states) – mainstream ‘right’ party. currently the opposition. pretty damned stupid on things like the environment sometimes (the opposition leader tony abbot is a climate change skeptic… enough said)

    aaaaaand all the usual racist (one nation), homophobic (bob katter’s australia party), religious (family first) parties.

  6. 6
    keithharwood00

    We have two major political parties, Liberals, who are very much to the left of your Democrats, and Labor (who spell their name the American way, to the despair of English teachers throughout the country) who are a smidge to the left of the Liberals. The youth branch of the Liberal party are known as the Young Libs, the youth branch of the Labor party are known as the Yound Labs and the Country party changed its name to National many years ago.

    The National party is a smidge to the right of the Liberals and in most states they combine into the Liberal-Nationsl party. We also have the Australian Democrats (centrist, between Liberal and Labor) who are a declining force these days and the Greens, who are generally fairly leftish with a slightly libertarian bent.

    Here in NSW we have the Christian Democrats consisting principally of Rev. Fred Nile. He’s pretty much a joke. A couple of years ago he tried to introduce a bill to make it illegal for women to go topless at the beach. There were a couple of point-and-laugh reports in the newspapers, but the real politicians just ignored him. He regularly prays for rain for the annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras; the one year he forgot to do so, it rained.

    There are a few other minor parties floating around and some independents.

    We’ve had at least two Prime Ministers and a Governor General who are atheists. Generally, we only find out a politician’s religion if he is caught sneaking into church on Sunday mornings. An exception is Tony Abbott, current leader of the Liberals, whose Catholicism extends to taking advice from George Pell, which tends to frighten people. (The sooner that man is made Pope, the better off Australia will be.)

    From down here it appears that you have only two parties in a cosy duopoly, one far right, the other extreme right to the point of insanity, with no prospect of breaking their stranglehold.

    On the Health system, we have a hybrid of public and private schemes. Health insurance is affordable and most people buy their own. People not covered by insurance (and, most of the time, everybody else) are treated for free in public hospitals (the uninsured have to pay for the TV in their room, private patients don’t). The major public hospitals are also teaching hospitals so the standard of care is very good. Most private hospitals specialise to some extent, so if you have Something Really Interesting, you go to a public hospital regardless.

    There’s a lot to complain about our health system, but no one ever dies because they can’t afford treatment and when someone does die unecessarily, there is a political uproar. If I had been treated under the US system I would be dead years ago and my family bankrupt.

    No thanks, we don’t want Ken Ham back. We still have Carl Whatisname and if you want him you can have him. Creationists keep a very low profile here. The high school courses double up as University entrance courses, so the only way to get creationism into schools is to persuade the majority of biology departments in the majority of Universities that they want their incoming students to know it. Curricula in all subjects are determined at the state level, not local community.

    So, good climate, decent food, stable government (but not so stable as to be unresponsive) universal health care and your religion or lack of it is your own business and no one else’s except for the occasional JW who comes to your door (and they are used to being told to sod off).

  7. 7
    Kylie Sturgess

    Hi. I’m the Australia blogger who writes on FreeThought Blogs, The Token Skeptic. G’day.

    “Are there any resources, blogs, sites, where someone like me, who wants to develop a sound framework for Australia’s and/or New Zealand’s ideological divides with the least amount of effort in the shortest time possible, might zip through without getting swamped and lost?”

    Yes, I suggest:

    http://www.crikey.com.au/
    http://blogs.theaustralian.news.com.au/mumble/index.php
    http://auswatch.blogspot.com.au/
    http://domain.nationalforum.com.au/ – a collection of several kinds

    I would have suggested http://larvatusprodeo.net/archives/2012/04/10/larvatus-prodeos-last-post/ – but they have recently closed.

    Finally (funnily enough, the author of this blog is currently on stage at this very moment in front of me, at a Media140 conference that I’m volunteering at):

    http://stilgherrian.com/politics/which-are-the-best-australian-political-blogs/

  8. 8
    demosthenesofathens

    I would add that voting is compulsory here in Oz so the policies of both major parties tend to converge somewhat near the political center of the nation.

  9. 9
    Rixaeton

    A few other things to add to keithharwood00′s #5 post (which is quite good)

    Australia operates under three tiers of govt; Federal, State and Local, with Federal handling the raising of taxes (mostly)and defence, foreign affairs etc. The states providing services (health, education, police etc) and the Local level handling property usage (rates, roads, local transport)

    Differences that may shock USians:
    1) No Bill of Rights. Australia does not have one. There is a bit of a push to have one, but the conservatives (Liberal/National parties) don’t particularly want people to have rights spelt out.
    2) No 2nd Amendment. I personally love that Australians do not have the right to bear arms.
    3) Public service positions, such as police, are employees of the state, and are not voted in like (some?) sheriffs are in the US.

    Are there any resources, blogs, sites, where someone like me, who wants to develop a sound framework for Australia’s and/or New Zealand’s ideological divides with the least amount of effort in the shortest time possible, might zip through without getting swamped and lost?

    Hmm… Difficult to say where to find a summary of political divides. Quite a few have been imported from the US (climate change denial being one example) There was a push years ago for a more private health system like the US has (shudder) but that has dropped off now. Economic austerity is another thing being pushed by the Liberal party. Fortunately our govt engaged in a series of stimulus programs that most likely pulled Australia out of the GFC, even if those programs were badly run, the funds did circulate into the Australian economy and kept us going. (See the book Shitstorm for details – the title comes from a comment our then Prime Minister used to describe the early days of the GFC)

    I found this website that might help: http://australianpolitics.com/ which appears to be a fairly honest site summarising the various parties and provides details of things like the Australian constitution, as well as news.

  10. 10
    Rixaeton

    BTW, if you have more specific questions, feel free to ask, as that may give you a quicker answer than surfing around a lot of the interwebs. :)

  11. 11
    Aliasalpha

    Oh no, you don’t want to tell reigo doorknockers to sod off, you want to talk to them & meticulously eviscerate their arguments with rudimentary logic.

    If you tell them to sod off they’ll come back assuming you were in a bad mood or would change your mind once you hear their latest killer argument thats been debunked a hundred thousand times. Destroy their arguments with logic and you never see them again.

  12. 12
    Sophia, Michelin-starred General of the First Mediterranean Iron Chef Batallion

    Politics… ugh. Well, since during the last election the major parties were mortified to find out the green party did far better than anyone expected, our labour party currently in power does do a lot more bowing to environmental and social concerns now than they have in the past. There’s an activist organisation called GetUp that lobbies furiously for a lot of decent causes that actually may do some good – social policies seem to be on the brink of changing. The massive push for marriage equality is a really nice thing right now, and the coming carbon tax (I foresee huge teething problems but eventually a hopeful result) should hopefully encourage some good solid research into environmentally-conscious technologies.

    On the flipside, we have our own brand of stupids and conservatives because of our tradition of ‘sucking it up’ and ‘blokeness’. My husband is a good example, your average joe really. I talked to him once about government payouts for the unemployed and he made some horrible comment about people just being too lazy to get jobs when I’d been in that situation myself, frantically trying to get a job for over a year without success. I wasn’t even on government payouts at the time, which made it even weirder. He votes liberal because there’s this sense that the liberal party is ‘better’ economically than the labour party and that’s all that the majority of average folks seem to care about in my experience. We don’t talk politics :P

    On the religious front, here on the western fringes we don’t see much rabid religiosity, they tend to keep to themselves and keep the god-bothering to a minimum. I’ve had the odd JW visit (with a child, which always makes me seethe) and we have in my neighbourhood both a salvation army church/compound thing and a weird christian brotherhood place with huge gates that fills to the brim on sundays and doesn’t unlock for ages… some odd offshoot of the puritanical cults I think.

    Our pervasive and horrifyingly integrated brand of woo is the newage alt-med spirituality quantum ‘ask the universe’ kind. It’s a kind of fad amongst anyone wanting to appear ‘open-minded’ and culturally sensitive, or just plain duped by its ubiquity. Seriously… this stuff is everywhere. It’s ingrained in the media, ads for alt-med are shown on tv and fill newspapers, courses for reiki and naturopathy are a dime a dozen and even my favourite cafe in my local shopping centre advertises coffee time with a ‘psychic’. I have no idea how this shit has become so normal, thankfully there’s a push back by scientists tryign to get alt-med taken out of university curriculums, but until the general public is made aware of the rubbish they’re being fed it’ll remain a stupidly large problem. Bleh.

  13. 13
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    Damn, now I’m jealous. In fact jealously don’t quite sum it up, more like heartbroken watching my country tis-of-thee get dragged into the sewer. Right now for example, our so-called liberal cable news channel, MSNBC, has their morning VJ, Joe Scarborough, on TV. His guest as I write this is Dan Senor, a man who was one of the architects behind the Iraq War. Senor was asked if we should follow Europe’s lead into austerity (The same austerity that is crashing EU economies right this minute). Senor is singing the praises of the rightwing economic ideology that failed catastrohpically overseas and in country.

    It’s just fucking bizarre. A guy who was wrong about every godamn thing to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, millions of lost jobs, and thousands of dead and maimed Americans, is somehow on TV lecturing the panel on how to run an economy when he should be interviewed begging for forgiveness while wearing a fresh coat of downy tar from an undisclosed location in exile. I’m amazed they haven’t yet asked Senor about his view on healthcare or immigratin so they can feign interest and seriousness in the entirely predictable nonsense he spew therein. And Senor is just one small example that happens to be in front of me right now. This shit goes on 24/7 here.

  14. 14
    Rixaeton

    Some of the things that stand out to me is the lack of humility that quite a large number of people in the USA exhibit (chanting USA! USA! USA! and constantly reminding themselves that they are Number One!) means not looking overseas and being able to take the best ideas that others have to offer. Overly inflated egos can get in the way of learning new things.

    Australia goes in for a lot of jingoism too, however we have had in the past what we have self-described as the “cultural cringe” where Aussies have felt “less than worthy” on the world stage. I guess at that time (particularly since the 1970s) we were considered backwards, even by ourselves, so we were more open to consider other countries ideas and methods.

    That, and our compulsory voting system, which means that every adult Australian must take part in their democracy. It was made compulsory in the same way that jury duty is: it is a citizen’s responsibility to take part in the civil society that they enjoy. It also means that most Australians do understand the politics that affect them, and tend to be more informed of the issues than if they had a “who cares” attitude.

    Why not come over and visit, to see for yourself? As it would be a “fact finding” mission for your paid work, wouldn’t the travel be tax-deductable?* ;)

    * Australia, as we all know, is entirely populated by criminals.

  15. 15
    lsamaknight

    I think its probably worth noting that the make up of our parliament might have a measure of influence on the local political landscape.

    The house of representatives is pretty similar to the US with a number of electorates based on population size. The senate is somewhat different though. We have a lot fewer states than the US and and though its still smaller in absolute numbers than the US the end result is that each state sends 12 senators (plus 4 for the Territories), with six standing per election, elected by proportional representation. This means that if a minor party gets at least one sixth of the vote they still get to send at least senator from a given state. In a closely held senate where neither of the major parties holds an absolute majority this can give them a lot of influence like the Greens at the moment.

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