Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Yes yes, it's a blog post about politics. Those of you who know me well enough should know well enough that this topic would come up eventually.

For those who don't know me well enough, I'm a very politically minded individual. I enjoy paying attention to how my homeland of Australia is being run, as well as nutting out how different people think. It's like a game of poker in some ways, although the stakes are much higher.

With the Republican primaries heating up, I feel now is a good time to bring up the state of Australian politics as I see them. Due to a combination of factors, politics here is degenerating. Given enough time, eventually our political system will become that of the US - dirty politics defined by misinformation, a public that generally doesn't care, and personal gain placed above the desires of the people you represent. Part of the problem is that Australians don't simply care enough about politics anymore. They take whatever is fed to them by the media at face value, and often don't have the initiative to research more about facts and issues to inform their opinions. Granted, there are some people out there who are genuinely engaged with politics, but people are by and large disillusioned with it.

The parties themselves are also to blame to a degree. None of our major political parties currently have demonstrated what is really needed to run the country.

Labor has managed some very good legislation whilst in government - the NBN, National Disability Insurance Scheme, and the carbon pricing scheme to name a few. It has a good Cabinet team, and the negotiating ability to ensure its legislation passes. However, it also has some serious flaws in its governance. Arguably the biggest is Julia Gillard's lack of a backbone in standing up for what she believes in. While she is excellent in navigating turbulent political waters, she has also sacrificed what she believes in for the sake of her party. She effectively has nothing going for her that makes her stand out from any other Labor politician. Part of the side effect of this is that Labor has been dragged further towards the centre (some would argue the centre-right).

In addition to Gillard's lack of backbone, the party is paralysed by factionism. You can argue all day long about how you have to play politics, but there is neither the drive nor the ability of the party to reinvest power in the party body. At present, the party is dominated by two major factions - the Labor Left and the Labor Right. Most unions belong to either of these two factions, and with it the union bosses gain an incredible amount of power within the party. This has led to policy being pushed by the unions rather than the politicians, and issues such as the mining tax have been watered down far more than they should be because Labor has been forced to kowtow to the minority.

The third issue is the need for Labor to follow the lead of the Opposition when it comes to public scrutiny. Gillard is not a big personality, so she needs to be able to sell her messages to the public on intelligence, good common sense and trust. Depending on who you talk to, Gillard can have all three or none of these - and this is why Labor has struggled so hard to even make a positive outcome out of their best policies. Their greatest mistake was to follow the Opposition Leader's lead in political issues he was trying to push, and Labor was drawn into a game they should never have tried to play.

On the other hand, the Liberal party have had incredible success as the Opposition, and in no doubt due to Tony Abbott's efforts. Tony Abbott has done a spectacular job in demolishing the Government's standing and whipping up dissent.

However, the only reason the Liberals are in this position at all is because of their leader. Tony Abbott is a man who has demonstrated nothing other than the desire to gain the top job for himself. He has used rhetoric, false information and a vehemently bitter tone to talk negative about almost anything going on politically. He is a pathological liar, but one who has shown he can capitalize on the government's own mishaps.

However, without Tony Abbott the Liberals would have very little to work with. There is no alternative leader - you could rattle off Julie Bishop, Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull as possibilities, but none of them have the ability to command the respect and leadership of the Liberal party. They have no policies to work with, and have no ability to present themselves as an alternate government. Since Tony Abbott came to power, they have been forced onto an overtly negative path, and even if Abbott were to be toppled they would not be able to change tact.

The Greens have only just started to pick up prominence as part of the outcome of the 2010 election. Arguably, they represent the entire left of the political spectrum in politics. Their clear message about the environment is one that can resonate with voters and mark clear political territory, whilst their left-wing position last election was able to pull in voters disillusioned with the other major parties.

However, the Greens are idealistic to a fault. Whilst what they believe in is noble, often they don't take into account collateral issues when arguing for certain things. With issues such as Tibet, the Greens have neither the tact nor negotiating ability to raise such an issue with the Chinese without causing a serious breakdown in relations. Australia has neither the political nor the military muscle to cause the Chinese to change their position on this, and attempting to do this would not achieve anything other than raising the potential for China to take military action on Australia should there be an act of war or anything similar. Also, the economic consequences of a breakdown in relations would be a significant impact on the Australian economy.

If the Greens could temper their ideals with practicality, then they would appeal to a far broader audience. However, the line they've drawn in the sand makes them a dangerous force in Australian politics for all the wrong reasons.

For any Australian voter, where do you go? Logically if you had to vote in an election tomorrow there is no reasonable excuse not to vote Labor, but a person's ideals could pull them in any number of directions to render that conclusion moot. To choose between a party of no ideals, a party of no vision and a party of no practicality is quite depressing.

I'm a registered Australian Democrat. After a long period of trying to find a party that I agreed with, I found a home with a party focused on social justice whilst avoiding the lack of practicality that the Greens have stumbled into. Granted, the party is a mere shadow of its former self and requires a lot of work to get back off the ground (I could easily point out what needs to change on the surface to make them seem marketable to the public). I am also saddened I won't be able to attend the National Conference at the end of the month barring an act of God, but I'm happy in doing what I can to help out.

But without a worthwhile major party, what balancing force do you have to prevent the see-saw from falling over?