18 November 2007

Dikkii's pre-election round-up (part 1)

Hi folks. As this appears to be becoming a bit of a tradition at Dikkii's Diatribe, it's time for me to give my pre-election round-up.

For the benefit of my international readers, who are mostly American, I better give a quick run-down on how the Australian political system works.

We have a Westminster parliamentary system in Australia. Our Head of State (called the Governor-General) is a totally separate person from our Head of Government (called the Prime Minister). The Government is elected through general elections which are called once every three years.

Skipping out all the assumptions and theoretical bits, the party (or coalition of parties) which wins the majority of seats in the House of Representatives (the lower house of parliament, where legislation is proposed) is the party which forms a Government.

The leader of that party (or the senior party in a coalition), who is normally also a member of the House of Representatives, will become Prime Minister. The Prime Minister will then appoint a Cabinet, and an Outer Ministry. The Cabinet and Outer Ministry are together known as the Ministry. The Ministry runs the Government.

The other members of Parliament are called the Opposition, with the leader of the next biggest party in the House of Representatives known as the Opposition Leader. After losing the election, the new Opposition Leader will appoint a panel of spokespeople to address issues raised by the government and to propose issues of their own. This panel is known as the Shadow Ministry and from this group, a Shadow Cabinet is assembled.

Elections are held to elect members to the House of Representatives and half the members of the Senate, which is the upper house of parliament, where pending legislation is reviewed.

Members of the House of Representatives (or MHRs) are elected to represent localised districts called "electorates". These are loosely based on population distributions, thus highly populated states such as New South Wales and Victoria will have the most, whereas states such as Tasmania, South Australia and the territories will have the smallest number of MHRs.

Senators are elected to 6 year terms, and are elected to represent each state or territory. At each election (every three years), there will be 6 senators elected for each state, and two for each of the Northern Territory (NT) and Australian Capital Territory (ACT). Jervis Bay Territory (JBT) only has a population of a couple of hundred, and is thus included as part of the ACT for federal electoral purposes.

Currently, the Government is a coalition of the Liberal and National parties, and the Prime Minister is a man named John Howard, who is the leader of the Liberal Party. The Opposition is headed by the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and their leader (also the Opposition Leader) is a man named Kevin Rudd.

The Government also currently happens to hold a majority in the Senate, as well.

Right. That's out of the way. On to the round up.

More than anything else, the impression that I've got throughout this election campaign is that it has really dragged. Six weeks is a really long time between calling an election to actually having it.

Consequently, what I thought were the key issues identified at the start of the election campaign don't even appear to have registered with the voters. But I really don't have a clue. In any event, this is what I see as the key issues:

1. WorkChoices

WorkChoices has been designed to shaft workers and eliminate unions. Essentially, it there to capture the votes of small business, and to great deal, it has worked. The federal government, however did go too far in implementing this, and was forced in May to implement a "Fairness Test" for all new employment contracts (called AWAs).

I notice, cynically, that the Fairness Test can be dismantled really easily if the Government of the day chose to.

The Fairness Test has backfired on the Government to some small degree. Most notably, some businesses are finding it truly expensive to adhere to the requirements of the Fairness Test, and have reverted back to the cheaper enterprise bargaining system.

With the economy motoring along at close to full employment, don't expect to see the workers of Australia voting on this issue - they don't really care if their rights are stripped away with the Fairness Test in place and more money from employers on offer.

Expect to see the Government water-down or eliminate the Fairness Test if re-elected. If the Opposition is elected, they've indicated that WorkChoices will be eliminated entirely, although the substance of their policy details indicates that some of WorkChoices will be retained.

2. Climate and the Environment

Once upon a time, "climate" meant the overall political climate. Now, it refers to global warming.

Fortunately for us Australians, global warming denialism is a spent force in Australian politics. Unfortunately though, because corporate donations to political parties are still allowed to taint the political process, the Government will not ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

The electorate will vote strongly on this issue - even more strongly than the Government expects.

Complicating this is the issue of water, and the Government's traditional power base amongst farmers and the bush.

If the Government is re-elected, expect no further action on emissions. Water, on the other hand, could be interesting - but I don't see anything major other than what current Minister for the Environment Malcolm Turnbull has proposed. If the Opposition is elected, they have indicated that they'll ratify the Kyoto Protocol. I have no confidence in this, and I expect them to renege. Shadow Environment Minister Peter Garrett has already shown that he can be bought, and I actually don't expect to see him holding this portfolio if the Opposition is elected. The Opposition, on the other hand could really work wonders on the whole water front, but I'm not crossing my fingers.

Climate and the environment stands to deliver some Senate seats to the Greens. This is always interesting.

3. Health

Health Minister Tony Abbott has not had a good election campaign at all.

Yet, reading between the lines, the Government has possibly the best health strategy lined up if they win power, with the exception of the whole "communities run hospitals" silliness.

This is the problem. The electorate will only see this, and not the actual fix. Our health system is extremely good, as anyone who has seen Sicko will attest, but it could be better.

The Opposition, for all the good work of Shadow Health Minister Nicola Roxon during this election just don't really have anything other than lamely copying the federal government's policy stance. Improved performance measures will not register with the electorate.

What's wrong? The federal government is in charge of Medicare. The states are in charge of public hospitals. Don't people understand that such a stupid situation is untenable?

I expect that the copycat tactics of the Opposition has made health a non-issue at this election.

4. Secondary Education

It was left, ironically, to principals of private secondary schools to enunciate what was wrong with the Government's policy delivery on this. And with Julie Bishop going missing conspicuously during this election campaign, the government don't have a scapegoat either for what could have been a well received yet blatant attempt to bribe the electorate.

I will attempt to post a follow-up post this week about why secondary education in Australia is so completely fucked, but just like the Government, I don't like my chances.

This will be an issue during this election. Despite this being a boost to the pockets of middle Australia thanks to our high private school usage, no one likes it when the wealthy get handouts.

The Government will implement their policy of handouts to parents of private school kids if elected. The Opposition has wisely chosen not to copy this particular policy and have benefited from the fallout.

5. Tertiary Education


Oh, I forgot. Something from the Opposition. Scholarships, I believe. But scarcely a blip, really.

Wasted opportunity all round.

6. The Economy and Interest Rates

Treasurer Peter Costello has wasted no time going round and trumpeting his economic credentials, and with good cause - unemployment is at record lows and the economy is doing spectacularly well.

Too well, in fact. Inflation is not under control, and interest rates are on the way up as a result.

Unfortunately, spinning this into something that grabs the punters is close to impossible, especially when having a mortgage is almost a legal requirement for the Australian voter.

And while it is unlikely that we'll have a credit crunch like what they're having in the States, it only takes a couple more interest rate rises to see a housing price collapse, particularly with housing affordability the way that it is.

On the downside, both parties have made a lot of costly election promises. And as Master Yoda would have said:

Spending leads to inflation,
Inflation leads to rate rises,
Rate rises leads to the Dark Side.

Or he might not. In any event the spending promises during this election campaign have been profligate. In fact, I awake in dry sweats thinking about it. Ex-PM and Treasurer Paul Keating has savaged both parties for the disgraceful spending that has been promised.

For once in my life, I agree with him.

Expect the voters to give the Government the big thumbs up for economic management - they already appear to have bought the line that interest rate rises were unavoidable and that the Government weren't lying through their teeth at the last election about this very issue.

7. Housing Affordability

Housing affordability in Australia is a DISGRACE!!!

And both parties think that they have the solution: throw more money at buyers.

Needless to say, this will be extremely popular with the electorate, who have proved that they have the economic nous of a doormouse.

I'm a poet and I don't know it.

Nyuk nyuk nyuk. (Cue: "Wiseguy, eh?" followed by Three Stooge-esque violence)

In any event, this will be influential in the marginal seats. Never mind that inflating demand will only exacerbate the problem. Houses will only become more unaffordable. Why don't people realise this?

Something really needs to be done about people's economic literacy.

8. "Family"

This will thankfully be a minor issue that this election. Thank FSM for that.

9. Religion

And because 8 will be a non-issue, so will point 9. It should be mentioned that thanks to our ridiculous preference system in the Senate, the key religious party, Family First stands to gain a seat (at the most, I'm tipping) but they've been quiet.

It will be interesting to see how the preference deal between the Liberals and the Christian Democrats for the New South Wales Senate seats goes - they're even more of a bunch of nutbars than Family First.

10. Bennelong and Liberal Succession Planning

John Howard has indicated that he will stand aside during the next term in favour of Peter Costello. Don't expect that there won't be as fight if this happens. Brendan Nelson, Abbott and Turnbull will, I expect, put in a real humdinger of a fight for the top job.

But that could happen sooner, particularly if the unthinkable happens in Bennelong.

Bennelong will be the most closely watched seat in the House. Not only is it the electorate of the PM, but there is also a really good chance that it could be won by high profile ALP candidate Maxine McKew.

If that happens and the Government wins the election, we will, theoretically, have no Prime Minister until Peter Costello is confirmed. Again, though, watch this space. Nelson, Abbott and/or Turnbull (who has his own fight for Wentworth to look at) will get treacherous.

Hope that you enjoyed that. I'll do a part two later this week, where I cover off on which way I'll be voting.

I notice that in my election polls, there is a really big wish that the Greens could win the election. I would never have thought this about my readership.

Party on!


KitKat said...

A little ironic that you mention both your international/ mainly US readers, and the length of the Australian election campaign in the same post.

I'm sick of the electioneering here, but even sicker of hearing about it from the US. What do your US readers think of the length of their election campaigning? I have to admit a high level of voluntary ignorance with regards the US system, but holy FSM it seems to go for ever. Something like 3 years and 364 days... starts the day after the last election.

You also didn't mention for your international readers (or I missed it) that voting is compulsory in Australia for everyone over age 18, and you will be fined for not voting unless you have a very good reason. I think the election system runs very smoothly here - the longest I've ever waited at a polling booth is about 15 minutes I think. At my current local one, I've voted 3 times and the most congestion was when I was 3rd in the queue and waited about 4 minutes. i heard of people queuing all day in the US.

An interesting difference in this campaign is that Howard hasn't been able to pull much out of the bag in terms of scaremongering - no Tampa, the "National Security" card has waned in importance, the refugees/ illegal immigrants issue has also become less emotive (sadly in a way).

There does seem to be more sympathy, or at least less hostility, towards the Greens. Ironically, Bob Brown's maiden speech in parliament presented the potential problem of global warming - he was almost universally ridiculed. Wouldn't be now, methinks.

Dikkii said...

G'day KitKat,

A little ironic that you mention both your international/ mainly US readers, and the length of the Australian election campaign in the same post.

Yeah. That was unintentional. But your right - the US presidential elections aren't until this time next year, and they're already hard at it.

And you've pre-empted me about compulsory voting - I was going to mention that in my next post. Never mind.

Funnily enough, re divisive "security" issues, I was going to mention Kevin Andrews and the racist limitations on African immigrants. However, I think that this won't register with voters this election.

Likewise taxation. Both parties have such similar policies that taxation is a non-issue as well.

I think that the Greens only need one good showing in an election to cement a place as the fourth major party - this could be it.

KitKat said...

oops sorry to pre-empt you with the compulsory voting thing. It's something I can actually say I'm proud of in our political system. Can't quite articulate why right now, but I think it's a good thing.

I also hope that the Greens do become a legitimate force. I have a lot of respect for Bob Brown. He is one of the few politicians who I believe actually says what he thinks, rather than what he thinks is best to say for his career/ party etc. And since the Dems committed harakiri, there has been something lacking.

Dikkii said...

I'm not actually proud of compulsory voting. It deprives Australians of their democratic right not to vote and results in results skewed ever so slightly by donkey and frivolous voting. Informal voting is not environmentally friendly, either. Lastly, compulsory voting has just the faintest Orwellian flavour to it.

On the other hand, I'm proud of compulsory voting. We probably get much more accurate election results as a result. And when elections can be decided on a few marginal seats, this is a good thing.

I've never bought the "duty of citizenship" argument for compulsory voting - conscription, anyone? - but I do like some of the benefits.

You can see I'm conflicted about this.

I have a lot of respect for Bob Brown. Unlike certain former greenies, he always strikes me as a bloke who is unafraid to stick to his guns.

AIGBusted said...

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Dikkii said...

Thanks Ryan.

I believe that I will do exactly that.

Plonka said...

Nice one Dikkii. You beat me to it and I did enjoy it but...

close to full employment

Don't kid yourself. If you work 1 hour a week you are classed as employed and are counted in the "full employment" statistic. Under Hawk/Keating, you needed to work 10 hours a week to be counted and before that it was 20 hours a week. If we count employment the old way (20 hours minimum), we're currently looking at about 13%.

And workchoices better be a bloody issue! A working underclass is something that should be avoided at all costs.

KitKat said...

Good point plonka, but I had a feeling that under the current classification 1 hour a week voluntary work is enough to classify you as employed.

If that's right, how whacked is that.

Dikkii said...

Boy do I feel like a goose, Plonka and KitKat. I wasn't even aware that the definition had changed.

That's not like me.

Dikkii said...

I'm going to recant my previous mea culpa, partially.

Apparently, according to the ABS here and here, the requirement for as little as 1 hour per week to be "employed" existed prior to 1986, however, in 1986, this was extended to unpaid workers such as kids onj the family farm

In 1991 this requirement was extended to volunteers.

This means that our current national unemployment rate is comparable (and compares favourably) with these periods.

I don't think that I need to add that 1986 was under the Hawke Government and 1991 under the Keating one.

Plonka said...


Seriously whacked indeed. It includes any "work for the dole" hours you might do as well I believe.


Sorry, I thought that the worst of it happened a bit later than that. Either way, ever since Hawk/Keating, the way we count employment is a sham.

They changed it for that most standard of all political reasons, to make themselves look better (the move got unemployment down to about 10% at the time, if memory serves) and I also seem to remember the Liberals crying foul and blathering about how they'd change it back. I wonder why they didn't.

Dikkii said...

They changed it for that most standard of all political reasons, to make themselves look better (the move got unemployment down to about 10% at the time, if memory serves) and I also seem to remember the Liberals crying foul and blathering about how they'd change it back. I wonder why they didn't.

I agree, but I wouldn't be too surprised if someone extended the definition of employed to include all people looking for work.

The good news is that we have alternate figures for unemployment which are a bit more meaningful.

The one that I like is frictional unemployment - which is just people who have just left a job and are about to start a new one. Full employment is said to be close by when (strangely) frictional employement is high.

It means people are unafraid to shop around for jobs.