That said, I'll tell you the most interesting things about Oz politics right now. We're having an election some time in the next six months (the Prime Minister gets to set the date within a certain range and he hasn't set it yet.) All the polls point to a fairly massive loss for the incumbent conservative government. A few key points about how our political system differs from the US:
- We have a Westminster-style parliament (like England)
- We don't have a president
- If your party (or coalition) wins the most seats in the House of Representatives (analogous to the US Congress) you win the government. The head of your party runs things and is known as the Prime Minister
- All of the ministers in the Cabinet (analogous to US "Secretary of..." roles) are elected representative, NOT appointed as they are in the US
- The conservatives in Australia (broadly analogous to US Republicans) are a coalition of the Liberal and National Parties. The "Liberal" bit will be confusing to those used to US political terminology, I know
- The other party (broadly analogous to Democrats) is known as the Labor party
- There is actually a party called the Democrats. They're losers. There's only a few of them left and they're facing extinction
The current government (Liberal/National coalition) have been in power with the same Prime Minister since 1996. I am not a supporter of this regime. I'm sure they'll learn to live with that. I'll give PM John Howard credit for two things: first, he's a survivor. Members of his own party tried to screw him over for years. Ultimately he won and they lost. Second, for ten years he completely neutered pretty much all opposition. The Labor party were his bitch for years.
That all changed when Labor got a new leader in the form of Kevin Rudd. The guy is teflon. No attack on him sticks. And now the Liberals are staring down the barrel of a really humiliating defeat at the next election. The title of this post refers to my favourite failed attempt to smear Rudd.
The story broke recently that Rudd visited Scores "gentlemen's club" in Manhattan in 2003 with fellow Labor MP Warren Snowdon and New York Post editor Col Allan during a taxpayer-funded trip when he was opposition foreign affairs spokesman. Because Rudd is a Christian with a fairly clean image some may have thought this would hurt his reputation and his lead in the polls. Not so.
I'll be honest, it was Rudd's goody-two-shoes Christianity that gave me doubts about him. I'm uncomfortable with governments anywhere being run according to theology (any theology). So I felt this actually humanised him a little. Public reaction shows I'm not alone in thinking that. He even has the greatest defence if someone tries to embarrass him with specifics ("Did you get a lapdance?" "Were the strippers hot?" "Who was your favourite?")
He was too drunk to remember anything! Legend! I actually suspect this story was leaked by his own side. Obviously, it's been known about for ages in political circles but it wasn't given to the media or at least no media ran with it. If you knew Australians you'd realise that thinking this would hurt his image is a stupid idea. He's much more of a bloke now. And he'll probably be Prime Minister soon.
So I mentioned the things I give current PM John Howard credit for, what don't I like about him? Simple - his politics. He's a very dry conservative economically and extremely conservative socially. He's overwhelmingly committed to ideology over pragmatism. Most of the time this has served him well but it's led to some spectacular blunders.
He's staunchly anti-union and introduced laws that tilted workplace relations heavily in favour of employers over employees. Unions had been dying a natural death - membership was steadily dwindling because people didn't think they needed them. Then Howard introduces a raft of draconian industrial laws that scare the crap out of people, making them run to unions. The man who hates unions gave them their biggest membership boost in 20 years.
His other blunder (in my opinion) has been how he's handled the Australian/US alliance. This alliance is incredibly important to Australia but the alliance is about countries, not political parties. Howard has tied himself intimately to President Bush and is without doubt Bush's most loyal supporter in the world. Seriously. Bush treats Howard better than any other world leader when he visits because no other world leader supports Bush so strongly.
Howard has criticised opposition politicians who have criticised Bush's policies saying they are hurting the alliance. Yet Howard has had no hesitation in attacking Democrats who may well form the next US administration. This sort of hypocrisy and political game playing really pisses me off. In fact, I lost all respect for Howard when he repeated the appalling Republican talking points about a vote for the Democrats being a vote for terrorists, a subject I tackled in the following video for The Fizz Newzz: