Thursday, November 22, 2007

Australia - where shalt thou head now?

I'm glad I am unable to vote in the Australian federal elections. The choices are grim for one who believes in less government.
For starters, there is compulsory voting which does mean that those who are inert, end up taking whatever is easiest for them without being truly interested. That's the first thing that should change.
I could go on about the complications of a federal system, the preferential voting system and the like, but what this election is about is really a two party contest. The parallels between NZ and Australia are considerable. Labor vs the Liberals is not unlike Labour vs National. However, they are far from identical.
NZ Labour is further to the left, rejecting tax cuts until very recently, and clearly not as male dominated as Aussie Labor. Aussie Labor is reasonably conservative, after all Kevin Rudd does not approve of gay marriage and he's a practicing Christian. The Liberal Party isn't very at all! Howard's conservative as well. While Australia happily accepts open markets and there is little debate about the reforms of the 80s and 90s, it certainly doesn't have freedom or even liberal market attitudes expressed much politically. While NZ Labour is dominated by feminist, unionist, gay and Maori sections, Aussie Labor is a union based party with not a lot of room for the rest.
So what's up for grabs? In the Senate, 40 out of 76 seats are up for election. The Liberal/National coalition current holds a one seat majority there. Indications are that neither Labor nor the Coalition will hold a majority here, with the hotchpotch of loony minor parties holding the balance of power. In Australia this means the Greens, the Democrats (who stand for virtually nothing) and the conservative Christian Family First Party. Hmmm. nothing to cheer about there. Minor parties in Australia are all about growing the state!

In the House of Representatives all seats are up for grabs. There are 150 seats (contrast that to NZ's rather bloated 120+ Parliament notwithstanding Australia having a Senate and states). Labor needs to win 16 seats to govern in its own right.

So it is a two horse race. John Howard, PM since 1995, with the Liberal/National coalition (National being effectively the slightly more conservative rural version of Liberal), and Kevin Rudd the new more charismatic face of the Labor Party.
The issues? Well it has been the true advance auction of stolen goods, with a couple of exceptions. The Liberal promise of extensive (and welcome) tax cuts has been nearly matched by Labor (except at the top rate). Howard is also promising more labour market flexibility and streamlining of processes, while Labor is rejecting most of them. Beyond that though, both parties are promising to spend money. Some of these include:
- Liberal promise to rebate private school fees;
- Liberal promise of tax breaks for first time home buyers, childcare and supporting "carers";
- Labor promising money for 65,000 apprenticeships;
- Labor promised high speed broadband for all schools;
- Labor promised all students in their final four years at school to get access to their own computer;
- Liberal promise 50 new emergency medical centres which Labor said was its policy;
- Liberal promise of a 15% cut in CO2 emissions by 2020, Labor said 20%
- Liberal promise to spend a great deal on roads.
In other words, tweedledum, tweedledee. The real battle is one of style. John Howard looks old and from the past, the rather smart Mandarin speaking Kevin Rudd seems, like the BBC has quipped - like a younger John Howard.
So, by and large, I don't care. The worst thing that can happen under Labor is that, like in NZ, being out of power for a long time means that the harder left is more motivated to change, to tinker and grow the state. However, frankly, John Howard and the Liberal Party hardly deserve to win either. They don't deserve to be "Liberal", play ruthless political opportunism and continue to be willing to spend and waste Australians' money on pork barrel politics. Neither Liberal nor Labor want to shrink the state. Even the tax cuts are at best slowing down the growth.
Truth be told, if Howard wins it will be historic - he will beat Menzies as the longest serving Australian PM. It will also decimate Labor, which until Kevin Rudd was despondent. However, if he loses he will be doing so while Australia has a growing economy, low unemployment and a general sense of contentment. He'll lose because he's seen as yesterday's man, and Rudd as a fresh change. In fact that's all that will happen. If Labor wins, it wont be because of policy, it will be personal. It will give the unions a little back, spend a bit more, cut taxes a bit less - but pretty much not a lot will change. If it's lucky, the Liberals might grow a backbone and be against state waste and growth in bureaucracy.
The latest poll puts Labor ahead 52/48 on a two party preferred basis. The trend looks like a Labor victory, but it is up to marginal seats (and Howard's is one of those now). If Labor does win, it wont be by much, and it may not control the Senate. However, assuming the economy ticks over - Rudd may be in for the long haul, assuming his government doesn't screw it all up!
However, for a libertarian - it is next to irrelevant.

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