Election in Land of Oz : “If you want to know who to vote for, I’m the guy with the not bad looking daughters . .”

Sep 6th, 2013 | By | Category: Countries of the World

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, third right, his wife Therese Rein, sons Marcus, right, and Nicholas, third left, daughter Jessica and Chinese-Australian son-in-law Albert Tse, left, celebrating Australian Labor Party victory in 2007. (Reuters).

[UPDATED SEPTEMBER 8]. In some more ideal world Canada would take more of an interest in Australia, and vice-versa. The two places have a lot in common. They are both natural resource-dominated economies in geographically vast territories with modest but increasingly diverse populations. And they are both former self-governing dominions of the now declined and fallen British empire, struggling to reset their increasingly democratic political cultures, to meet the challenges of a changing global village in the 21st century.

Yet there are also some big differences. Australian federalism has a west and an east (and even a sprawling northern wilderness and its own aboriginal peoples), but nothing at all like French-speaking Quebec. And it is located on the most southerly maritime edge of Asia, not right next door to the United States of America. The seasons are reversed, but even making allowances for this, there is not really anything in Australia like the Canadian winter. And then there seem to be many old and new divisive colonial rivalries. In some respects Australia is still closer to the United Kingdom than Canada. In other ways distance makes the heart grow fonder, and it is closer to the United States.

So … in Canada today you almost have to be looking for news about such things to realize that there is an Australian federal election this coming Saturday, September 7, 2013. That is a great pity, because Canadians could understand their own politics better if they knew even just a little more about politics down under, in the quite familiar but also mysterious Land of Oz.

As it happens, the essential facts about the September 7, 2013 election can be sketched quickly enough. The two main opponents are the Australian Labor Party (ALP), currently led by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and the so-called Coalition of (for federal purposes) chiefly the Liberal Party (which is mostly if not entirely conservative) and the National (formerly Country) Party, currently led by the Liberal leader Tony Abbott.

Tony Abbott and two of his three his daughters. Photo: Screen grab.

The ALP, first under Kevin Rudd and then under a somewhat intriguing lady called Julia Gillard, and then (as of this past June 26) under Kevin Rudd again, has formed the Government of Australia since December 3, 2007.  But all the opinion polls in 2013 seem to make clear that Tony Abbott’s “centre-right” Coalition will take the prize on September 7.

In an election that one press report suggests “underlines pitiful state of Australian politics,” Mr.Abbott’s “main political pitch to the Big Brother housemates” (on a current popular Ozzie TV show) has been “flanked by a visibly embarrassed Frances and Bridget … ‘If you want to know who to vote for, I’m the guy with the not bad looking daughters’.” (And all those in Canada who think Stephen Harper is an embarrassment should take special note!)

UPDATE 12:05 AM, SUN SEPT 8, IN OZZIE CAPITAL, CANBERRA (among other wild and crazy things about the Land of Oz down under, current time in Canberra – and, eg, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney – is a full 14 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in North America, and 17 hours ahead of NA Pacific Time) : The opinion polls in this case have proved pretty close to spot on. As reported in The Sunday Age, as matters stand right now Tony Abbott’s Coalition has taken 53% of the popular vote and 87 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives. Kevin Rudd’s Australian Labor Party has won 47% of the vote and 54 seats. Meanwhile, on the seriously entertaining fringe, there is no definitive word yet about “Julian Assange’s bid for a Senate seat in Victorian state.” (Though the initial numbers are apparently not all that promising : “Final results in the Senate could take more than a week to determine, due to the complicated system of preferential voting and proportional representation.”) For further pre-election-results background click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll below.

Who is Tony Abbott really?

Tony Abbott and all three of his daughters. Photo : Women’s Weekly.

Until fairly recently Tony Abbott was considered “unelectable” in Australian federal politics. It is a mark of the precipitous decline of the Australian Labor Party in opnion polls that he has rather suddenly become the front runner in the 2013 election.

It is intriguing as well that both Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd were born in 1957 (Rudd on September 21 and Abbott on November 4) – and both will be in their exact mid 50s on September 7, 2013. Abbott, however, is distinctive in that he was born in London, England (albeit “to an Australian mother and an English-born Australian father”). In September 1960 “Tony’s family moved to Australia on the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme ship Oronsay. His family first lived in Bronte and later moved to Chatswood, both suburbs of Sydney, New South Wales …  Abbott … graduated with a Bachelor of Economics (BEc) and a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of Sydney where he … was president of the Student Representative Council. He then travelled via India to Britain to study at The Queen’s College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, where he graduated with a Master of Arts (MA) in Politics and Philosophy.”

Who is Kevin Rudd really?

Kevin Rudd in Australian House of Representatives – as ALP rival Julia Gillard looks on warily from behind.

Kevin Rudd may lack a popular majority in Australia at the moment. But the night before last  in the USA Lawrence O’Donnell’s Last Word on MSNBC was almost overcome with admiration for Rudd’s recent “passionate defence of marriage equality” in the midst of the current Australian election campaign. (See “Watch: Australian PM passionately defends marriage equality.”)

The old great misleading stereotype about modern Australia is that is was initially settled by convicts from the United Kingdom. And, as explained by Wikipedia, Kevin “Rudd is of English and Irish descent. His paternal fourth great-grandparents were English and of convict heritage: Thomas Rudd and Mary Cable. Thomas arrived from London, England in 1801; Mary arrived from Essex in 1804. Thomas Rudd, who was convicted of stealing a bag of sugar, arrived in NSW [New South Wales] on board the Earl Cornwallis in 1801.” Much more recently, Kevin “Rudd studied at the Australian National University in Canberra, where he resided at Burgmann College and graduated with Bachelor of Arts (Asian Studies) with First-Class Honours. He majored in Chinese language and Chinese history, became proficient in Mandarin. His Chinese name is Lù Kèwén.” As if to show his further commitment to the culture of a key present-day Australian trading partner, Rudd’s son-in-law and granddaughter are also of Chinese descent.

Some other entertaining key current political moments in the Land of Oz

Stephanie Bannister : not opposed to Islam as a country.

According to an already alluded-to piece by William Pesek in this past Wednesday’s Sydney Morning Herald : “Election 2013 underlines pitiful state of Australian politics …  short-term thinking in Canberra risks shortchanging high-return investments in technology, education, broader internet access, and a state-of-the-art rail and highway system. Australia needs to make these kinds of investments now if it’s ever to develop a growth strategy that doesn’t depend on digging stuff out of the ground and shipping it to China.”

Many Australians and others have nonetheless managed to find the 2013 election campaign amusing (if that’s quite the right word). Two recent key sources here are : “Australian Election 2013: Top ten ridiculous moments” ; and (from the USA via a comic with origins in the UK) “Daily Show pokes fun at Australian elections.”

To take just one case in point, “Australia’s Sarah Palin,” Stephanie Bannister of the minor right-wing One Nation Party, resigned her candidacy after a disastrous TV  interview, in which she explained  that  “I don’t oppose Islam as a country, but I do feel that their laws should not be welcome here in Australia,” and “Jews have their own religion, which follows Jesus Christ.”

Mr. Assange.

A more serious entertainment has involved the minor WikiLeaks Party, whose main objective has been to win a seat in the (elected) Australian Senate for Australia’s own international whistle-blower Julian Assange, currently still a refugee inside Ecuador’s embassy in London, England. For starters here see counterweights’ own “Can Julian Assange win a seat in the Australian Senate (and what will happen if he does) ??” from this past April 30 – “From Greg Barns, National Campaign Director for the WikiLeaks Party’s 2013 Australian federal election campaign.” Unfortunately, this more serious entertainment has run into a few bumps in the road. See, eg: “WikiLeaks’ campaign for Senate implodes” and “WikiLeaks Party mired in crisis.” Mr. Assange has nonetheless kept up his spirits and his hopes. See “Julian Assange confident of winning Senate seat.” (And who knows? He may have a point : “‘It’s going to be a fight but the chances are good,’ Assange told AAP … ‘Taking into account the last poll of the ALP, Coalition and the Greens it’s likely I will be elected in Victoria to the Senate if we get more than four per cent of the vote’ … If the Greens vote is as high as many expect, Mr Assange, 42, argues its excess quota could flow to WikiLeaks and see him elected.” Though truly understanding these calculations would take a much longer lesson in the vast democratic subtleties and technicalities of Australian politics than I have space for here!)

Does this mean anything for Canada at all?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks with Australian Prime Minister John Howard during a joint session of the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, April 2006. Photo: Reuters.

A cynic would say the short answer to this question is probably not much. But in the spirit with which I began this quick and dirty report, I would just offer four concluding Canadianizing observations:

1. If Tony Abbott and the Liberal-National etc Coalition win on Saturday, September 7, 2013, as all the polls apparently predict, Stephen Harper, who had quite a warm relationship with the last “centre-right-conservative” prime minister in Canberra (John Howard) might find he once again has a friendly face in power down under, in the Land of Oz. (So what? You might say. And I really don’t have a good answer for that!)

2. Whether it wins or not, “the Coalition” in Australia could at least in theory be a provocative model on the other side of the ideological divide here in Canada. For many years now, the Liberal and National parties have resisted plans for any full-fledged “merger.” But their longstanding policy of co-operation has made the “centre right” in Australia highly competitive. We may have almost reached a point in Canada where we really do need something similar on the “centre left.” As crazy as that may seem inside both our Liberal and New Democratic parties.

Premier Christy Clark takes an early morning break from BC provincial election campaign this past spring. If only Kevin Rudd (or even Julia Gillard for that matter) looked more like this, the chances of the ALP on September 7 would almost certainly be better.

3.  Recent Canadian provincial elections may actually hold out some hope for Kevin Rudd. According to a recent Ozzie press report: “Have parties won elections when so far behind in the polls? …  Kevin Rudd is styling himself the comeback kid …  Asked on breakfast television Monday whether he really had a hope with one poll showing him behind 46-54 he said there were ‘multiple state elections in recent times when people have come from behind in the last week and they’ve come from much further behind than we are’ …  He also cited Paul Keating’s dramatic move from behind to a surprise win in 1993 … But has it ever happened from where Rudd is now.” The main burden of this report is that it never has really happened before, in the Land of Oz. In BC and Alberta in Canada, however, it is arguably possible enough that it actually has happened in the quite recent past. Opinion polls nowadays are not always even close enough for jazz. (Though it is also true that neither Mr. Rudd not Mr.Abbott is even half as cute as Christy Clark.)

4. Australia has, for some time now, been the leading advocate of Westminster parliamentary republicanism among the remaining 15 “Commonwealth Realms” of what used to be the British empire. (Not to be confused with the 54 member states of the current Commonwealth of Nations, the great majority of which are republics already.) Both Kevin Rudd and the Australian Labor Party are republican in theory, if not exactly eager to hold another event like the failed Australian republican referendum of 1999 any time too soon. Tony Abbott, on the other hand, is an aggressive “constitutional monarchist” (unlike such other members of his party as Malcolm Turnbull). According to one recent report : “Aussie republicans claim not to be afraid of Tony Abbott.” But what if Mr. Abbott does win on September 7, and does prove to be a very effective scourge of Australian republicanism? That just might open the door for a new round of Canadian leadership in the noble quest for Westminster parliamentary republicanism among the remaining 15 Commonwealth Realms. And some of us in the home and native land would say a rousing British North American here, here (etc, etc, hear, hear?) to that.

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