Small election in Australia, not many interested

by John Quiggin on August 17, 2010

Australia will elect a new government (more precisely, will probably re-elect the current Labor government) on Saturday. Although I promised I would say something about this, the whole business has been too depressing for words. The government has offered nothing but weaselly spin doctoring, and the Opposition has been even worse, playing to anti-refugee xenophobia, and offering nothing but slogans and bribes. In the forty years in which I’ve had some political awareness, I can’t remember anything as bad. [1]

A year ago, I would have thought it impossible that we would be reduced to this.

At that time, the Prime Minister was Kevin Rudd, a workaholic policy wonk of great ability, who was respected, if not much loved, by his Labor colleagues, while the Liberals (= conservatives) were led by Malcolm Turnbull, a volatile and energetic outsider to the party who seemed destined for great things. Now they are both gone, replaced respectively by Julia Gillard, a presentable but not particularly impressive party careerist, and Tony Abbott, a right wing ideologue with a long track record of mediocrity. Neither has put up anything that could be called a policy.

The disaster began when Rudd decided that his signature issue of climate change required a bipartisan approach (echoes of Obama aren’t accidental). By making huge concessions to big carbon emitters, he managed to cut a deal with Turnbull for an emissions trading scheme, though the necessary compromises made it a very dubious deal. Turnbull managed to persuade a majority of his party to back the deal, but this was unacceptable to the party base, dominated by delusional ‘sceptics’. Abbott challenged him and prevailed, by a single vote.

At this point, Rudd could have called and won a special election. Popular support for action and climate change was overwhelming then, and remains strong even after a series of disappointments). But (on his own account because of procedural scruples about shortening the term of Parliament) he decided to wait. By April 2010, the half-dead, half-alive ETS had become an embarrassment. The self-styled ‘hardheads’ (including Gillard) forced Rudd to announce that it would be deferred indefinitely, the idea being to clear the decks for an election campaign fought on a narrow set of issues. But, having dumped what he had rightly called ‘the great moral challenge of our time, Rudd’s popularity plummeted. The result was that the same people who had forced the dumping of the ETS now decided to dump Rudd.

Shortly afterward, the incoming PM Gillard decided to capitalize on her initial popularity and call an immediate election (a few months ahead of the normal date). The honeymoon quickly soured, and for a while it appeared as if this was a miscalculation, with Labor facing defeat. That’s still possible, but the awfulness of the alternative seems to have produced a swing back to the government.

Thanks to the marvels of the preferential (Single Transferable Vote) system, I don’t have to vote for either of them, and will instead give my first preference to the Green. They have an outside chance where I live owing to the disendorsement of the sitting Liberal member who is running as an Independent. But, in all probability, it will come down to a race between the two major parties, so the effective component of my vote will be the last preference, which I will allocate to the (official) Liberal.

fn1. (As a commenter says, I was too disgusted to get around to this when I posted). This election is in some ways a repeat of 2001, only worse. Marx on the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte comes to mind.

{ 82 comments }

1

Vance Maverick 08.17.10 at 12:40 pm

Too disgusted to fill in the footnote, or the period on para. 2?

2

Steve Laniel 08.17.10 at 12:50 pm

Parse error while looking for footnote “[1]”.

3

Factory 08.17.10 at 12:57 pm

I reckon it was Joh for PM. Abbott might be an ideologue, but he’s not a corrupt police statist.

4

ajay 08.17.10 at 1:08 pm

1: the footnote will be supplied later by dsquared. Keep watching!

5

Leinad 08.17.10 at 1:19 pm

What? You’re voting Libs? Why?

6

Leinad 08.17.10 at 1:20 pm

Oh, d’oh. Read better, me.

7

Steve LaBonne 08.17.10 at 1:45 pm

The politics of almost all “Western” countries seem to be pretty depressing at the moment. I wish the general air of malaise and drift didn’t remind me quite so much of the failures of democracy in the 1920s and early 30s.

8

Talleyrand 08.17.10 at 1:46 pm

The ousting of Rudd was a tragedy for Australia. Yet again, as in the US, trying to play bipartisan just means the moronic right wing get to spit in your face.

9

Vasi 08.17.10 at 2:08 pm

Seriously, the Liberals are your lowest preference? You’d prefer One Nation and Family First?

10

Myles SG 08.17.10 at 2:51 pm

The ousting of Rudd was a tragedy for Australia. Yet again, as in the US, trying to play bipartisan just means the moronic right wing get to spit in your face.

This wasn’t so much Rudd being stupid as the Labor party hacks wanting to score two-birds-with-one-stone with this. They wanted both the Liberals to help them pass the ETS and at the same time use the ETS to run the Liberals over the rails politically, because the ETS was popular. The political calculus made no sense: help us pass ETS so we could win more seats at your expense?

And of course, Gillard being the utter party-machine mediocrity she is, she mounted a coup against Rudd as soon as convenient for her and fellow hacks politically.

Basically speaking, Labor got greedy and shot itself in the foot.

11

Leinad 08.17.10 at 3:08 pm

Myles is on the money.

Labor had a legislative strategy for passing the ETS but their political strategy revolved around wedging the Liberals and little else – they didn’t explain the issue or the merits of their specific policy to the public in any depth. This meant that when their legislative pathway collapsed, co-inciding with the stalemate at Copenhagen and climategate the deniers had a field day while Labor didn’t have the confidence in their own messaging to take the ETS to an early election.

12

sg 08.17.10 at 3:13 pm

If you’re sure the effective component of your vote will be the last preference, don’t you think you should vote labor first?

Myles SG, phrases like “party-machine mediocrity” are both sexist and completely ignorant of how the ALP works. Hawke was also a “party-machine” man, was he a mediocrity too?

13

Myles SG 08.17.10 at 3:17 pm

This meant that when their legislative pathway collapsed, co-inciding with the stalemate at Copenhagen and climategate the deniers had a field day while Labor didn’t have the confidence in their own messaging to take the ETS to an early election.

Also, I can’t understand for the life of me why so many people were shocked that Copenhagen turned out to be a disaster. Of course Senor Hugo Chavez would commandeer and hijack the whole thing and try to piss off everybody in the West and turn it into a shit-show as much as possible. That’s what he does and that’s what he is. The country he runs also happens to be an oil producer.

How on earth does any sort of half-competent diplomat not foresee the Group of 77 or whatever sad joke that was designed to shut down the conference and prevent any substantive agreement, and forestall it before it got off the ground? This was so blatantly obvious it makes me wonder if everybody had on beer goggles at Copenhagen.

14

Alex 08.17.10 at 3:18 pm

A year ago, I would have thought it impossible that we would be reduced to this

The motto of the 2000s – still good for another 10, it turns out.

15

Myles SG 08.17.10 at 3:19 pm

Myles SG, phrases like “party-machine mediocrity” are both sexist and completely ignorant of how the ALP works. Hawke was also a “party-machine” man, was he a mediocrity too?

I am not aware of either “party-machine” or “mediocrity” being words either suggesting or applying exclusively to one gender.

You are operating out of the febrile and ridiculous reaches of your imagination. Were Gillard a man and I would be equally, and no more and no less, contemptuous of him/her.

I do not take my words back, not a little bit.

16

sg 08.17.10 at 3:24 pm

I didn’t ask you to take your words back. Heaven forbid! But I note you didn’t answer my point about Hawke… and oh, look! It was Hawke introducing her at the launch.

Hmm, let’s see… a union negotiator… tick! From working class roots… tick! Connected to one or other of the factions of the unions and the party… tick! Just like Hawkie!

But I suppose that makes him a party-machine mediocrity… wait a minute, that doesn’t work…

17

Myles SG 08.17.10 at 3:35 pm

I didn’t ask you to take your words back. Heaven forbid! But I note you didn’t answer my point about Hawke… and oh, look! It was Hawke introducing her at the launch.

Hmm, let’s see… a union negotiator… tick! From working class roots… tick! Connected to one or other of the factions of the unions and the party… tick! Just like Hawkie!

But I suppose that makes him a party-machine mediocrity… wait a minute, that doesn’t work…

Ah, but I see, you have retracted your (puzzling, and amusing) charge of sexism!

In any case, one can be from the party-machine and not be a mediocrity. Or one can be a mediocrity an not be from the party machine. Think of it as a Venn diagram, where one circle is “Party-Machine”, the other circle if “Mediocrities”, and the area where they intersect in the middle is “Party-machine mediocrity.”

Party-machine mediocrity is a type of mediocrity. “Party-machine” works, if you would pardon my killjoy grammatical didacticism, as a modifier, modifying the object in question, which is “mediocrity”. I could easily use another modifier, say, entitled mediocrity, or privileged mediocrity, and unless you wish to be perfectly consistent you would not accuse me of confusing all mediocrities with privilege and entitlement.

Oh, and just for an extra dose of hilarity, check this out: “and oh, look! It was Hawke introducing her at the launch.”

Ah, argument from authority. The best! He introduced her! With his own words! Ipse dixit!

18

mollymooly 08.17.10 at 4:53 pm

“Thanks to the marvels of the preferential (Single Transferable Vote) system”

If you’re talking lower house, it’s Instant Runoff, aka the Alternative Vote (AV), not STV. While you can argue that AV is a special case of STV, it’s usually considered separately; e.g. the UK will supposedly have a referendum on AV, not the LibDems’ preferred STV.

“in all probability, it will come down to a race between the two major parties, so the effective component of my vote will be the last preference, which I will allocate to the (official) Liberal.”
I echo Vasi’s confusion and disbelief, adding the Independent Liberal to the query. Do you intend “last preference” to mean “except for the wingnuts I give no preference to at all”?

19

Tim Worstall 08.17.10 at 5:44 pm

Look on the bright side. Andrew Leigh will probably get in for Labor (one of the Canberra, or at least Federal District (umm, not all that sure about that bit of Oz politics) seats).

Not that his priors are quite my cup of tea but having someone who truly does understand economics (and in at least some of his papers is willing to follow the economics where it leads, even if he finds it politically unpalatable) will be an addition to the governance of the nation, won’t it?

20

Mr Punch 08.17.10 at 6:35 pm

The preferential vote system is AV/IRV in single-member districts, single transferable vote in multi-member districts (e.g., my municipal elections. The principle is the same, but the reality quite different; AV is head-to-head-head, much like first-past-the-post, whereas STV greatly diminishes (for better and/or worse) the oppositional element.

21

nick s 08.17.10 at 7:21 pm

Surprising that John missed out the spectacle of billionaire mine-owners protesting in the streets over the surtax on their profits, and threatening to shut down the mines and bugger off overseas. That was the proximate cause for Rudd’s knifing, not the ETS.

Myles is right about Labor’s overplayed hand following the election of Tony Abbott. If you’re making noises about a double dissolution, then you also need ruthless bastard lessons from Paul Keating.

Gillard isn’t inspiring at all, but judging from the polls, she’s going to save Labor by shoring up the vote in Victoria while getting squeezed in NSW/QLD. It’s a Barassi Line election.

22

Ben Alpers 08.17.10 at 8:02 pm

I wish the general air of malaise and drift didn’t remind me quite so much of the failures of democracy in the 1920s and early 30s.

For better or worse, one of the biggest differences between now and then is that politicians in democracies in the late ’20s and early ’30s were acutely aware that democracy and capitalism were both under threat and might collapse.

Today, virtually nobody in the political elites of the industrial democracies sees that as a remote possibility. Everyone simply assumes TINA. No amount of malaise is seen as a truly systemic crisis.

23

Myles SG 08.17.10 at 10:51 pm

If you’re making noises about a double dissolution, then you also need ruthless bastard lessons from Paul Keating.

Also that a double dissolution for political strategic reasons is, frankly, constitutionally reckless. If I remember my Australian history correctly, the election following Sir John Kerr’s dismissal of Whitlam resulted in the most spectacular defeat for Labor ever.

Honestly, never mind the fact that Oz Labor seems to have a historical pattern of being disturbing lackadaisical about constitutional restraint, they actually never seem to learn.

24

Peter Whiteford 08.17.10 at 11:40 pm

Myles SG

Your comment 22 doesn’t make any sense. Labor didn’t engineer the 1975 election – exactly the opposite in fact. It was the Coalition in 1975 that disregarded constitutional restraint – “lackadaisical” seems a curiously mild expression for what happened!

25

Dale Sheldon-Hess 08.17.10 at 11:52 pm

Here in the US, some people are trying to sell us your preferential system (under the name “instant runoff voting”)as the magic elixir that will fix our electoral system, pointing to how well it’s “worked” in Australia.

Clearly, the truth is quite different.

26

John Quiggin 08.18.10 at 12:40 am

As regards my (instant runoff/AV) vote in the Lower House, the Family First candidate will be eliminated first, so it doesn’t matter much whether I rank FF last or second-last. In expressive terms, I’d rather say my piece by giving this spot to the Libs.

Contrary to Dale Sheldon-Hess, the system works very well, and the current election illustrates that. In a first-past-the-post/plurality system I would face a real dilemma in choosing between a vote for the Greens (by far the best from my viewpoint, but probably wasted) and for Labor (awful, but not as awful as the other lot). As it is, I can express my beliefs, and still make a choice between the effective alternatives.

Of course, the quality of the electoral system matters a lot less than the quality of the alternatives on offer.

27

John Quiggin 08.18.10 at 12:43 am

As regards the Resource Rent Tax, I backed the Labor government pretty vigorously on that, organising public statements, writing opinion pieces, and so forth. Had the politics been handled more effectively, it might have offset the damage done by dumping the ETS. But I think it was peripheral to the main story.

28

Anspen 08.18.10 at 12:51 am

I was under the impression that the problem was the Australian Senate, where Labour didn’t have a majority, requiring a deal with the Liberals? Of course that still keeps the main point of the story in tact (Labour shooting itself in the foot).

29

polyorchnid octopunch 08.18.10 at 1:52 am

I’ll just make one comment, to Factory:

Take a leaf from the Canadian experience in the last decade. Ideologue nutjobs are far more dangerous to both you personally (in terms of your civil liberties) than corrupt statists. Besides, there’s no reason why one can’t simultaneously be the other.

30

polyorchnid octopunch 08.18.10 at 1:53 am

Damn, hit submit too quickly. I mean to say “…dangerous to both you personally and to the state of your country than…”

31

sg 08.18.10 at 2:36 am

As far as I understand it, had labor held a double dissolution over the ETS or the mining tax it might well have weakened their hand in the senate, rather than strengthened it (due to reduced thresholds); so it’s not so much a question of “ruthless bastard” in this case.

It certainly seems like Rudd wasn’t ruthless enough with the liberals, but I don’t think MylseSG’s interpretation of what happened over the ETS is right. They wanted the ETS to pass without dealing with the greens, so they cut a deal with the liberals; certainly they would have hoped that any deal they did cut would marginalise the climate nay-sayers in the liberal camp; but I don’t think that means they intended to pass the ETS and use it to destroy the libs.

I think their big miscalculation was that they underestimated just how many climate nay-sayers there were, which then left them with the choice of dealing with the Greens or dropping the ETS until after an election – and that’s when their popularity took a nosedive.

What stuns me is the degree of left-wing anger directed at Julia Gillard after she replaced Rudd. It was hard and cold, but this in the ALP par for the course.

MylesSG, “machine man” may be a modifier, but it’s a meaningless modifier when put in front of anything except “mediocrity.” You wouldn’t call Hawke a “machine man genius” would you? The phrase is meant to convey a sense of Gillard as a weak puppet. I think that language (and the general anger at her “betrayal”) is drawing on a deep and sexist well-spring. Particularly since there have been more than a few rumours going around that things weren’t all okay management-wise within Rudd’s world.

32

weaver 08.18.10 at 3:21 am

@polyorchnid octopunch: “corrupt statists”

Factory accurately called Bjelke-Petersen a corrupt police statist. There is a slight difference.

33

Myles SG 08.18.10 at 5:20 am

Particularly since there have been more than a few rumours going around that things weren’t all okay management-wise within Rudd’s world.

We are supposed to decides who’s right and wrong base on “more than a few rumours,” but we can’t call people you presume virtuous “party-machine mediocrity” when “party-machine mediocrity” seems a heck lot more supported by objective facts than whatever your were trying to demonstrate via “more than a few rumours?”

Dude, WTF? Is there an Oz version of IOKIYAR, for Labor, or something? Because I mean, dude…WTF?

Is calling Martha Coackley “incompetent hack” sexist as well? Your argument is ludicrous and fantastical.

34

AlanDownunder 08.18.10 at 5:32 am

mollymooly:
I echo Vasi’s confusion and disbelief, adding the Independent Liberal to the query. Do you intend “last preference” to mean “except for the wingnuts I give no preference to at all”?
Molly, we have exhaustive preferential voting at federal level. Some states have optional preferential voting. So, at federal level, every wingnut gets a preference.
Anyway, JQ is right to number any Abbott minion among the wingnuts.

35

Myles SG 08.18.10 at 5:41 am

It was the Coalition in 1975 that disregarded constitutional restraint – “lackadaisical” seems a curiously mild expression for what happened!

From Wikipedia: “In April 1974, faced with attempts by the Opposition to obstruct supply (that is, appropriation bills) in the Senate, Whitlam obtained the concurrence of the Governor-General, Sir Paul Hasluck to a double dissolution.[13] Labor was returned at the election on 18 May with a reduced House majority of five seats. The Coalition and Labor each had 29 Senate seats, with the balance of power held by two independents.[14]”

(Senate, post-double dissolution, still does not yield a workable Labor majority. Senate soon proceeds to block supply.)

…”If the Opposition were to allow supply to pass, Whitlam would not advise a half-Senate election until May or June 1976, and the Senate would not convene until 1 July, thus obviating the threat of a possible temporary Labor majority. Whitlam, who was determined to destroy both the Senate’s right to block supply and Fraser’s leadership, refused any compromise.[51]”

…”After the meeting, Fraser proposed a compromise: that the Opposition would concede supply if Whitlam agreed to hold a House of Representatives election at the same time as the half-Senate election.[53] Whitlam rejected the idea.[54]”

If I am reading this correctly, Whitlam tried to pull a half-senate election barely a year after a full double dissolution…without any intention whatsoever to hold a House of Representatives election simultaneously, which is how such elections are supposed to work. From Wikipedia: “The terms of the territory Senators coincide with the duration of the House of Representatives.”

I think Whitlam’s actions could be justifiably described as constitutionally lackadaisical. By the way, the principle of no government remaining absent supply precedes the principle of government remaining in power as long as possessing workable majority in lower house. As the two chambers are essentially co-equal in Australian, Whitlam was going rogue by trying to permanently reduce the Senate’s power without going through a general election. In fact, his attempt to get the Sovereign to dismiss the Governor-General ex post facto is a fairly clear indication that he seems to have gone fully insane in regard to his perception constitutional precedences of power and disposition of reserve and extraordinary powers in Westminster systems (the Governor-General has full latitude to veto his ministers in extraordinary situations).

36

Myles SG 08.18.10 at 5:44 am

Or to be perfectly honest about it, I am more disturbed about Whitlam’s perverse attempt to dismiss the Governor-General ex post facto, when legally he is no longer the Prime Minister, than about his machinations vis-a-vis Fraser and the Coalition. The latter is just parliamentary shenanigans; laughable, but permissible. The former, however, is out-and-out sedition.

37

Myles SG 08.18.10 at 5:50 am

By the way, Prime Ministers in Westminster systems are explicitly not allowed to override the Governor-General to appeal directly to the Sovereign. It is directly contrary to the doctrines of the Balfour Declaration and the Statute of Westminster. The Governor-General, as the letter from Buckingham Palace stated, can be fully dictator in the event of extraordinary circumstances and constitutional crisis:

“As we understand the situation here, the Australian Constitution firmly places the prerogative powers of the Crown in the hands of the Governor-General as the representative of the Queen of Australia. The only person competent to commission an Australian Prime Minister is the Governor-General, and The Queen has no part in the decisions which the Governor-General must take in accordance with the Constitution.”

38

John Quiggin 08.18.10 at 6:12 am

Myles, I’m assuming from your comments that you’re not Australian or familiar with the debate surrounding the 1975 crisis. Can I suggest that, for all its merits, Wikipedia is not an adequate guide here, and that your confident assertions are at best debatable, at worst totally wrong. I don’t intend to derail the thread into refighting those debates, so I suggest you leave this topic to people who know what they are talking about.

39

Leinad 08.18.10 at 6:36 am

The overall campaign has been interesting in a stultifying, expectation-crushing way. By ditching Rudd (something they got lots of admiring “pwhoar, those Aussie really get stuck in!” articles for in certain sections of the UK press) the ALP turned this election into a contest between two opposition leaders, one the experienced oppositionist Abbott was very comfortable with as it denied Labor the benefits of incumbency while allowing him to run against their record almost unchecked.

They’ve since patched this up somewhat by bringing Rudd back into the fold but the systematic ditching large chunks of their first term reform agenda and rapid compromise on immigration and the mining tax has narrowed their ability to differentiate themselves – Abbott will send refugees to Nauru, Gillard to East Timor, etc.

What’s followed has been almost a state election, dominated by service delivery issues, full of targeted micro-policies and largely bereft of debate over broader national agendas. This colonisation of national debate by state issues was underlined two weeks ago when both Abbott and Gillard announced tough anti-gang and knives policy – hallmark Laura Norder fodder but not a federal issue.

Issues like population, foreign policy and the environment have been papered over with vague commitments to further study and lots of “listening to people’s concerns” (Gillard’s Citizens Assembly on Climate Change admirably combining both delay and faux-consultation) when not reduced to STOP LABOR’S DEBT BOATS TAXING YOUR EVERYTHING.

Bleh.

40

sg 08.18.10 at 6:56 am

Myles SG, how is “party machine” supported by any evidence of any sort, and what does it mean in the context of the ALP? It’s either a bland, meaningless statement of fact – every labor MP is from the party machine – or it’s some kind of insult, not directly related to the machinations of ALP internal politics and intended to cast Gillard as a puppet. Which is it?

“Party machine” is not the same as “incompetent.” You can call a journalist “incompetent” or “a hack” or both. Nobody is going to stick “party machine” out on its own – it’s heavy with the language of a particular type of insult, usually directed at members of the ALP regardless of their talent, to imply they are amoral and faceless, most often by people from the other side of politics. Gillard attracted that language from people on the same side of politics, and it’s pretty obvious that the shift in use is connected to her faithlessness, not her competence.

Whether or not you agree with their actions, people were worried about the decline in the polls, the management style in PM&C, and the imminent prospect of a $200 million mining company advertising blitz. They acted in the way that the ALP has always acted – by replacing their leader. It’s not an illegitimate choice, though it may have been the wrong one (as Leinad observed). The vitriole reserved for Gillard because of this is really out of line with what she actually did, which was consistent with an ALP tradition going back a very long way.

Had Costello had the spine to do the same thing a couple of years ago, we might not be needing to have this conversation now. Therein lies the difference between the ALP and the Liberals, and there’s no point pinning the blame for that on Gillard.

41

Myles SG 08.18.10 at 7:05 am

Can I suggest that, for all its merits, Wikipedia is not an adequate guide here, and that your confident assertions are at best debatable, at worst totally wrong. I don’t intend to derail the thread into refighting those debates, so I suggest you leave this topic to people who know what they are talking about.

Your suggestion is heeded.

42

Myles SG 08.18.10 at 7:15 am

As an explanatory note, the only reason I foolishly stepped into the 1975 debate is because of the Commonwealth-wide consequences such debates tend to have. I am extremely familiar with the King-Byng Affair (Canada’s version, circa 1925, but resolved in an opposite direction), and I consider its consequences disastrous for Canadian constitutionalism, and extremely misleading as a constitutional precedent (which it was) for other Westminster systems.

Nonetheless, it was very foolish of me to step into the debate.

I will say no more.

43

ajay 08.18.10 at 8:45 am

Surprising that John missed out the spectacle of billionaire mine-owners protesting in the streets over the surtax on their profits, and threatening to shut down the mines and bugger off overseas.

This sounds like the least convincing political threat ever. “If you don’t cut our taxes, we’ll just move our mines to another country!”

44

sg 08.18.10 at 8:48 am

The real threat was the $200 million worth of advertising they were threatening to drop on the government.

45

Tomboktu 08.18.10 at 9:46 am

@19: Yes, I too had noted the question of Andrew Leigh moving to full-time politics.

46

ajay 08.18.10 at 9:51 am

44: ah, that makes more sense.

47

piglet 08.18.10 at 3:33 pm

Also, I can’t understand for the life of me why so many people were shocked that Copenhagen turned out to be a disaster. Of course Senor Hugo Chavez would commandeer and hijack the whole thing and try to piss off everybody in the West and turn it into a shit-show as much as possible.

Strange, I haven’t heard Chavez even mentioned in that context. You are sure it wasn’t the unwillingness of the biggest polluter nations to do anything whatsoever about cutting GHG that wrecked Copenhagen?

48

piglet 08.18.10 at 3:44 pm

I second Ben Alpers: “No amount of malaise is seen as a truly systemic crisis.”

Nobody in our crop of political leaders (or however you want to call them) is capable to even entertain the possibility that what we are dealing with might not be just business as usual. Didn’t Australia just suffer a catastrophic, millennial drought? How long did it last, 6 years? Under those circumstances, how can ignorant naysayers still dictate public policy? This is insane. What else will it take until meaningful action is taken?

49

Myles SG 08.18.10 at 3:52 pm

You are sure it wasn’t the unwillingness of the biggest polluter nations to do anything whatsoever about cutting GHG that wrecked Copenhagen?

Google “Group of 77.” They set up some blatantly unrealistic conditions at the conference (while excusing themselves of any need to reduce emissions) to basically wreck it.

And I believe either Mr Chavez or Mr Castro was the leader. Oh, and check this out:

“When he said the process in Copenhagen was “not democratic, it is not inclusive, but isn’t that the reality of our world, the world is really and imperial dictatorship…down with imperial dictatorships” he got a rousing round of applause. When he said there was a “silent and terrible ghost in the room” and that ghost was called capitalism, the applause was deafening…” (This is Mr Chavez)

You know, while the other guys are trying desperately pass cap-and-trade and carbon taxes, among the only systems (both being free market-based) to effectively reduce emissions without severely damaging economies, he’s there putting a fire to the whole barn and wanting to take the whole effort down.

I know there is the temptation to defend Mr Chavez at every opportunity, as his domestic policy goals might be congenial to you, but there’s no question that on the matter of the environment and climate he’s pretty much quite as bad as any right-winger in the West.

I personally don’t subscribe to the paranoid Economist view of Mr Chavez, but it’s clear to me that if one is to make any progress on environmental protection one has to ignore Mr Chavez and regard him as pariah.

50

Myles SG 08.18.10 at 3:57 pm

To make it easier, why don’t you try to find a Greenpeace or Sierra Club functionary to support and back up the approach of Mr Chavez and the Group of 77 (surely among the most ludicrous assemblages in regard to environmental matters ever to be visited upon this Earth)?

Oh, and I believe the Venezuela of Mr Chavez remains the fifth-largest oil exporter in the world, nearly all of which, I believe, is state-owned and controlled by Mr Chavez. Why doesn’t he, uh, do something about the environmental damages of oil exploitation? Or does such duty only apply to Western nations?

51

piglet 08.18.10 at 5:57 pm

Ok, so the US and China were ready to agree on cap-and trade but Chavez was against it? Interesting. I wasn’t aware of that.

52

Myles SG 08.18.10 at 6:11 pm

Ok, so the US and China were ready to agree on cap-and trade but Chavez was against it? Interesting. I wasn’t aware of that.

The Group of 77 deliberately sabotaged any attempt by the major industrial nations to reach a workable and acceptable compromise by refusing to deal on anything less than what was clearly impossible.

Do you know how to read? Or are you simply the left-wing version of Hugh Hewitt, endlessly spouting platitudes bearing no relation to reality?

Again: Find someone from Greenpeace to endorse Chavez’s approach (and that of Group of 77) and then we’ll talk.

If you can’t find anything or anyone from Greenpeace or Sierra Club backing your absurd characterization of Chavez & Group of 77 as somehow climate do-gooders, then one could only reasonably conclude you are deliberating making stuff up and lying.

Come on, how hard should it be to find a release from Greenpeace praising Chavez and Group of 77 for their courageous and outstanding leadership on climate change and global warming? Last time I checked, Greenpace seems to have some sort of a, uhm, website? Or is that my delusion too?

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michael e sullivan 08.18.10 at 9:06 pm

Nobody in this thread has called Chavez a “climate do-gooder” or suggested that the role he played in Copenhagen was in any way positive.

I took piglet’s comment as an implicit suggestion that his actions were basically irrelevant, since neither the US or China have demonstrated any real willingness to limit carbon emissions, so nothing was going to happen in any case.

Chavez makes for a convenient whipping boy, but if the US had gone in actually wanting progress, and China/India/Brazil were willing to make some small symbolic concessions to appease the haters here, there is no way Chavez could have stopped a good deal. He simply doesn’t have that much power except to the extent that the governments of the larger developing nations find it useful to let him demagogue.

To the extent that the US bargains in good faith, they typically don’t. To the extent that we expect still poor countries to shoulder as much of the burden as we are willing to, they are happy to let Chavez say what they are thinking, but do not wish to say outright, even if he adds a bunch of nonsense along with it.

If you seriously think that Chavez can lead the G-77 where he wants by the force of his own rhetoric, you are insane.

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mc 08.18.10 at 9:51 pm

Unlike the poster at 48, I disagree with Ben Alpers when he says “Today, virtually nobody in the political elites of the industrial democracies sees that [democracy and capitalism under threat] as a remote possibility. Everyone simply assumes TINA. No amount of malaise is seen as a truly systemic crisis.”
I have some familiarity with some parts of the UK “political elite” at least, and plenty of them are or have been very concerned about various damaging trends, some of which are discussed here.
I am always surprised that these discussions don’t focus more on the role of the media. I would contend that among those in the “political elite” who do want to do better, it is often a lack of confidence at their ability to do so in the current media context, which holds them back. That is not necessarily a good enough excuse, but it is a significant fact nonetheless.
For anyone who doesn’t know what I am driving at, John Lloyd’s 2004 book “What the media are doing to our politics” is worth a look. You may not agree with it, but it’s at least worth entertaining as an alternative hypothesis to “all our politicians are mediocre/selfish careerists” etc. And if / to the extent that you do agree with it, you will probably think it has got worse since 2004.
On a more positive note, there are some interesting experiments around the place in “deliberative democracy”, some of them trying to harness new technology to combat or offset the various trends which are taking people away from involvement in politics. Thinking about how to make these work is probably the most constructive response, rather than just being depressed – but having recently gone through our own (UK) election, I wouldn’t blame you for just being depressed, at least for a bit!

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Myles SG 08.19.10 at 4:31 am

To the extent that the US bargains in good faith, they typically don’t. To the extent that we expect still poor countries to shoulder as much of the burden as we are willing to, they are happy to let Chavez say what they are thinking, but do not wish to say outright, even if he adds a bunch of nonsense along with it.

If you seriously think that Chavez can lead the G-77 where he wants by the force of his own rhetoric, you are insane.

That’s a bit strange. You just said that the G-77 are just as bad as Mr Chavez, but simply a bit more diplomatic about their evil-ness. Mr Chavez doesn’t need to lead the G-77 toward a vandalistic course of action; on proceeding on a destructive and vandalistic and pernicious action they are all of the exact same mind, if not of the exact same figures of speech.

As much as the entire G-77 charade was just a clown factory and no more, there is a certain force of numbers with 77 countries in the group. And if they are bent on vandalism, even 77 tiny, individually impotent countries banded together can do a great deal of damage in ensemble.

I am simply making a point that nothing will be accomplished easier where such clown shows as Mr Chavez and G-77 are given the ability to hijack the stage. Given how precarious and easily wrecked the consensus already was pre-Copenhagen, it was clearly insanity and foolishness for industrial-power leaders to expect anything to have been accomplished at the venue. They would have been better advised to cancel or disregard Copenhagen altogether and proceed through climate change actions through more competent avenues, such as G-20 or other means.

There’s a certain impression of being suckers when your citizens at home are not only expected to support sound but not necessarily popular climate actions, but also to abide by jokers pissing on your leg at the same time everyone is expected to be making sacrifices.

It’s like how the Doha round is making WTO negotiations actively worse.

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Myles SG 08.19.10 at 4:33 am

It’s a bit like trying to sit down and negotiate a reasonable settlement when someone is outside the room trying to burn the house down through brinkmanship. Sheer waste.

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sg 08.19.10 at 4:39 am

in this case though the climate actions were popular at home, Myles SG. The ALP’s popularity took a nose-dive as soon as they announced a decision to defer the legislation semi-indefinitely.

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Myles SG 08.19.10 at 3:55 pm

in this case though the climate actions were popular at home, Myles SG. The ALP’s popularity took a nose-dive as soon as they announced a decision to defer the legislation semi-indefinitely.

Fair enough. I have neither particular love nor hate for antipodean labour parties (unlike my feelings toward labour parties in the Northern Hemisphere, which are considerably more antagonistic). Australian Labor actually seemed to be becoming more relevant, through the well-educated and cosmopolitan Rudd, who although having foolish statist tendencies was basically well-meaning and competent, until it’s sort of like Back-to-the-Future with the likes of Gillard, whose tendencies, in a sense, could be fairly described as reactionary (not as in right-wing, but as in the most literal political sense of the word).

There’s a certain unseemly spectacle whenever Labour parties seem to be in electoral disarray. In England for entire duration of the Brown Ministry there was the sort of comical grubbiness and operatic megalomania of Harriet Harman, resembling a character out of some opera buffa, not realizing that pretty much every single other person in the realm is silently praying that she’ll fade away. In Australia the matter seems more muted, although Gillard, being necessarily less popular personally with the public than Rudd, will seem a throwback. In nearly no Anglophone democracy is this method of selecting the PM as legitimate as it used to be; indeed unless the candidate selected be a grand statesman (or stateswoman), it seems distastefully grubby, especially so when candidate selected has never warmed the public’s hearts.

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sg 08.20.10 at 2:14 am

Actually Gillard did warm the public’s hearts, and was exceedingly popular in 2007, as were most of the ALP frontbench. And in Australia, this method of selecting a PM is generally considered entirely legitimate, though there were big questions about this particular instance. In fact a lot of piss-taking was reserved for the previous liberal treasurer, Peter Costello, because he never had the nerve to take what his leader offered him and then reneged on (the leadership). This isn’t just a matter of personal judgement of that man – Howard hanging on was partially responsible for the liberal party’s implosion (witness him becoming only the 2nd PM ever to lose his seat and the government), and in addition to that Howard’s stranglehold on the party stifled the emergence of new talent and ideas.

I would go so far as to say that people expect it, especially in the ALP, whose leading lights are known to eat children for breakfast. This event was on the nose for its callousness and timing, not for its essential nature. Had Gillard waited another 3 years and knifed him, he’d just be another sacrifice on the ALP’s road to hell, unremarked and uncared-about.

Which is why those rumours about his management style and relations within the top echelons of the party have been given more credence than usual. People like Gillard don’t take power from people like Rudd on a whim, and in such a chaotic way. Something was going on, and it wasn’t just the polls.

Oh, and there is also that $200 million of mining company ads waiting in the wings. If Rudd was refusing to compromise on the mining tax, and simultaneously going back on a prior election promise not to fund pro-govt advertising, there was potentially a disaster waiting to happen.

Which, incidentally, it’ll be interesting to see the declarations a year from now, and find out just how much money the Liberals received from the mining companies to fund their election campaign…

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Myles SG 08.20.10 at 3:22 am

especially in the ALP, whose leading lights are known to eat children for breakfast.

I guess you are much more succinct than I in making the general point about leadership of labour parties. To me it’s merely amusing; for Australia less so.

I honestly don’t have much interest in being a concern troll on this. So the Australian right is led by fruitcakes and the Australian left is led by hacks. Yawn. The only thing that would make this interesting would be if Oz is being led by hackish fruitcakes, which would make the situation a lot more amusing than it is now. Right now it is simply slumber-inducing. Unless one is disposed to think of Gillard as ObamaStalinCommieNaziMuslim, she’ll probably be some forgotten half-competent politico in the footnotes of history. Which, as these things go, is actually not bad at all.

Which, incidentally, it’ll be interesting to see the declarations a year from now, and find out just how much money the Liberals received from the mining companies to fund their election campaign.

Quit whining, will you? Liberals don’t like the tax that much (at least the majority doesn’t seem to). Nor do mining companies. Mining companies and liberals attempt to achieve a common policy goal by helping each other monetarily and politically. There is nothing untoward going on here.

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Nattering Nabob 08.20.10 at 7:22 am

So the Australian right is led by fruitcakes and the Australian left is led by hacks.

If they’re hacks they’re hacks that managed to get the Australian economy through the global financial crisis without a recession. The unemployment rate in Australia in July 2010 was 5.3%, as opposed to 9.5% in America. Would that the rest of the world had such hacks.

Here’s Joseph Stiglitz on the Australian stimulus:

I did actually study quite a bit the Australian package, and my impression was that it was the best – one of the best-designed of all the advanced industrial countries. When the crisis struck, you have to understand no-one was sure how deep, how long it would be. There was that moment of panic. Rightfully so, because the whole financial system was on the verge of collapse. In that context, what you need to act is decisively. If you don’t act decisively, you could get the collapse. It’s a one-sided risk.

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Emma in Sydney 08.20.10 at 8:43 am

Myles, you really know so little about the situation here that it is quite laughable. And telling people to quit whining about the state of politics in their own country is really quite remarkably rude. If you don’t like Australian politics, and don’t like what those of us who actually know something about it are saying, surely there are better things you could be doing with your time? Like, I dunno, pompously opining on some other blog.

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rwschnetler 08.20.10 at 9:09 am

Emma in Sydney let Myles SG opine about Oz politics. John Quiggin lives in Australia and he regularly have something to say about American politics.

64

Leinad 08.20.10 at 10:58 am

Back on topic:

STOP LABORS DEBT WASTE ON YOUR TAX BOATS. STOP LABORS DEBT TAX ON YOUR BOAT WASTE. WASTE LABORS TAX ON YOUR BOAT DEBT. TURN BACK THE WASTE TAX ON LABORS DEBT BOATS.

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sg 08.20.10 at 3:11 pm

leinad, I think you should ride around Sydney on your bike for the next 48 hours straight, without sleeping, telling that to anyone who will listen!

It’s sure to work wonders for democracy and your personal reputation!

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Myles SG 08.20.10 at 3:31 pm

If they’re hacks they’re hacks that managed to get the Australian economy through the global financial crisis without a recession. The unemployment rate in Australia in July 2010 was 5.3%, as opposed to 9.5% in America. Would that the rest of the world had such hacks.

Indeed. And this is why I find the whole thing so morbid (with apologies to Emma in Sydney, it is relevant to me as a Canadian). Countries being led by hacks are doing better than countries led by men (and women) of magnificent education, aptitude, taste, and discrimination (think the Obama White House and the British Conservative Cabinet). Why is fiscal and monetary policy formulated by Lawrence Summers and Robert Rubin and Timothy Geithner less effective than fiscal and monetary formulated by people of much less dazzling accomplishments? The Canadian economy, long the project of the dour and humourless Ontario bankers, is doing remarkably better than the American one.

For such a question to be asked at all reflects sadly on the state of our civilization.

67

Leinad 08.20.10 at 3:35 pm

I hate to be rude but you’re a pompous tit and you’ve derailed a perfectly good thread enough with your self-obsessed blather so could you please do the decent thing and fuck off now?

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Emma in Sydney 08.21.10 at 4:38 am

rwschnetler @ 63. JQ doesn’t regularly tell Americans to quit whining when they are discussing the parlous state of their politics and the influence that big business has. That was what I objected to. That and the persistent tone of ‘I know better’, when John has already politely pointed out that Wikipedia might not be the most nuanced source of analysis, and other Australians have put a lot into the conversation. It’s often more productive to actually discuss things, I have found, than to pronounce from a position of ignorance. You learn more, anyway.

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John Quiggin 08.21.10 at 7:06 am

To be clear, I wouldn’t be posting on a blog with mostly non-Australian readers if I didn’t welcome comments, questions and so on from such readers. And obviously, I’m happy to comment on political issues in the US and other countries. In doing that I try either to talk about issues I follow closely, or to acknowledge that I am speaking from a position of relative ignorance. I sometimes end up getting things wrong as a result of lack of local knowledge, but I try to take it in good part when this is pointed out.

Of course, there’s an asymmetry here. It’s much easier for an Australian to stay informed about US politics than vice versa, though the Internet has made this difference smaller.

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Doctor Science 08.21.10 at 2:39 pm

I only just came across an explanation of Oz politics that outsiders can really grasp:

Australian politics: a Harry Potter primer. *Now* I get it!

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Nattering Nabob 08.22.10 at 2:40 am

Countries being led by hacks are doing better than countries led by men (and women) of magnificent education, aptitude, taste, and discrimination (think the Obama White House and the British Conservative Cabinet). Why is fiscal and monetary policy formulated by Lawrence Summers and Robert Rubin and Timothy Geithner less effective than fiscal and monetary formulated by people of much less dazzling accomplishments?

For the obvious reason that the fiscal and monetary policy that they would have liked to implement on the merits of the case couldn’t be gotten through a US Senate liberally stocked with mindlessly oppositionist and/or cowardly and/or opportunistic hacks and liars.

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djr 08.22.10 at 7:40 pm

From the election results, it looks like you could have a two-party coalition which would have a majority of maybe 5 to 8 seats, but it doesn’t seem to ever be mentioned as a possible outcome. Why not? Would a labor/national coalition be a completely ridiculous idea? (Given that the last UK election gave us a Con/LibDem coalition, and there was serious talk of the alternative 5 party option, unlikely coalitions seem to be in fashion this year!)

(I suspect I could only ask this question at CT – while I understand the basic theory of Australian politics, I’m not familiar enough with the practical realities to have a feel for why this isn’t going to happen!)

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Emma in Sydney 08.22.10 at 9:23 pm

djr @ 72 We are in fairly uncharted territory here, but yes, a Labor/National coalition would be completely unthinkable — the Nationals (formerly the Country Party) have basically been in permanent Coalition with the Liberal (conservative) party for over 60 years, and in Queensland at least, the two parties have merged. Though it is arguable that the Nationals have little in common any more with the free-market tax-hating Liberals, because the Nationals believe in subsidising rural Australia to the hilt. But somehow it’s only the ex-National independents (with whom Labor is negotiating right now) who have actually perceived this. The big news of the election has been a very large swing from Labor to the Greens — reflected in the lower house in only one seat (for reasons that will be obvious to someone from the UK) but doubling their representation in the next Senate. That’s the direct result of Labor abandoning the left — people like JQ and me. John advocated a Green vote on his blog and got a huge thread of commenters basically saying, yep, lifetime Labor voter, but they’ve lost me now, mainly on climate change but also on education, health, communications etc. And the swing came without much help at all from the media, who even now are ignoring that 2/3 of the swing away from Labor went to the Greens and only 1/3 to the Liberals. Interesting times. I hope some of the Labor ‘strategists’ get their heads kicked and some sense prevails. It doesn’t seem likely, however.

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piglet 08.24.10 at 12:55 am

What is the election outcome in terms of actual vote share? It was reported that the Green vote surged but I have nowhere seen this quantified. And yes I know this doesn’t necessarily matter for the power outcome but it should matter. How much voter support does the anti-environmentalist right wing actually have?

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sg 08.24.10 at 1:05 am

piglet, you can get the details at the AEC virtual tally room. The order of votes is:

ALP 39%
Liberal Party 30%
Greens 11%
Liberal National party of queensland 9%
National party 4%

So the workers/greens in total have 50% of the vote share, but the Greens will only win 1 seat in the lower house with 11% of the vote, while the nationals get 7 seats with 4% of the vote. It’s the usual story.

The final two party preferred count at the moment is 50.7% to the ALP, which is after distribution of non-ALP voters second, third etc. preferences. So in the end the 2PP represents that 50% workers/greens vote flowing entirely to the ALP.

The anti-environmentalist right gets 43% of the vote share, and then there’s a bunch of fringe parties who may or may not be left/right/environmentalist.

At the top of that virtual tally room you’ll see there are still some seats in play, in which preferences are being recounted, so on a first pass it looks as if there could be as many as 3 Greens in the lower house, but it won’t happen.

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Norwegian Guy 08.24.10 at 8:10 am

I’m a bit confused about this Rudd-Gillard conflict. Are they representing differnet wings in the ALP? In Norwegian papers I’ve seen the Rudd government described as the most left-wing social democratic government in the industrialised world, the economic policies and “resource nationalism” being so radical that Australian papers called him “mini-Chávez”. Than Gillard forced him out after a business revolt lead by global mining companues. Is Gillard a more conventional neoliberal right-social democrat?

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Emma in Sydney 08.24.10 at 10:08 am

Norwegian Guy @ 76. I would say there’s very little ideological difference between them, and Rudd certainly was no left winger. On the other hand, Norway is held up here as the apex of soaking the international resource companies and putting the oil money by for when it runs out, so maybe our perceptions are just as skewed.

Gillard was backed by powerful factions in the party who were scared by a few falling opinion polls and thought they’d be chucked out in the next election if they stuck with Rudd. As it is, they’ve been almost chucked out in the next election partly because of dumping Rudd. It may yet turn out to be a positive thing, though, because it has been demonstrated that Labor can no longer ignore the Greens to its left, and will have to try and govern for more than opinion polls if it can cobble a coalition together.

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John Quiggin 08.24.10 at 11:05 am

Just to complicate things, Gillard is nominally a member of the Labor party’s left faction, though these labels have ceased to have any real meaning. Emma’s summary is essentially correct.

79

Guido Nius 08.24.10 at 11:40 am

John, how will ‘resource nationalism’ fare under likely new governments?

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piglet 08.26.10 at 11:51 pm

I read this a bit late. What do you think:

It was Australia’s second climate change election. Climate change deposed the former leaders of both main parties: Kevin Rudd (Labor) because his position was too weak, Malcolm Turnbull (Liberals) because his position was too strong. When Julia Gillard, the new Labor leader, also flunked the issue, many of her supporters defected to the Greens.

Labor’s collapse began when the senate rejected Rudd’s emissions trading scheme. Faced with a choice between dissolving parliament and calling an election or dropping the scheme, he chickened out and lost the confidence of the party. Julia Gillard’s support began to slide when she proposed to defer climate change policy to a citizen’s assembly(1). Nearly 70% of the votes she lost went to the Greens(2).

Turnbull, like Rudd, was ousted over the emissions trading scheme, but six months earlier. His support for the scheme split the Liberal party. Just before the first senate vote on the issue, in December last year, he was overthrown by Tony Abbott, who had told his supporters that climate change “is absolute crap”(3). If Abbott manages to form a government, he will reverse the outcome of the 2007 election, in which the Liberal Party was defeated partly because it wouldn’t act on climate change.

It’s not difficult to see why this is a hot issue in Australia. The country has been hammered by drought and bushfires. It also has the highest carbon dioxide emissions per person of any major economy outside the Arabian peninsula. Australians pollute more than Americans, twice as much as people in the UK and four times more than the Chinese(4). Most Australians want to change this, but the coal industry keeps their politicians on a short leash. Like New Labour over here, Rudd and Gillard’s administration was a government of flinchers. It has been punished for appeasing industrial lobbyists and the rightwing press.

Australian politics provides yet more evidence that climate science divides people along political lines.

http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2010/08/23/right-and-wrong/

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John Quiggin 08.27.10 at 12:43 am

This is all correct.

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masealake 09.14.10 at 6:16 am

Who must learn from Australia election 2010?

The Australia historical hung parliament demonstrated the big gap of inequality society between the small educated elite groups who get highest pay by talk feast used mouth work controlling live essential resources of the country in every social platforms against the biggest less educated groups who get lowest pay by hands work squeezed by discriminative policies that sucking live blood from poor/less wealth off?

Voters’ voices do not hear?
Voters’ pains do not ease?
Voters’ cries do not care?

1. Poverty will not be phase out if no fairer resources to share;
2. Illness will not be reducing if no preventive measurement in real action;
3. Agriculture will not be revitalize if urbanization continuing its path;
4. Housing affordability will not be reach for young generation if government continues cashing from young generation debt by eating out the whole cake of education export revenue without plough back;
5. Manufacture industry will shrink smaller and smaller if no new elements there to power up to survive;
6. Employability will not in the sustainable mode for so long as manufacture and agriculture not going to boost.

Ma kee wai
(Member of Inventor Association Queensland since 1993)

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