According to the Sydney Morning Herald, decidedly not a conservative newspaper, “Australia is now established as the political canary in the American electoral coal mine.”
This is a reasonably astute observation. Just as political trends in Canada tend to run a few years behind those in the States, in Australia they tend to run a little ahead. This, according to my hypothesis, is because Australians live closer to the edge of the world, isolated from the rest of the West. Their decisions could have survival consequences, and they cannot afford the Canadian assumption that, should we ever get into real trouble, “the Americans will come to our rescue.”
The Australians ran a year ahead of the Americans in electing a leader from the spacey Left. Kevin Rudd became prime minister at the end of 2007, as the Australian Obama. He campaigned as a moderate, to reassure voters, then veered sinistral after winning. His was largely the Obama agenda: running up catastrophic deficits, while delivering left-wing dream policies in the environment, healthcare, workplace, etc., and walking away from the Australian commitment to Iraq.
An administration that began with “hope and change” (after many years of Bush-like rule from the now-retired John Howard), stayed up in the polls. Even as Rudd’s policies were shown to be unpopular, Rudd himself enjoyed remarkably high approval ratings.
Then suddenly, he tanked. Australians at large began to grasp the relationship between his pie-in-the-sky carbon schemes, punitive mining industry taxation, etc.—and economic doom. It became clear that, under his leadership, Labour would be annihilated.
In June, he went down. One morning he was prime minister, but the next, his deputy, Julia Gillard, had replaced him, with a promise that the party would now steer towards the grey in the ideological spectrum.
This is where the analogy with U.S. politics stops, for, under Australia’s Westminster model, it actually is possible for a party caucus to dump a prime minister who has made a hash of everything. Under the U.S. system, Democrats who now realize that Barack Obama was the worst thing to hit them since Jimmy Carter are stuck with him for years to come. Nor is it possible to impeach a U.S. president for mere incompetence.
What the Democrats can do, and are doing, is run against their own president. With the prospect of annihilation approaching in mid-term elections this year, and ever more formerly safe Democrat seats in contest, those at greatest risk are making the biggest distance.
In the Australian system, Gillard was herself running against her predecessor, assuring Australian voters that the radical spree was over. Her problems came from two directions. From behind her, surviving Rudd partisans were sticking in the knives, but before her lay an Australian electorate not quite ready to believe her.
Complicating this, and slowing that electorate, is an Australian electoral process designed for soi-disant “fairness” by rocket scientists of the usual progressive sort. Australia no longer has “first past the post” federal elections, as Canada still has. Instead, there is an incredibly abstruse system of voter preferences, such that, for instance, an Independent running in the riding of Denison, in Tasmania, who finished third in the direct poll with 21 per cent of the vote, has emerged as the winner after the “preferential” hocus-pocus.
He in turn is one of four Independents who now choose the new government in a hung Parliament, where Labour and the (conservative) Liberal/National Coalition are in a dead draw, even though the latter won the popular vote by a six-point margin.
Moreover, such is the complexity of the system that it will take more days to determine the precise result, which cannot be confirmed until October.
Needless to say, progressives in Canada, and every other country with a direct voting system that everyone understands, long to introduce similar hocus-pocus systems. They offer a way to get Greens and other crackpot Left parties into Parliament and to prevent conservatives from governing until they have won by huge landslides.
But that is an unrelated issue. Even with hocus-pocus, plus recent redistricting, it appears that Australian Labour has gone down, and it may actually be worse for them if they succeed in buying off enough Independents to remain nominally in power.
And this result has been obtained even though the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott, was generally dismissed by the Australian media as “unelectable.” This because, though, like any modern politician he has strong statist tendencies, he is also believed to be a “social conservative,” and his supposed sotto-voce appeal to what the media sneeringly call “the traditional family” put him beyond their pale.
To their surprise, the Australian people, most of them products of traditional families, are neither shocked nor appalled by proponents of “the traditional family.” They just held their noses and voted for him anyway!