A peaceful democracy

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Australia has the proud distinction of being one of the most peaceful democracies in the world. We have managed, since the creation of the nation, to have numerous peaceful transitions of government. No revolutions, no civil wars. And on Saturday, Australia voted, and a new government was elected.

The Australian Labor Party has been elected to government, having a majority in the House of Representatives. They will not have a majority in the Senate (our house of review – there’s a good article on how our political system works here).

I guess I could speculate, unendingly, on the reasons for the change of government, but I think that there are some standout reasons.
• Untruths, half-truths and broken promises – these have been a theme throughout the life of the Coalition Government. An unhealthy culture has grown up where ‘truth’ has become a negotiable thing, defined by the person telling the story. No apologies are offered when it becomes evident that untruths are told or promises broken. Involvement in Iraq, Tampa, the abuses of refugees, interest rates come to mind.
• Ideologically driven policies which offend the populace – such as WorkChoices. The core premises of WorkChoices are very different to the assumptions that have historically underpinned the Australian industrial relations systems. WorkChoices seeks to move from a balanced power model (where there is recognition that the worker is in a less powerful position than the employer, and thus must be protected in some way against possible abuse of power) to a model that places most of the power into the hands of the employer, and allows the worker to make limited choices – to stay in the job and suffer in silence, or leave. Tony Abbott’s incredibly offensive comments about this are very illuminating. The so-called ‘Intervention’ in the Northern Territory is another example.
• A focus on economic outcomes at the expense of social equity. The poor can’t eat low interest rates, and it matters not one whit if interest rates are low if people are too poor to get into the housing market. And we all know, don’t we, that if you don’t own a house, you’re not a real person. This was also manifest in the unfair policies around welfare.
• An abdication of small ‘L’ liberal policies. Mr Howard is a conservative, not a liberal. I certainly agree with some conservative values, but I’m more in sympathy with ‘liberalism’ per se. There’s a good essay on Mr Howard’s political stances on the ABC website. This is a fundamental question for the Liberal Party – will it be a conservative party, a party of the Right, or a party of the Centre? (If Tony Abbott is elected to the leadership of the Liberal Party we can be fairly assured of a move to the Right.)
• Climate change – this does seem to be an issue that resonates with the Australian electorate, and the Coalition Government’s response was frankly too late and inadequate.

I’m not sad that the Coalition will have time on the Opposition benches. I think that there have been some noteable good achievements flowing out of this Government’s tenure, as there nearly always are. I also think it is a good thing to change governments from time to time – each brings, potentially at least, something distinctive to government. I do wonder about the effects of some of Mr Howard’s decisions on the Liberal Party, and how effectively and quickly they’ll be able to rebuild themselves (try this interesting article from The Australian on for size). Good and effective oppositions encourage good government, in my opinion. An opposition focussed on internal horrors will not be a good and effective opposition, so necessary in a well-functioning democracy.

So, congratulations, Mr Rudd. Good luck, good wishes, and remember to govern for all of us, putting Australia first. And, farewell and thank you, Mr Howard. Your 33 years of public service are noteworthy. I’m not sure if, over the last 12 years, you’ve made Australia universally a better and fairer place. Some people are better off, more secure and propsering. Others, noteably, are not. Ever will it be, I guess, but don’t blame us if we want to try to help them.

Update (26/11): Paul Keating’s (former Labor prime minister) opinion piece in The Age.

Update (27/11): Phillip Adams’ blog entry entitled “Why It’s Great to See Him Go.”

Update (29/11): Greg Sheridan’s “Tribute to Howard

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