politics down under

I live in Australia. We are about to go to the polls to vote in a federal election. It is compulsory. Yes, we are compelled to vote. Not a bad thing in many ways as at least we have the opportunity to take part in a free and fair election, making us one of the minority of people world-wide that have such an honour.

In the US and the UK voting is voluntary. Meaning that those of you who have no idea or just don’t care simply don’t vote. Here in Australia, those who don’t know or don’t care have to lug themselves to the polling booth, facing volunteers with how-to-vote cards, wondering against all wonder and hoping against all hope that they can get away with putting a line through the big sheet of paper that confronts them.

Hmmm. As it turns out, the choice is clear. But is anyone really worth voting for anyway? Who am I to say?

Since 2008, we have had seven leaders. That’s seven leaders in almost eleven years. What has happened has been an onset of leadership spills, where the existing Prime Minister is so unpopular with the people and his or her own party that the party decides to declare the leader’s position vacant and an election is held for the leader to either contest the leadership or stand aside and allow for a new, potentially more popular leader to take over. This has happened within both major parties on numerous occasions.

More often than not the Prime Minister of the day has either stood aside or lost the party ballot, and the Australian people have seen the onset of a brave new world which they had no part in creating.

Now come May this year, it is highly likely we will actually be going to the polls
to decide for ourselves who we wish to have as our Prime Minister and which party will be sitting in the government seats in the lower house of parliament.

The upper house, or Senate, as it is called, is another matter, as each state is represented equally in that house (like the Senate in the US) and the electoral system allows for the election of independents, who may well control the balance of power and have a large say on policy that passes as law.

People in the UK will have a broad understanding of this system but the US is still, to my knowledge, very much controlled by the two major parties. Australia has a system that has been created as a result of the foundation of the Westminster system of government in the UK.

The difference between the UK and Australian systems of government is that the House of Lords serves as a consultative body whereas in Australia the upper house or Senate serves as a balance of power on the lower house or House of Representatives, with laws that pass the lower house being reviewed by the upper house before becoming law.

This means that if independents are elected in the upper house at times when both major parties are unpopular those independents may hold the balance of power and the government of the day will be required to negotiate legislation with them to ‘curry favour’ to pass laws.

This may result in legislation being ‘watered down’ or including certain interests of those independents so as to ensure their successful passage through both houses.

And so this is what we face today. It’s a little like Theresa May negotiating with the DUP to form government or President Trump negotiating with the Democrats to get laws through the House (an onerous task at best).

Currently our Prime Minister is Scott Morrison of the Coalition of the Liberal and National Parties. The Coalition have been in power since 2013. They are likely to lose the next election. Prime Minister Morrison won a leadership spill against Malcolm Turnbull last year. He has worked hard under difficult circumstances but is unlikely to maintain the government benches.

Welcome to my world. The one thing I can say about our system of government is that it is not only democratic and based on the Westminster system but it serves, even in times of crisis, to ensure government continues to service the people. It does not shut down, government employees continue to be paid and free trade agreements continue to be signed.

A better system would be hard to find, despite its imperfections.

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