Another guest blog by Derek Wood, a resident of Sydney, NSW, Australia. Follow him on twitter @Main_Man.
As a country Australia is very similar to the US. Both have historical British influences, geographically they are large countries, English is the main language albeit with some idiosyncrasies and, more importantly, both countries have been built on the back of migration and multiculturalism.
Despite this, politically there are a number of differences. I should point out that Australia’s population of 21.5 million is extremely small when compared to 311 million in the US. This can obviously make a difference when it comes to political observations and activities. In America, presidential campaigns cost a large amount of money. Hundreds of millions of dollars are raised by both the Republicans and Democrats. This, in turn, is used to publicise the policies and candidates of both parties with a view to gaining your vote. I have often wondered, as have many other westerners, if the money raised through political donations was put into hospitals, schools and other public services then how much better a society America would be.
Religion seems to play an important part in US politics. Any potential Presidential candidate has to show that they are a Christian of some description. This shows them to be God fearing and obviously appeals to the very large religious followings within the country. Woe betides an atheist or, say, a Hindu who has a desire to become the President. The Republican Party certainly have the conservative religious voters in their pockets. Given that America is the land of the free where there seem to be excesses on every New York street corner, it appears strange that the religious vote is so strong.
The gun lobby is extremely powerful in political circles in the US. I have no idea how many guns are owned by US citizens, or even how many gun clubs there are in America. I do know, however, it is in the US constitution that a citizen has a right to bear arms to defend themselves, and buying a gun can be a fairly easy experience. Considering restrictions on gun ownership appears to be akin to political suicide to us outsiders.
One of the most baffling things about US politics is how important it is to have been a Vietnam veteran. As time passes by this is changing. John McCain used his Vietnam veteran status to his advantage during the last presidential campaign. Why is it so important to the average American voter? It just seems so strange. Later on, will the words “Gulf War veteran” be used to similar effect? Time will tell.
These are just some of the ingredients that goes into politics US style. How does this compare to a country like Australia? Hopefully, the following will uncover this.
Australia is situated in the Southern Hemisphere with the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other side. The capital is Canberra (not Sydney) where Parliament sits. It is a large country and if you were to drive from Sydney in the east to Perth in the west, it would roughly take 3 days!
Australia has two main parties the Australian Labor Party (think Democrats) and the Liberal/National Party coalition (think Republicans). Political donations are received through fund raising and also private donations. All donations over an amount (I think it is $10,000) have to be disclosed. Advertising is through a few television advertisements and leaflet drops. All up about $160m was spent during the 2010 election. Australians also do not like to be bombarded with lots of political information. It turns them off. So both parties have to be extremely clever as to what audiences they target and how.
Religion plays little, or no influence in Australian politics. In fact, to play the religious card would probably lose you votes. Our current Prime Minister is an atheist. She is unmarried and lives with her partner Tim Mathieson. Nobody is really fazed by this here. Also, the finance minister, Penny Wong, is openly gay. Again, it has not been a hindrance to her political progression. Generally sexual preferences are accepted by the vast majority. Just out of interest, the Latter Day Saints religion accounts for 0.3% of all religions Down Under.
We do not have a large gun lobby here in Australia. To get a gun is extremely hard and a number of personal checks must be undertaken before a gun licence is granted. In rural areas and farming communities you will find the odd shotgun or two. We do not experience the type of gun tragedies like you experience in the US. It is not part of the Australian psyche, anyway.
Australians served in the Vietnam War and virtually every military action that has occurred over the past 100 plus years. Yes the veterans were treated badly upon their return like they were in America. However, to use this as a political tool would never happen. Australians are generally too laid back and would not pay too much attention if a political candidate had served in Vietnam or elsewhere.
Even though our countries share a number of commonalities, we are different in our approach to the political process. I am certainly not saying that the Australian way of doing politics is the best way, but just to point out what occurs Down Under. In truth there probably isn’t an ideal political process anywhere in the world. However, the one in Australia is vastly different to the American one.
It’s pretty apparent their population is a bit easier to manage, but they have certainly limited the corruption in politics a helluva lot better than we have. Thanks to Derek for his valuable insight! (VegasJessie)