Sunday, November 25, 2007

Less Dystopia in Australia

On Saturday we Australians tossed out our right-wing government, and its lickspittle Bush Lackey, Prime Minister John Howard.

Before I go on, a few explanations. In Australia, Liberal means Tory. Labor means Centrist-Left Wing. The Democrats are a small party in-between. The Greens are the Greens, and have a small but significant presence in the Senate. Family First (whose family?) are the Christian right. We are very lucky. They only have one Senator...

Liberal Howard had spent 11 years in power systematically dismantling any source of dissent, unleashing the right-raving demagogues, starving the education system, creating scare campaigns against Islam and refugees, and what proved to be his downfall--trying to push the well-entrenched workplace and employee system, where rights were guaranteed, to a more US-Style open slather for employers. Bush adored him. He adored Bush. Australia has troops in Iraq. They will not be there much longer.

Howard was old-school Australia, white, Anglo, and 68. His challenger, Labor leader Kevin Rudd is 50, white, with a working wife, Therese Rein, whom he refers to as his life partner. He speaks Mandarin and has a Chinese son-in-law. Rudd picked a female deputy, Julia Gillard, a lawyer. She had the unenviable task yesterday of sitting for 5 hours in plain view on National TV, making intelligent comments, and not killing the odious right-wing Senator Nick Minchin, who commented for the Liberals. She is now the first female deputy Prime Minister in Australian history.

I have seen both Rudd and Gillard in the flesh, and while he tends to blandness and motherhood statements, she is rather more interesting. No husband, no kids, tough and clever. My hostess for the election party last night once had Gillard as an articled clerk. She says: 'If any woman is likely to be the first female PM of Australia, it's Julia.'

Now in the Australian system, which is closer to the English than the US, the Prime Minister is elected with his parliament, and he represents a seat, Bennelong. Howard was being challenged for his seat by Maxine McKew, a former ABC (national) journalist. No husband, no kids, tough and charismatic. She had a tough task ahead of her, but now she is only the second person to unseat a sitting Prime Minister. The last time this happened was decades ago, when a PM, surprise, also tried messing with workers' rights. Also voted out was Mal Brough, a Minister who had presided over an outrageous assault on Indigenous Australians' rights.

The election had its daft moments, as when a Family First candidate proved to have lewd photos of himself on You Tube. His response was classic: "That is not my penis!" Er, it was. Then two days out from the election the husbands of two female Liberal parliamentarians were caught red-handed leafletting a document purporting to come from Islamic Jihad and urging Muslims to vote Labor. In English, of course. The Arabic they did include was misspelt. All they succeeded in doing was annoying just about every Muslim in Australia. Even the right-wingers.

Rudd came from the state of Queensland, where the biggest swing was towards him. Local boy makes good. Conversely the second biggest swing against Howard was his home state, New South Wales, where the locals were clearly sick of him.

In a press conference today, Rudd immediately announced his intention to ratify Kyoto and rebuild the education system. I remain in doubt as to his policies, but clearly the nation wanted change, even if it was for a man who resembles Tintin.

And we also get former rockstar Peter Garrett (of Midnight Oil) as Arts & Environment Minister. And 5 Greens in the Senate. Labor will need their support to get legislation through, probably also that of a new Senator who romped in on an anti-Gaming Industry platform. More greenery, less government reliance on gambling revenue. Things are going to be interestingly different.

Yrs, feeling a little more hopeful

Lucy Sussex

1 comment:

Nancy Jane Moore said...

Here on the other side of the world, many of us are very glad to see another Bush lapdog bite the dust. It gives me a tiny ray of hope that some of the horrific damage of the Bush years can be repaired.
And it's also nice to see solid (and, speaking personally, single) women emerge as potential future leaders in Australia. The news about Howard was covered here, but I didn't know the new PM had a woman deputy.