Monday, February 27, 2012

A Crash Course in Australian Politics

All eyes were riveted to the TV this morning in my office, and it wasn't because the Oscars* were on.  Instead, we were watching the news channel for updates on who would be Australia's next Prime Minister. 

And the oddest thing about this vote is that no one even knew it was coming a week ago.

Here's my attempt at explaining Australian politics and the current situation.  There will be no fancy words used, like bicameral or adversarial legislature or double dissolution elections or coalition government.  For those terms, I invite you to peruse the Wikipedia page regarding the politics of Australia. Now on to our story...

Once upon a time (okay, last week), Julia Gillard was sitting confidently as Australia's Prime Minister and leader of the Labor Party.  The opposing party is the Liberal Party which is actually conservative.  (Confused yet?)  Ms. Gillard is known for getting things done.  More bills have been passed during her tenure than any previous Prime Minister's.  She's also friendly with Obama which has earned her some popularity points and, for some strange reason,  has resulted in a lot of awkward embrace photos.

But before we get to today's events, let me give you a bit of back story. Australians voted** in the Labor Party in 2007.  They have remained "in the lead" since then.  Once a party is in place, the Parliament then votes on the Prime Minister.  That's right, the voting public has virtually no sway over who the current Prime Minister is.  The former Prime Minister was Kevin Rudd.  Mr. Rudd was what we in America call a "media darling."  He is known as the Prime Minister who signed the Kyoto Protocol and he apologized to indigenous Australians (the equivalent of the U.S. Congress' apology to Native Americans).  The downside to all of that, my sources tell me, is that he was so busy juggling the media that he failed to get any real political work done.  So, in 2010, Julia Gillard announced that she would contest his leadership and Mr. Rudd stepped down.

Fast forward to last Wednesday.  Mr. Rudd announced that he would be stepping down as Foreign Minister, his new role after stepping down from Prime Minister (man, this dude does a lot of stepping down...).  The next day, Ms. Gillard announced there would be a ballot for leadership and, the day after that, Mr. Rudd announced he would run against Ms. Gillard.  Oh, and in the middle of all of this, there was quite a bit of mud slinging and name calling.  (At a key point in the debate, someone anonymously released an expletive filled video of Mr. Rudd trying to translate Chinese.)

Today, Parliament convened for a special vote and Ms. Gillard won 71 votes to Rudd's 31. It blows my mind that a vote that would have significant impact on the nation, not only politically but financially, could come about in such a short amount of time.

One unexpected consequence of this kerfuffle is that opposition leader Tony Abbot came out smelling like roses.  Abbot is known for making insensitive remarks, such as his comments after the Concordia sank or his recent insinuation that the aboriginal Tent Embassy's time had passed. But this week, Abbot kept mum. The newspapers are already speculating that he will capitalize on the strife in the Labor Party.  One outlet suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that it will be a bit like Steven Bradbury's Gold Medal race in the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Tony Abbot's head superimposed on Steven Bradbury's body
Bradbury won a Gold Medal, the first ever Winter Games Gold Medal for Australia, after three of his competitors crashed into one another on the course.  Up until the collision, he was set to finish solidly in 4th place.

(click on post to see video if it's not showing up in your email or reader)

I don't know very much about Australian politics yet.  There is a very real possibility that I have missed some of the finer details.  What I do know is that Australian politicians are entertaining to Australians and non-Australians alike.  For the rest of our time here, I'm looking forward to learning more about the political system.  Perhaps one day I will be able to tell you what it means to have an adversarial legislature or double dissolution elections.


*The Oscars were on this morning, which due to the time change was Sunday night in America.  And one of my office mates did try to persuade the office, after watching politics for 3 hours, that it was time to watch the Oscars.  She was vetoed.

**Voting is compulsory in Australia.


  1. Very interesting! I like how voting is compulsory - feels like it should be that way in the U.S., we have to pay our taxes but we don't need to vote? Also, perhaps with how quickly events turn in Australia the candidates aren't wasting millions of dollars on silly campaigns that could be used for something more useful - just a though. It's crazy how things can change so quickly there!

  2. Wow- sounds confusing and complicated. But sweet for that speed skater!

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