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Aussie Politics - Dirtier Than Kiwi Politics!

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

Over the last few weeks of my stay here in Australia, I have been able to assess the political temperature on the ground here. This year will see a federal (national) election and several state elections. The one thing I have noticed, though, is that Australian politics is more dirtier than Kiwi politics.

While I have been in Sydney, I have been buying The Sydney Morning Herald and sometimes The Daily Telegraph. It seems that both publications vie to outdo one another in their support for the Liberal-National Coalition (Australia's main opposition parties). Recently, this has led to both publications conducting a negative press campaign against the ruling Australian Labor Party (ALP) state government in New South Wales. In fact, they do have some cause to do so, given that government resembles the state of the Fourth Labour Government in New Zealand back in 1990. This is due to the New South Wales ALP being deeply unpopular and it did grave damage to its standing last year by proposing privatisation in order to slash the state's deficit. There is also the factor of the ALP being nearly 15 years in office in the state. Bad poll numbers have generated caucus instability, so much so, that the state ALP has gone through three state premiers in just three years with the current holder of the office, Kristina Keneally, having been installed after a caucus coup only last month. Kenealley was placed in office after the state's former premier, Nathan Rees, fell out with two ALP caucus powerbrokers, namely, Joe Tripodi and Eddie Obeid.

And it was a story about Tripodi and Obeid's and the state ALP's links to property developers that caught my eye in a recent edition of the SMH. Australian politics has long been corrupt with big business and criminal gangs recruiting politicians of all shades to further their cause in both state and federal parliaments over the years. The SMH detailed in this case how business interests linked to  ALP right faction MPs (including Tripodi and Obeid) have contributed heavily to state and federal party coffers over the years. With property prices rising in Sydney due to explosive population growth, these companies have been growing rich and in the last year have been given a boost by the ALP Government passing laws which effectively reduce the ability of impacted citizens to object to developments. The rising stench of renewed corruption within the NSW ALP Government has driven public opinion to reject it with many now, albeit unethusiastically, preparing to switch to the Coalition at the next state election scheduled for 2011.

In other states, dirty politics is a fact of life too. South Australian Premier Mike Rann ( who grew up in New Zealand and is a university friend of Phil Goff's) is currently embroiled in a sex scandal. In a classic he said, she said tale, a former parliamentary barmaid has accused Rann of having an affair with her while Rann was engaged to his then fiance (now wife). The bairmaid's tales, exposed on primetime television and in a popular women's magazine, have enraged the Premier so much that he is now in the process of suing both the magazine and Channel Seven who both ran the barmaid's allegations. As has been the case with Tiger Woods, Rann's formerly high popularity ratings have taken a nosedive just months ahead of a crucial state election.

I don't have a firm read on the political situation in the other Australian states of Queensland, Tasmania or Western Australia (the only state or territory that currently has a Coalition Government). However, from what I can discern, the Queensland Labor Government of Anna Bligh has copped a great deal of flak for their attempts at privatisation which have been courageously challenged by the union movement. The Victorian Labor Government of John Brumby is, from what I have heard, still highly popular as it hasn't done anything spectacularly stupid (so far) to upset voters there who will also head to the polls in the first part of this year.

But at the federal level, all appears to be sweetness and light (or just about). If you wanted a cleaner looking politician, you can't go past Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Some of the media have derisively dubbed him 'St Kevin' due to his perceived cleanliness, his open profession of Christianity and his ability to overcome serious image issues such as a fondness for uttering academic sounding soundbites. Australians still largely support the federal ALP Government which was only elected in 2007. For one thing, the Rudd Government has managed the recent economic crisis much better than any other Western government (even New Zealand's) by introducing a full-on Keynesian economic stimulus package that has seen the lucky country dodge the recession bullet. Continuing positive growth figures and even falling unemployment have illustrated how successful the package has been. That is one of the key reasons as to why at the federal election expected later this year, the Rudd Government is expected to win an emphatic victory. Another reason is that they are up against a lacklustre and divided Liberal-National Coalition headed by the hapless Lockwood Smith lookalike, Tony Abbott. While Rudd has his own presentational issues, Abbott seemingly has them in spades due to his innate ability to make verbal gaffes. As The Australian newspaper recently opined, Abbott is the gift that could just keep on giving for Kevin Rudd and the ALP.

But to win this year's election emphatically, Rudd is going to have to put some distance between federal Labor and the New South Wales, South Australian and Queensland branches of his party. Therefore, it is highly likely that Rudd will concentrate on 'national' issues like the economy and climate change, both issues that have created internal divisions within the Coalition opposition. Having a campaign focused upon national issues will also mean that the woes of the state Labor parties will not serve as a distraction for the federal party.

Besides, the Rudd-led ALP is not swirling in as much corruption as some of its state counterparts. An attempt last year by the Opposition to smear Rudd by his association with a Queensland car dealership which supposedly asked for stimulus assistance in return for giving Rudd's election campaign a ute for free failed miserably. In fact, the email which exposed the so-called 'Utegate' scandal was found to have been faked as was the allegation behind it. The civil servant behind this scam, the unfortunately named Godwin Gretch, was hung out to dry by his Treasury Department bosses while the then opposition leader who encouraged him Malcolm Turnball was given the boot by the Liberal Party caucus for this and other political crimes (which included a deal with the Rudd Government to get the Australian ETS through) at year's end.

So, if you think New Zealand politics is looking a bit sullied, think again. While we have had just allegations of parliamentary misspending and the cases of Taito Philip Field and Donna Awatere-Huata to contend with, these clearly pale in comparison to the ongoing antics of Australian politicians. However, how long will St Kevin Rudd and his government continue to be the good guys of Australian politics?

Your guess is as good as mine.




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