I was just reading a column in the International Herald Tribune (a.k.a the New York Times) lodged from New Zealand by Thomas L. Friedman. In it, Friedman compares the New Zealand and Australian political spectrums to that of America, and not favourably I might add. His remarks on how “narrow” the political spectrum is in Australia has made me think. Have I have been taking Tony Abbott for granted?
“I will explain to you how our system works compared to yours: you have Democrats and Republicans. My Labour opponents would be Democrats. I am a member o the National Party, and we would be… Democrats as well” Friedman quotes New Zealandish conservative parliamentarian Paul Quinn as saying.
To explain, Friedman points to many issues considered divisive and partisan in America that are relatively settled in Australia and New Zealand. Things like climate change, where even Abbott has come around, with the disagreement between the two parties limited to how to tackle the problem, not a question of whether it exists at all; and single-payer national health care systems in the two countries, that have both stood un-repealed and unmolested (my words) during conservative governments.
The reasons for such reasonableness according to the few other politicians Friedman quotes, is the lack of churchgoing folk (resulting in less emphasis on social issues), small populations that have “strong egalitarian traditions”, and compulsory voting (which results in less attempts to become uber partisan to stir up the base and get out the vote).
Looking at Australian politics through Thomas Friedman’s lens has been quite a wake up call to me. While I am not part of the “I’m leaving Australia if Abbott gets elected” crowd (I plan on leaving either way), Abbott is the first Australian party leader in years that I genuinely do not wish to see running my country. He strikes me, as a bit like Romney, he doesn’t seem to care about anything except getting elected. And I find that the only people who genuinely support Abbott are the right wing partisans who want to win at any cost. Which is also similar to Romney.
But even so, I realise now that he is a moderate by American standards. Abbott may be anti abortion and anti gay marriage, but it is not his central focus. He has evolved into not being sceptical of climate change (or so he says), he believes in progressive tax rates, isn’t a warmonger and isn’t being as uber austerity as his American contemporaries. Whether it’s because of the lack of evangelicals, the small populations or the compulsory voting, Tony Abbott is a moderate democrat.