While Australia has a multi-party system, politics tends to be dominated by the two major political parties, the Liberal Party and the Labor Party.
The Liberal Party most closely resembles a mix of “moderate” Republicans and conservative Democrats. The Labor Party looks more like the left-most part of the Democratic Party with a few moderates sprinkled in.
From 1996 until 2007, the country’s prime minister was John Howard, a competent though not charismatic leader of the Liberal Party. Howard’s election victory in 1996 was a massive one, not unlike the Republicans’ gains in Congress just two years earlier.
Howard was a relatively consistent champion of limited government and moderate taxes, and was a staunch supporter of the U.S. in the wars in Iraq and other aspects of the “War on Terror.”
In 2007, John Howard was not only swept out of the Prime Minister’s job but also out of his seat in Parliament (only the second time that happened to a sitting PM.) The election again mirrored a U.S. election, this time the one a year later in 2008 in which few Republicans were safe.
The Australian election of 2007 was, like our 2008 election, very much about change: Australians seemed tired of having the same old guy doing the same old stuff, rather missing the point that what he was doing was working quite well and that Australian economic growth and prosperity was on a consistent upswing during most of Howard’s tenure.
In the election of 2007, the Liberal Party went from having an 87-60 seat majority in the 150-seat House of Commons to being in the distinct minority, losing 22 seats with Labor gaining 23 and taking an 83-65 seat lead. Labor’s Kevin Rudd, a firm believer in man-made global warming, became prime minister.
Unlike in the U.S., Australia can call early elections. That’s what happened when Kevin Rudd’s already-declining popularity (due to increasing public skepticism about carbon taxes) went down in flames when he proposed a 40% excise tax on mining company profits—on top of an already existing 18% corporate income tax.
Mining and resources represent one of the largest industries in Australia, about 10% of their GDP and 20% of their total stock market valuation, with mining giant BHP Billiton being Australia’s largest company, valued at about $187 billion.
After Rudd was forced out by massive negative reaction to the mining tax proposal, his replacement, Julia Gillard, called for the quickest possible election, hoping, as IHS Global insight notes, “to capitalize on their early honeymoon period.”
Kevin Rudd was a liberal technocrat. Julia Gillard, on the other hand, is a radical leftist, an active Socialist in her youth and apparently little changed today. This weekend, the Australian people turned sharply against Gillard and the Labor government.
The Labor Party lost 13 of its 83 seats, taking it down to 70. The Liberal Party gained 7 seats to get to 72. Independents hold an unchanged 3 seats and the Greens have earned their first-ever seat in the Australian House of Commons.
As of this writing, four critical seats remain undecided with up to a million mail-in ballots still uncounted in a country where voting is mandatory. (Failure to vote earns you a $20 fine.)
In the U.S.’s current House of Representatives, Democrats hold a 255-178 seat advantage over Republicans (with two vacancies) meaning that the GOP needs to pick up 40 seats to take back control of the House.
Labor lost almost 16% of its seats in the House of Commons and fell to what will likely be the narrowest possible minority position in the Australian Parliament. Is it a coincidence that applying that same percentage to our congressional Democrats as a prediction of their losses gets you almost exactly 40 (39.94 to be precise), the number it would take to put the Democrats in the narrowest possible minority position?
The Australian electorate does not have the large conservative segment that the United States has. And Labor Party leader Julia Gillard, while no doubt a Socialist, is still not as leftist or as negative about her own nation as President Obama is. Therefore, I continue to believe (and voting odds have finally caught up with my predictions) that the Republicans in November will outperform the Liberals in August.
Australians are more like Americans than are any other nation on earth. They are our most consistent allies in war. They have a spirit of rugged individualism which while not unanimously held—just as our urban liberal elite has lost any sense of what America really means—allows an understanding between our nations that, in my view (having lived in Australia), is even stronger than our “special relationship” with Great Britain.
Within planet-seeping waves of political thought, Australia and the U.S. also seem remarkably similar. From the conservative takeovers of the mid-1990s to the failed leftist experiments of the past several years to the inevitable rejection of those experiments, Australia yet again offers us a perhaps hopeful view of what is next for our republic.