Politics down under – not for the faint-hearted

Jim O’Neill sends a missive from the southern hemisphere, highlighting sharp differences in how politics is conducted firth of Scotland.


Spending a month in Australia, and being a political animal, political discourse in the Commonwealth never ceases to amaze me.

The Commonwealth of Australia consists of 6 states and two territories, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. They are reflected on the Aussie flag by 6 large stars and 2 small ones. The country is federal with the powers remaining with the states, some of which they cede to the federal government. Below state level there are local councils. The states have powers over the councils that the centralising SNP government would die for.

For instance, after a number of scandals in four councils, the Queensland government took powers to suspend any councillor charged with serious offences, which led to the suspension of four mayors and one councillor, causing a level of chaos in those councils. Unfortunately the Labor state government sent out the press release before the Governor had signed the legislation. Taking lessons from us, perhaps.

The error was quickly resolved, but not before the opposition Liberal/National Coalition leader claimed that this was an example of how Labor was failing to run the state effectively.

This robust exchange is only a small example of the interchanges between, for instance, the Liberal/National Coalition Premier, Malcolm Turnbull, and the Labor opposition leader, Bill Shorten. Parliamentary questions happen every day the House of Representatives sits, and any Minister, including the Premier, can be questioned. The two main groups, the Coalition and Labor, heavily whip the questions, so that each questioner asks a question which is very related to the issue of the day.

For instance, questions are currently focusing on the budget which happened two weeks ago. Coalition questioners have been asking questions, oddly similar ones every day, all of which end with “and do you know of any other approaches”. This allows Premier Turnbull to spend a little time name-checking the area represented by the MP and then attacking Labor’s response to the budget. There seems to be no such thing as unparliamentary language, as I counted five occasions in one answer in which he referred to the Labor approach as lying, or to Bill Shorten as a liar.

Labor, for their part, regularly refer to the Premier as “incompetent”, “useless” or “stubborn” at the start of their questions, which created a manufactured complaint from the Leader of the House. This was rejected by the Speaker on the grounds that the Premier often used personal insults in his response.

Mind you if you think this is bad you should hear Turnbull and Shorten doing press conferences on the road. These stump speeches don’t so much emphasise their own policies and the other Party’s faults as batter the issues to death.

All that said, the federal system seems to work very well. The states have enormous power and emphasise their independence from each other and from the Canberra government. For instance, if a criminal is caught in another state, they have to be extradited back to the state where the crime was committed. There is no NHS, with people having health insurance, although there is a Medicare system for the poor and for certain procedures.

All in all this is a very different political environment from what we are used to in Scotland, although it is a great example of a federal system. As Scottish Labour promotes the idea of a federal UK, and moves towards convincing the UK party, Australia shows that it can work.

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10 thoughts on “Politics down under – not for the faint-hearted

  1. Read your blog Brisbane Times Pauline Hanson changed her mind on the company tax bill.
    Pauline and her one nation pals have now the paper says confirmed their status as the most volatile force in parliament .
    Shifting position with the wind and always ready with a complaint .
    I can think of a few UK politicians Boris Michael Gove Ruth Davidson Barry Gardiner John Swinney
    Enjoy your hols

  2. One Nation only have a blocking power in the Senate. Hanson is extreme right and is using her power (she has only 3 seats) to get on TV as often as possible

  3. Time for a wee bit of bragging on my part .
    I have been complaining to the papers and in comments to Labour Hame blogs about Job losses and closures at M and s the NHS having difficulty recruiting staff due to brexit and NHS Scotland spending 4 million on outsourcing x ray and scan results to Austrailia and India due to a lack of radiologists .
    On Sunday during the Irvine Beat FM Sunday Talkin Show I phoned in to talk about all of the above .
    Guess what at FMQS today MSPS from Labour Tories and SNP raised all of the above must have heard me on Sunday Well tough I was first haha

  4. How about this from the land down under Wesfarmers the Australian owner of Homebase who paid 340 million for it 2 years ago but the losses and other costs brings the total bill to 1 billion .
    Its being bought for 1 pound by a restructuring specialists Hilco the same mob who rescued HMV in 2013 thousands of Homebase jobs are now at risk.
    Decisions affecting 10s of thousands are now being taken in Australia India and China Holyrood and London need to waken up to this .
    Independent or not

  5. May I correct Mr O’Neills erroneous statement, re Australia does not have a national health service. Australia does have a universal national health system it is called Medicare and it covers all Australians. It is funded by a compulsory percentage of workers salaries. Individuals may also elect to join a private health fund.

  6. Would like to say something about the growth commission report have not read it but the section on keeping the pound and the Bank of England setting Indy Scotland interest rates .
    That’s a huge dose of reality although it did not help that it was trailed all week it would recommend an independent currency .
    For me that’s an argument for the future
    Brexit is now NHS is now Job losses and mergers are now Carphone to close 92 warehouse stores this year .Those job losses are coming every day now .Decisions affecting the UK and Scotland Independent or not are being made in the USA Australia India and China .

  7. Pinneys to go 450 jobs under threat Factory being transferred to Grinsby this is what we need to deal with its happening now

  8. Just today Mothercare to close 50 stores 800 jobs at risk .Workers at Crummock of Bonnyrigg turned up for work this morning told the company in administration 287 jobs gone.. No warning and that’s just today . Growth Commission at this rate there will be nothing left to grow .
    This is now .
    Then we have brexit and the America first trade war and the mess in Italy and Spain

  9. The Growth commission report will not be debated at this weekends SNP conference .
    Another company Lambert contracts of Paisley out of business 77 jobs gone no warning and more when the company is wound up.
    House of Fraser in dire financial straights as is Mothercare .
    I hope the SNP will debate this at the weekend

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