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article imageOp-Ed: One story, many takes: Australian election reporting, polls, and backwash

By Paul Wallis     Nov 25, 2007 in Politics
It always interests Aussies when people try to report Australian events, and the 2007 election was no exception. The common reaction was “Bush ally defeated”, with varying levels of depth. Actually, the tone of some of the reporting was very positive.
Kevin Rudd has won a very large majority, 22 seats, and gained 28, which is a massive swing in the 150 member House of Representatives. Rudd is seen as a new generation leader, which seems to have been one of his recommendations to the electorate.
The news actually does have a few international ramifications. The New York Times rightly noted that while Rudd’s election doesn’t mean any drastic shift in foreign policy, although there would be a few shifts in the US relationship, with Australian troops in Iraq expected to be withdrawn next year. The net effect will be minimal. The Australian troops are considerably fewer than the brigade of US troops currently being withdrawn. Labor also promised to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, leaving the US as the only nation that hasn’t.
Politically, Labor is the Democrats of Australia. It was originally a union based political party, but now far removed in concepts, although many Labor ministers are former unionists. It’s a middle class party, far more moderate than its origins. NYT also mentions that if the Democrats are elected in the US, the relationship could actually become closer.
Xinhua commented that
It is expected a Labor government will seek to promote Australia's influence in the South Pacific, as Rudd has criticized Howard's regional policy.”
Which is an admirable way of avoiding mentioning the regional balance of tensions between the US and China.
Australia’s relationship with both has the side effect of a unanimous wish among Australians that the two will finally cease the useless slanging match and build a positive, realistic, relationship, rather than bickering over every available noun in English and Chinese. Rudd is a former diplomat to Beijing, speaks Mandarin, and is well aware of the situation.
The LA Times did a good background story on Rudd:
Today's victory was also a moment of great personal triumph for Rudd. The youngest of four children, he grew up poor on a Queensland dairy farm and was raised by a widowed nurse mother who was once evicted and forced to sleep in the car with her children. Rudd, who lost his father when he was 11 and his mother a few years ago, referred to his parents in his victory remarks.
"He'd be surprised about tonight," Rudd said. "I salute them and the values they delivered their son."
Meanwhile, the polls managed to louse themselves up again, going from landslide to cliffhanger to landslide, getting the winner right, but hedging too much over the result at the end. It’s probably better to be honest and wrong, than to back the field, and still manage to be wrong, as in this case.
Domestically, there will be major upheavals after this election. The unpopular Work Choices policy, with the related workplace agreements, which are contracts, will be scrapped. Industrial relations was a cornerstone of the campaign, and Labor won't need to be encouraged to dismantle Work Choices.
Rudd has also pledged to do a lot about education and health care, two endemic black holes which even in a prosperous economy haven’t been responding much to treatment.
It's a nice thought, but we'll believe it when it happens.
Things might get difficult on all three of those issues. Work Choices might be unpopular, but employment is at record highs, and fixing something which may not be broken according to employers is a possibility.
Education, and the heavy costs involved, won’t be simple. Health is just plain bloody minded, and perverse. We had a good system, and dismantled it in the name of nicer accounts figures.
There's so much money involved in those sectors that it can't be easy.
So now we either see what the cat dragged in this time, or what a "new generation" political party can do.
On the positive side, there aren't any "old stagers" in the incoming government. Aesthetically, it will be something new.
I just hope these guys can deliver.
So many promises were made.
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