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18 August 2010 @ 12:09 am
Dramatis Personae from Australian Politics: a Harry Potter Primer  
For the aid of shezan  and others outside Australia wishing a decoder to the post of the other day, here you go, loves. Just a warning that this post is heavy on facts, leavened with opinion, and light on amusing dialogue and unflattering photos.

HARRY POTTER is played by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. A member of the Queensland ALP Right, classic Keynesian and noted cardigan man politician, he was famous for sleeping three hours a night while in power and being amazed that staffers might need more. Famously organised and somewhat autocratic, he is a firm believer in new technologies, new trading partners and sustainable growth. Speaks fluent Mandarin and has close ties with China, at the same time as feeling free to point out when he believes China to be 'rat fucking' Australian interests. Fairly unbeholden to lobbyists and special interest groups for a (former) leader, this has also seen him isolated in support. Has been promised a seat on the front bench if Labor is returned, which will make national politics officially Interesting. Also known as The Ruddbot and Kevin07.

is played by current Prime Minister Julia Gillard. A member of the Victorian ALP Left, having begun in the South Australian Left, she is a small and pleasant Welsh import, famous for her red hair and for being liked by most people. On the positive side she is tough and a good feminist, on the negative side, she believes that a community forum is the best way to decide Australia's future on Climate Change. Which, given that bugger all people in the community can understand the science and some of them can't spell climate, is not an idea I am sold on. Still, she's an atheist who lives with her boyfriend and has no kids, so I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, on principle. Also known as the Prime Ranga.

RON WEASLEY is played by the Treasurer, Wayne Swan. Also Queensland ALP Right, he was an old factional mate of Rudd's.Generally liked and reasonably capable, he was part of Rudd's Gang Of Four, which consisted of Rudd, Gillard, Swan and Lindsay Tanner. (Tanner has been left out of this narrative by virtue of not fitting the literary model and having announced his retirement from politics effective this election.) Swan's major problem is that he is a good treasurer, but wretched self-publicist. The last two good treasurers, Costello and Keating, were GENIUS self-publicists, and the Australian public has grown used to having economic successes not merely waved under their noses, but trumpeted from the heights. Humility is just weird. He has no nicknames, because no one cares enough to make one up.

 is played by millionaire backbencher Malcolm Turnbull, who was formerly Leader of the Opposition. Noted hotty, and previously a successful lawyer, General Counsel for Australian Consolidated Press, banker and telecoms entrepreneur, he is famous for responding to a death threat from Kerry Packer (mega-rich Aussie media baron) by saying that if Packer's assassin missed, Turnbull would not miss Kerry. Believer in the rights of indigenous people, climate change and the need to act against it, and a degree of fundamental right to decent conditions for working people and protection for the losers in the social contract without overly burdening the socially productive or rewarding the useless-by-choice, I'd have seriously considered voting for him if he was still leader and I lived in his seat. Alas, he was knifed by his parliamentary colleagues and had actually announced his retirement in April of this year, which was retracted in May when he saw the almighty balls-up Rudd was making of things and the hideous mess his own party was responding with. The smart money suggests he hopes for another tilt at the liberal leadership should this election not see a change of government. Also known as the Silvertail and Rainman.

VINCENT CRABBE is played Tony Abbott, Leader of the Opposition and NSW Liberal. He is the fittest politician I have ever seen, and I've seen most of him, due to his habit of being photographed wearing Speedos, or budgie smugglers as they are known in these parts. Sadly, he stands against almost everything I hold dear, from the rights of women to determine their own reproductive futures, to gay marriage, to functional public transport, to tackling Climate Change, and to protection for refugees, workers and Indigenous Australians from paternalistic government. It is within the realms of possibility that I could overlook a lot of this if he represented a safe economic future for the country, however, numpty is too kind a word for his economic management style. Let us not talk of his understanding of issues like telecommunications as I will need to go and have a little cry. Also known as the Mad Monk thanks to his time in the Seminary (his first career choice was priest), and the Budgie Smuggler, thanks to his Speedo fetish. 

GREGORY GOYLE is played by Joe Hockey. He looks more like a normal politician. He is also from the NSW Libs, and represents North Sydney, a blue-ribbon seat. As a human being, he is reasonably decent and certainly pleasantly colourful without being a bastard. As a treasurer, he is like the swotty boy who studied very hard at school for a solid B+ average. He'd not be a disaster, and he would be very diligent, but he has no flair for the topic. This is a shame, because he is more of an A-grade politician, with a good understanding of some key issues including the need for national broadband and climate change response. Part of me wonders if he is planning to fight Malfoy over the carcass of Crabbe should the Libs lose this election. Also known as Shrek, for obvious reasons if you saw the photo.

is played by Julie Bishop, from the Western Australian Liberal Party. She has the best death stare in politics. Ever, anywhere. Though I will say that she is at least prepared to poke a bit of fun at herself. She is a conundrum, as she is clearly very intelligent and has an excellent history as a lawyer and businesswoman, yet she has made repeated serious gaffes in her roles in the Shadow Cabinet, first as Treasurer and now as Foreign Affairs. She is, however, an excellent Deputy Leader of the Opposition and has not once attempted to stab anyone, nor wrestle power for herself, which is increasingly rare in Australian politics. She has no nickname because people fear her fembot powers!

VOLDEMORT is played by John Howard, former Prime Minister of Australia and old-school NSW Liberal. To be fair, I am going to begin by listing the positive things about John Howard. He was one of the most consummately skilled politicians I have ever seen, rebranding and redefining himself multiple times in response to shifts in what seemed to be the public mood, with what can only be described as a genius for anticipating that mood, until the very end. He had the good sense to put in place a treasurer who was actually conservative, not 'Conservative', and then not to bother him too much. After the Port Arthur Massacre, he responded to cries for gun control in Australia by banning some types of over-powered guns, and launched the Gun Buy-Back Scheme. I know this will horrify some Americans, but in much of this country, a feral dog is as bad as it gets, so there is no need for automatic sports weaponry. There is also a low level of gun ownership and a low level of crime generally. The buy-back was very popular, as it recompensed people whose weaponry was banned, and also gave a bunch of old diggers and bushies some cash in the pocket in return for weapons they didn't need. He was also ultimately very effective at allowing Australia to act as a regional support when needed by our neighbours, both in times of political crisis, such as in East Timor, and in times of natural crisis, such as during the Asian Tsunami in 2004 and the Aceh and Nias earthquake in 2005. He also likes cricket.

On the negative side, he invented Stop the Boats: stigmatising refugees who arrived here by boat as queue-jumpers at best and terrorists at worst. He invented the Pacific Solution, whereby refugees were shipped off to regional nations, mostly Nauru, and stuck into camps. To my personal horror, this was quite popular in some parts of the electorate. See Boat People, below. He not only declared that Indigenous Australians being pissed off at having had both their country and their children stolen was perpetuating a 'black armband' view of Australian history, he later made Aboriginal peoples living in some of the poorest parts of the country into special cases, demanding they meet certain criteria before they would be given welfare payments 'for the protection of the children'. And while I am all about protecting kids, those poor little buggers in white families in some parts of Sydney had no such paternalistic protections put in place for them.

He also joined the coalition of nations that declared war on Iraq, this being the first time Australia had actually started a war. He presided over the greatest period of economic growth in many decades but invested precious little of it in infrastructure, declaring most infrastructure needs to be state problems at the same time as dramatically reducing the per-capita monies available to some states, most notably New South Wales. Despite running a rich nation that is perennially ranked near the top of international economic productivity tables, he decided that Australian workers weren't doing enough and introduced WorkChoices, which removed many established workers' rights and saw millions of ordinary working Australians lose conditions. At the same time, he increased (non-boat) immigration substantially, because there was money (cheap labour being but one part) in that, despite the fact that the entire country was in severe drought. His Growth At All Costs mentality saw Australia tilt on the edge of being sucked into the GFC, and saw a significant drop in the average quality of life through his term at the same time as an astonishing increase in many of the fundamental costs of life, especially food and housing.

PETER PETTIGREW is played by Peter Costello, South Australian Liberal and long-term Treasurer and Deputy PM until the Liberal loss in 2007. He comes from a family of socially aware folk, including his Baptist minister brother, Tim, current head of World Vision in Australia. Costello inherited a very strong economic framework after the reforms of the Hawke/Keating era through the 1980s and early 90s, and had the solid sense not to buggerise around with it much. Instead, he drove the Howard era's main economic reform, the introduction of the Goods and Services tax (a 10% VAT) and managed the economy into surplus. He was also one of the main forces behind the creation of the Future Fund, which is a government savings scheme that sees Australia have one of the best-funded superannuation liabilities of all the Western economies. He was often picked as being the next leader of the Libs, and in fact there was reported to be an agreement between him and Howard to see a transition of power during one of their later terms. Howard, however, chose not to, and after the 2007 loss, Costello retired from politics, ever so slightly bitter. But still an amusing raconteur!

is played by Dr Brendan Nelson. Thoroughly pleasant, dedicated, intelligent and open to changes in his opinions based on factual inputs, he was briefly Leader of the Opposition post-Howard, but, given the aforementioned qualities, obviously doomed.

NEVILLE LONGBOTTOM is played by Bob Brown. Tasmanian Senator, Leader of the Greens, and the first openly gay Australian parliamentarian (though quite definitely not the first actually gay one). He began his political career as a campaigning environmentalist, first for Lake Peder in Tasmania, then, after that battle was lost, for the Franklin below Gordon, which was won. During these years he endured significant personal hardship, including arrest, and received no little flack for being out in what was then the most homophobic state in the Commonwealth. A stint in Tasmanian politics preceded his successful run for the Australian Senate in 1996. Friendly and science-driven, Brown can also be astonishingly hard-nosed. He had the ability to deliver the government's ETS in the Senate and held out due to believing it too weak, with the result that there is now no carbon taxation scheme in this country. To be fair, the proposed ETS was flawed in concept and problematic in implementation, so he may have been right. Charismatic and committed, he is a dedicated parliamentarian and environmentalist, while with a track record that shows significant ability to negotiate in good faith with major parties in areas he sees as non-disastrous. Given the choice for the balance of power in the Senate seems to be between him and the Christian fundamentalists Family First, I am hoping that he does very well this election!

 is played by Wendy Francis, the Family First Senatorial candidate for Queensland. She is famous this week for declaring that the children of gay parents are subject to emotional abuse from others, and so it is therefore child abuse to allow gays to have children. Speaking as the daughter of a gay parent, I personally feel it would be more effective to stop people being such bigoted arses.

PADMA PATIL is played by Penny Wong, the openly lesbian ALP South Australian Senator and Minister for Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Water. She is tremendously bright and practical and has continued to smile in public as the ALP renounced previous policy positions on the importance of action on Climate Change, gay marriage, and investment in alternative energy research. I'm not entirely sure whether the woman defines 'real trouper' or Mark Arbib has her dog held hostage. 

were all played by themselves.

THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY (ALP)  is Australia's oldest active political party, and I have no idea why it spells its name that way. It consists of state branches and affiliated unions, with its policy platform decided at state and national conferences. Until recently, unions could dominate conferences, now elected delegates must make up at least 50% of the numbers. It is not a ideologically unified party, with vast differences between state groups and between the 'Socialist Left' and 'Labor Right' factions. The factions in the ALP play a role somewhere between that of clans and cults, depending on which state and side you hail from. In New South Wales, the Right most closely resembles the Cosa Nostra. The party has thrown up some of the most thoroughly decent politicians in the country's history, including Tom Uren and war-time PM John Curtin. It also produced Brian Burke and Joe Tripodi, men so dodgy I would not let them near my handbag. Similarly, at its best, it introduced most of the greatest protections for the weakest members of this society and made over the economy from protectionist and failing to vigorous and thriving. At its worst, it long supported the indefensible White Australia Policy. Economically it ranges from radical Socialist to dry dry dry, and the major party line seems run by socially progressive economic conservatives. Which is little different to many people in ...
THE LIBERAL PARTY OF AUSTRALIA, Australia's other main party. They actually exist in coalition with the National Party, but since the drought the Nationals (rural-centric, formerly the Country Party) have all been hidden in a back room until after the election, due to extreme bolshiness. Which is a shame, because they're my favourites! The Libs officially began in 1944 under Sir Robert Menzies. After facing defeat at their first election, they went on to win the next and Menzies went on to become Australia's longest-serving PM in a run of Libs that lasted 23 years. Though they did lose one along the way. This run is the reason Liberals think of themselves as being the Natural Party of Power, despite the fact that the ALP has actually run the country more often since Federation. There is not any real difference between a wet member of the Libs and a dry member of the ALP, with the main differentiation between the parties being the ALP's support for the unions and the Lib's historic hatred of socialism and communism. Under Voldemort, they went through a period of being mainly socially conservative, with an anti-gay marriage platform and a thinly disguised xenophobia lurking under many of their platforms. But in the past they have been socially progressive, with the Aboriginal Referendum of 1967, which granted full citizenship to Indigenous Australians being launched and supported by Harold Holt. Who has a memorial swimming centre named after him, which will only be funny if you read the last link. There have been some magnificent Liberal Prime Ministers, my faves being John Gorton and Harold Holt, with Malcolm Fraser being magnificent after being PM. Alas, they are all too often economically dull and uninspiring, with most seeing their role as simply to reduce taxes all round except when it comes to providing money to encourage women to have babies. I wish that was a joke ... For a party that is apparently all about The Economy, they have historically had very few ideas on said economy, most often prepared to keep going in the same direction it was bubbling along happily in when they got it. In Australia, you can do this for an awfully long time, but eventually run into problems due to either the curvature of the earth or an ocean. The few economic stars they have had seem either to never make it to leader, or be stabbed in the back before facing an election. (Oh Malfoy ...)

THE MINERS have spent the last 20 years screwing over regional centres like Newcastle, making billions of dollars, paying a smaller percentage of tax than I do on my far more humble salary, driving up inflation levels around the country and making house prices in some cities into a depressing joke, while not paying the cost of their environmental damage and often over-riding the concerns of Indigenous owners of the land. Despite all this, they are allegedly the victims in this tale.

are apparently flooding Australia. Which will come as news to the actual refugees arriving by boat: about 3000 per annum. Compare this to the about-45,000 illegal immigrants who come by plane each year, including about 5000 each from the UK and US. Apparently, the Boat People come without papers and are therefore probably terrorists. Also, they're queue jumpers, because they're leaping ahead of all the 'deserving' refugees, who are all waiting patiently in the Come to Australia Queues. They are people who are fleeing war-torn countries, in several cases countries where Australia has troops deployed, ending up on long voyages in rickety boats, giving all their money to unscrupulous people smugglers, because they are desperate. The idea that terrorists think this is a great way to get into the country when, for far less money they can buy a fake passport and plane ticket is abject nonsense. Surprisingly, not one major party so far has said 'we're worried about their safety and people smuggling is a crime, so we will step up our rate of bringing people in from refugee camps in war-torn countries from what is currently one of the world's more pathetic levels to something befitting a nation of our size and wealth.' When I meed Australians who say they don't like immigrants,  I've taken to saying 'What, like me?' Apparently, I'm fine because I am white and have a posh accent. And an increasingly keen sense of irony. Though I will accept the 'you can all bugger off back to where you came from' line from Indigenous Australians, because they've had 222 years to get really pissed off.

THE GAYS are currently divided between wondering whether they should be agitating more strongly for same-sex marriage and funding for youth and regional outreach programs, or whether someone should rescue Penny Wong, who is clearly developing Stockholm Syndrome.

THE INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS were unable to appear in this election, due to having already received the one piece of low-cost easy-implementation policy that either party had when Kevin Rudd said Sorry to the Stolen Generations in early 2008.

As in all narratives, there are scenes that had to be cut for space. A few key figures we missed include

, played by Gough Whitlam. A giant of a man, literally, he was the first real hope for Labor after the long entirely Liberal post-war years. Filled with reformist zeal he hit Australia in the early 1970s determined to make a difference, and in many ways set the stage for the next 35 years. National medical care, free tertiary education and legal aid were but three of his social reforms, along with the ending of conscription (Australia was involved in the Vietnam War). He was also the first leader to take the issue of Aboriginal land rights seriously, and famously granted the leasehold title to land at Wattie Creek to Vincent Lingiari by pouring a handful of sand into the hands of the elder, who accepted on behalf of the Gurindji people. Alas, he was a bit shit at economics, and some of his party were what can only be described as deeply odd. A serious of improbable scandals culminated in the Coalition blocking supply in the Senate and the Governor General John Kerr dismissing the Whitlam government in a move that still ranks as Most Shocking Moment in Australian political history. But it did lead to his immortal: 'Well may we say God Save the Queen. Because nothing will save the Governor General!' Since then he has been mentor, elder statesman and totem for the ALP. And willingness to please him seems to have sent a few careers to their deaths.

, played by Bob Hawke. Former Prime Minister, noted drinker, and legendary pantsman. Kevin Rudd's mentor, he began his political career in the trade union movement and then moved into Federal Parliament before, in a move that will by now have become familiar to those reading closely, he rolled Bill Hayden for leadership of the ALP, and won the 1983 election that followed swiftly on his rolling. His Prime Ministership was famous for a radical reconstruction of the economy, and the Accord, which saw an end to the fractious union actions of the late 70s and early 80s. He personally is more famous for drinking a yard of beer in record time while at Oxford, being a bit of an indiscriminate shagger, and going back on his deal to hand the Prime Ministership over to Paul Keating. And his ego, but that can be said of most of our characters.

, played by Paul Keating. He's a little bit Byron, a little bit hard-nosed economic rationalist. Often described as the politician you'd most like to shag but least like to have mind your dog (actual, not metaphorical,dog -- none of those scary ALP subtextual insults here!), he was treasurer of Australia during the heady Hawke years, including through 'the recession Australia had to have', then rolled Hawke for the leadership of the party. And that's the ALP rolling, which involves numbers, and late-night phonecalls and Graham Richardson-type figures, not the French-film rolling, which Hawke had previously been more used to. Unashamedly open at speaking his mind, whether calling Australia a potential banana republic or John Howard an actual desiccated coconut, he was not a nice PM, but by god he was an entertaining one. When challenged in 1992 or 3 by the then-leader of the Opposition as to why he had not called an election, he replied 'because I want to do you slowly'. An extensive dismantling of trade tariffs and privatisation of non-essential government assets were the hallmarks of his time in parliament, both as treasurer and PM, at the same time as building up government services such as Medicare, the socialised health care system. He was sometimes smarter than he was useful, such as when he refused economic stimulus in response to the economic downturns of the late 80s and early 90s. In the broad scope of things, he was right that the Australian economy could do with the correction, in the narrow scope he was wrong that the electorate would ultimately forgive him for the hardship. Despite winning the 'unwinnable' 1993 federal election, he was tossed out in 1996 in favour of John Howard. He did, however, make the Redfern Speech, which acknowledged the many ways in which the Australian government had failed indigenous peoples, and went some ways to rectifying some of those failures, and took a front line in recognising that Land Rights were inalienable. If he is lucky, this is what history will remember him for.

CORMAC McLAGGEN, played by Mark Latham, former Parliamentary Leader of the ALP, when in Opposition, loser of the 2004 Federal Election. Almost impossible to classify, this chap could just as easily have been Ludo Bagman, as he lives on past 'glories' or Rita Skeeter, as he is currently employed as a 'journalist' by the Nine Network, a role which seems to involve him leaping out of nowhere to monster current political figures. He was finally cast on the basis of his disturbing and somewhat threatening obsession with Hermione after he aggressively 'doorstopped' her some time after she had left a door. Happily, Hermione seems tough enough to cope. When she was asked on Q&A -- a current affairs show on the ABC -- by one wag: 'I’d be interested in your thoughts on a scale of one to 10 -- one being just bearable and 10 being massively annoying -- how big of a tool is Mark Latham?' She paused for a moment and gave a little laugh, before replying: 'There are some things that can’t be measured.'

, represented by Gilderoy Lockhart, for the simple reason that both are highly amusing.
S. Gryfgencaira on August 20th, 2010 03:18 am (UTC)
Hey, you have to look on the bright side. At the last SA election I found myself preferencing Family First at #69.