Don't Panic

Is is time to care more about Australian politics?

This week, on a popular internet forum, an article found its way into the top 10 of the site’s politics section with the intro: ‘In Australia, half our news stories are about American or UK politics [...] My question is how much, if ever, do other countries hear about us?’Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard gives a speech at the Prime Minister's Economic Forum in Brisbane June …

It’s a worthwhile question. After all, with a GDP of nearly $1.5trillion, Australia is not just rich; its mineral wealth has continued to drive prosperity, despite the gloom in other parts of the world.

While it won’t be breaking into the G8 any time soon, the country’s regional clout is unchallenged and there is every reason to suspect their politics will have a greater effect on world affairs.

Despite this, the answer is ‘not much’. One rarely sees a front page news story featuring Prime Minister Julia Gillard in the UK, and though this year’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations were a time of great unity for the Commonwealth, the most memorable Aussie to feature in the celebrations was probably Rolf Harris.

Some of our reticence about politics from Down Under may even come from a liberal hostility to a perceived Australian political stereotype.

With Americans, it’s different. Because of their independence, Brits can happily sit back and enjoy their politics. Watching American politicians try to navigate domestic issues like healthcare and gun control is, quite frankly, entertaining.

Actually, in Australia it is the progressive policies that seem to attract attention - rather as if we expected less of Aussies than we do Americans.

Kevin Rudd’s 2008 parliamentary apology to the ‘Stolen Generations’ was a brave step in moving the country’s complex ethnic conversation forward, whilst the election of Mrs Gillard - Australia’s first female Prime Minister - has coincided with a economic boom as the country’s main trading partners switch from West to East.

There are other interesting political elements too, with a divided centre-right opposition led by Oxford-educated Tony Abbott, who claims that the science of climate change is ‘highly contentious’.

Furthermore, with Mrs Gillard supporting an Australian Republic the next 20 years could be ground-breaking. Maybe the Brits would rather not hear about this.

So should we care more about Australian politics? It may be the wrong question. The question is ‘Will we care more?’ and the answer to this is almost certainly ‘yes’.

As the country grows yet more confident and assertive, the British and Americans may find that it is we who’ve become reliant on the business in that part of the world. It’s been said that Australia is a ‘victim of the tyranny of distance’. That distance may yet prove its making.