News Michael Pascoe: So you think America’s disastrous politics couldn’t happen here?

Michael Pascoe: So you think America’s disastrous politics couldn’t happen here?

Australia’s electoral system still leaves much to be desired, says Michael Pascoe.
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This is no time to feel smug about our electoral system, to bask in the Australian exceptionalism conferred by compulsory voting that has prevented the major parties straying too far from the pragmatic centre.

Certainly, blessedly, whatever our political and social faults, we’re not the United States of America. That has long been a comfort, the more so over the past four years of American decay.

The chaos of the present US election, even the choice of candidates – lacklustre and much worse – has made us look relatively good.

But rather than patting ourselves on our collective back, America’s dystopian slide should be a warning about where we are trending.

Australian politics, particularly on the right, is increasingly taking its lead from America as surely as American political jargon as taken root in the Canberra.

The sort of American ratbaggery that once would have had players “on both sides of the aisle” quietly sniggering together is now firmly ensconced within the domestic “beltway”.

A lump of coal and dose of hydroxychloroquine anyone?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is a big fan of fossil fuels. Photo: AAP

The social conservatism and “prosperity theology” hallmarks of the American Republican Party now is spreading through Coalition ranks, helped along by more than a little branch stacking and pre-selection pressure.

You don’t have to scratch too hard to find local echoes of the inherent racism driving much of the American political divide.

It’s there in the Indigenous disrespect, from the Coalition members who refused to even be present for the Stolen Generations apology, to Eric Abetz selectively asking for declarations of loyalty before a Senate committee based on race to Senator Matthew Canavan’s “Black Coal Matters” bumper sticker.

‘Black Coal Matters’ features on the side of a ute posted to Facebook by Matt Canavan.

(The LNP member reportedly wants a new slogan, “All Coal Matters”, because he also loves brown coal.)

While much was made of America going to bed on the day of its election without knowing who their president would be, many might have forgotten that we went to bed on the night of our 2016 election without knowing who had won.

At the time, I wrote in another place we were fortunate that it didn’t matter too much.

I had stumbled on an interesting statistic: If you considered Australia’s modern era started in 1972, we had had roughly 22 years of Labor and 22 years of Coalition governments.

To indulgently quote myself from four years ago: “Saturday’s “cliff-hanger, too-close-to-call, line-ball, down-to-the-wire” cliché-ridden poll just continued our remarkably even-handed scepticism/enthusiasm about Labor and the Coalition. Neither has proven a disaster for the nation. Neither is likely to.

“Aside from the “modern era” split, Australia’s median age is knocking on the door of 38. So the life of the “average” Australian, born in 1978, also has been evenly divided between periods of Labor and Liberal prime ministers. And life for the median Australian, compared with the median everywhere else on earth, is terrific…

“We can be better than we are – we need to be better to maintain our position – but in the general scheme of things, there actually is none better right now.”

But that was four years ago. Since then, the American Republican party influence has grown apace.

Two years ago, the Liberal Party’s federal council voted to privatise the ABC as, branch by branch, the hard right showed its muscle.

Last year we marked the demise of the Liberal Party’s “liberal” leadership group. No fewer than eight liberal Liberal ministers or assistant ministers elected in 2016 did not stand again.

Craig Kelly says doctors should be able to prescribe hydroxychloroquine. Photo: AAP

The old dinosaurs Kevin Andrews and Eric Abetz and “Crazy” Craig Kelly march on but are now outrun by younger reptiles of the Right – Andrew Hastie, Zed Seselja, Michael Sukkar and lesser lights.

And the Liberal Party is considered the more rational side of the Coalition. At the other end are the odds and sods that make up the LNP representatives Queensland sends to Canberra.

The Guardian has been keeping tabs on the rise of the “Christian Soldiers” taking over the LNP, attacking members seen as soft on abortion, marriage equality and assisted dying.

It seems it was only not wanting to be a distraction ahead of the state election that deprived a strongly supported “Christian Soldier” winning pre-selection for the Groom by-election later this month.

It was a surprise last week that Dr David van Gend was passed over for the safe ticket to Canberra, the job instead going to one Garth Hamilton.

It’s not surprise that Mr Hamilton, a mining engineer, is another Queensland right-winger with views very similar to Dr van Gend.

He’s even a fellow contributor to the Spectator magazine – one of Rowan Dean’s mob.

Seat by seat, the drift continues, cheered on by the Murdochracy, while the Prime Minister leads with American language flourishes – “we thank you for your service” – and Trumpian politics of there being no sense of ministerial responsibility for failures.

No, we’re not the US – but we are on the way if we’re not careful.

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