Elections, Australian and American

By September 16, 2020Other

I was asked some months ago to write something about the US Presidential elections, coming in just a few weeks. This is the first instalment. For those who have lived in both countries, it is pretty basic stuff. But just as there are millions of Americans who simply don’t know that Australia exists, or think it is Austria, there are hundreds of thousands of Australians who think we are just like America. We’re not, and this essay gives some context. Yes, we have a common language, we borrowed their federal system from the US, and a few other things as well, but there are some pretty important differences. What follows is a rough clearing of the undergrowth.

We need to start with history. The USA begins in 1783, seven years after the start of the War of Independence from King George III, and five years before Arthur Phillip’s First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay. But there had been many English settlements before 1783, starting with the Puritan settlements in 1620. Each of these was privately financed and self-governed. The land was good arable, for the most part, and there was plenty of water. I’ll leave fighting with the Red Indians out. As time went on settlers pushed further west and discovered the wonderful Missouri/Mississippi river system, with its deep soil and abundant water. When the American colonies federated there was no doubt that local self-government would be key. The new federal government was to do those things that couldn’t be done locally, and to sort out differences between states. Education, police, municipal services, justice, transport, you name it, were either wholly locally administered or substantially so. In 1845 and thereafter a single election day was set for just about everything, the President, the House of Representatives, half the Senate, state governors and representatives and all local positions down to dog-catcher. It is a huge electoral endeavour.

When the colonial representatives met to decide on their Constitution the only model widely available to them was a form of monarchy, though Switzerland was a republic. So they opted for an elected king, with two houses of parliament, with the upper house representing the former colonies, now states, the lower house representing the citizens. It was an adaptation of what they were used to, and it has worked tolerably well for nearly 240 years.

The Australian experience was quite different. The settlement of New South Wales was from the beginning a piece of government action. There were no independent attempts at settlement for quite some time. Moreover, the environment around Port Jackson and Botany Bay was not encouraging for crops or pastures, and the new settlement nearly ran out of food on a couple of occasions. Just about everything was done or run by the military government, and democratic institutions took some time to arrive. When the settlers moved west they discovered no great river system that could sustain thousands of farmers, but a land of dry plains whose rivers could disappear or flood. The government owned all the land, and sold it or handed it out to suit whatever initiative was the go. It was not until the discovery of gold in the middle 19thcentury that elected assemblies and governments became the standard.

More, when the colonial representatives met to argue about the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia that would come into being, with the approval of the British Government — no war of independence was necessary — a monarch who really ruled was something of the past. The new model was of an elected government with a Prime Minister, as was now the case in Great Britain. So the Australians opted for that, borrowing the federal system and its names from the USA, which they had studied most carefully. Elections were held whenever the jurisdiction thought it to be appropriate, so we have a plethora of elections, federal, state and local. Local government is a creature of state government; no great feeling applies to local government in Australia, because it was never generated by settlement itself. The Colony of New South Wales did quite a lot of mapping of where they thought new towns might be. Some of them remain on maps but nowhere else.

More still, Australians became highly regulated in comparison to the Americans, and notably ‘national’ as well. In Australia government did a great deal, at every level, and Australians became used to saying ‘when will they fix this or do that?’ “They” was the government. In my experience, in an American college town of 100,000 people, Americans never looked to government, but to themselves. ‘Isn’t it about time we did this or fixed that?’ they would say to each other. And they would fix it or do it, too. I was deeply impressed. We Australians like to talk about how diverse a society we are, but we pale into insignificance against the USA. We have very largely a single Australian accent; the USA has dozens of accents. Local cultures and loyalties can be profound in the USA, but I can think of no comparable examples here. Even regionally, the North, the South, the Midwest and California present contrasts that have no real counterparts in Australia. ‘Come on, Australia!’ we yell at sporting events or are urged on television ads. There is no equivalent in the USA. And so on.

Finally, the USA is the most powerful nation on our planet, and about thirteen times bigger in most respects, than Australia, which is a middle power that may indeed punch above its weight. But Australia does not broker deals between Israel and Arab nations, and it has no nuclear armoury. So the issues in an American election are multitudinous, and range from strategic issues in world politics to the work of the local dog-catcher. Our issues are confined to the jurisdiction in question. Even when the election is national or federal, state and local issues rarely become truly important. They might in a single constituency, but as I showed sixty years ago in an article, state and local issues, even the work and standing of the local MP, were of minor importance most of the time. We vote nationally, most of us, most often.

And we are compelled to vote, well at least compelled to turn up and accept a voting slip. What we do with it then is indeed up to us. Turnout in Australia is above 90 per cent, while in the USA it does well to exceed 50 per cent. That is not just a legal difference. There is good evidence to support the view that Australians think we should turn out to vote, because we are then responsible in part for the outcome. We’re slack if we don’t. And, until the pandemic, voting day had its share of enjoyment, meeting friends, a sausage sizzle, seeing the local school again, a day off.

We are sophisticated users of voting technology, and the Americans are not. They have to actually go to the polling station and complete the forms . We can vote postally, and in the ACT even electronically (some American states do allow postal voting). Our electoral commission keeps everything squeaky clean. The Americans have nothing like that, and they really need it. But that gets me into the detail of an election, and that can wait until another of these essays before we get down to the nitty gritty, Trump or Biden, and how much does it matter?

And my apologies to any offended dog-catchers.

Join the discussion 42 Comments

  • Stu says:

    Don, “Come on, Australia!’ we yell at sporting events or are urged on television ads. There is no equivalent in the USA.“ I think you will find they chant “USA, USA, USA” in such circumstances.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Maybe. I’ve not been physically present at an international match, but I’ve seen two on television, and in neither case was there such a chant. The Americans seem to me to be obsessed with their own national sports, like baseball, American football and basketball, where international competition against the USA is slight. But you may be right. I don’t know what happens at Olympic Games.

      • Stu says:

        Don, apparently the chant existed for much of the 20th century, mainly in a national sporting team context. It had a major revival following the 9/11 episode. It has been used recently by Trump supporters but is not actually aligned with either side of politics there, although Republicans seem to try and claim the high ground of nationalist fervor .

        On a different tack is the very common display on homes and vehicles of the US flag. We do not seem to have that same affectation but I would argue are as supportive of our national identity and interests as the US, if not more so. Our war record speaks to that as does support of national sports teams.

        November 3 is shaping as a very interesting event, with perhaps global consequences.

        I hope you are now over your medical skirmishes, feeling better and enjoying life. All the best.

  • Neville says:

    Thanks for your differences summary Don and I’ll be interested all the way to NOV 3rd.
    I’m sure you’re still about right, but I’m shocked by the further shift to the left by the DEMS in the US over the last 20 years and even more so since the election of Trump.
    I’m biased towards a conservative point of view, but how people could vote for Pelosi or Biden or Harris or Cuomo or Di Blasio,etc is way beyond my comprehension.
    But people vote (d) for fools like Brown, Di Natale, Bandt, Andrews, Qld premier, Dastayari etc now and in the past.
    Some of the comments about so called CAGW or climate crisis from our fools above and those listed DEMS, are a complete mystery to me.
    That they could yap such nonsense over and over and people actually believe this garbage and vote for them is beyond belief.
    Biden has problems and he doesn’t seem to be up to the mark to put it kindly. He often seems to lose his train of thought mid sentence and the coming debates could be very interesting.
    But Trump is his own worst enemy and should say a lot less at times or clearly think before he speaks. I can well understand some conservative voters who would never vote DEM , but deciding not to vote for Trump either. I’ll continue to follow the polling and so far it looks like a Biden win. But perhaps Trump will close the gap? Who knows?

  • JMO says:

    As once a near rusted on Labor voter, 4 years ago I accepted and resigned myself to a Hillary victory, thank goodness I was wrong. Now I think Trump will win. I hope I am not wrong again.
    Biden has no hope beating Trump by himself. Biden needs help, and lots of it, to win. The more the Dems help Biden, the more help he needs! To the average working class american, the now far left greenhorn Dems are just a never ending comedy (if it was not so sad) – just like our own greenhorns. Our Labor is fast approaching a reflection of the Dems, I have given up voting them for quite some time.
    The only way Biden will win is Trump to defeat himself; and that is my concern and quite plausible.

  • Chris Warren says:

    Yes, “And we are compelled to vote, well at least compelled to turn up and accept a voting slip. What we do with it then is indeed up to us.”

    This, plus preferential voting, is the real strength of the Australian system. It is arguably, the greatest difference between the UK and USA which in comparison struggle to earn the banner “Democracy”.

  • Bryan Roberts says:

    The prospect that should genuinely terrify Americans is an early Biden ‘retirement’, and Harris as President. Not even the Democrats want her. Biden may be corrupt, but Harris is completely amoral.

  • spangled drongo says:

    Thanks Don.

    The US elections will be a bell-wether for free enterprise in the rest of the world. The US has always managed to combat the tyranny, waste, and economic devastation of the Green Agenda with strong free enterprise. But if the Dems win, with the lunacy and groupthink that is taking over the western world today, it will take a generation of mindless and financially disastrous mistakes for the West to wake up to its Wokism.

  • spangled drongo says:

    The more that scientific facts like this are disclosed, the more people will wake up to the Green Agenda of the left:

    “It was revealed by Paul Hardisty, boss of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, that only 3 per cent of the reef, the “inshore reefs”, is affected by farm pesticides and sediment. He also stated that pesticides, are a “low to negligible risk”, even for that 3 per cent.”


  • Karabar says:

    Donald J. Trump is the only thing between us and the World Economic Forum, the Great Reset, and the New World Order. Until the virus scam, the global warm,ing scam was the most heinous crime foisted on humanity, but it pales in comparison with mandatory vaccinations, mass execution, and one world government.

  • Thanks Don, I’m ignorant of USA politics. Your observations Are a great help. A lot can be explained by our different beginnings. They were a religious utopia while we were a convict settlement Proved that’s why the Victorian Government is so authoritarian over Covid 19.
    I’d also note the whole aspect of keeping dogs has become a bureaucratic picnic in Australia

  • Ian MacCulloch says:

    The interesting thing about the current USA election is the reports that the Republicans have already knocked on some the doors of millions of citizens and the Democrats nil. Now that’s enthusiasm. It may well be the true indicator of the way the elections will pan out.

    Recently, David Lipson, ABC journalist reported that after going through three states about two months ago was the large number of Republican flags in the front yards and no Democrats.

  • Neville says:

    I think this should belong here because it will be an interesting addition to the debate between Trump and Biden as they approach Nov 3rd.
    Newsom and others challenged Trump 2 days ago and with these two new studies we now know that Trump was correct.
    Fires around the world have declined over the last 30+ years and as Dr Christy told us there has been a big reduction in fires both in the USA and the world compared to previous centuries.
    The Royal Society discussion link is worth a read and Trump’s team should follow up his stand in California against Newsom and others and hound them mercilessly until election day.
    A link to both studies is available at this GWPF link.


    • Chris Warren says:

      More garbage from Neville. As usual Neville does not read or understand the nonsense he posts.

      If he bothered to real the material he would find that the decrease in fires was explained.

      “As populations have increased in fire-prone regions of Africa, South America, and Central Asia, grasslands and savannas have become more developed and converted into farmland. As a result, long-standing habits of burning grasslands (to clear shrubs and land for cattle or other reasons) have decreased, explained NASA Goddard Space Flight scientist Niels Andela. And instead of using fire, people increasingly use machines to clear crops.”

  • Karabar says:

    Simultaneously, the long awaited subpoenas are being issued for Comey, Brennan, Claper, Halper, with many more to come. Perhaps even Billary and Old Bummer himself.

    • Stu says:

      Yes, setting a nice precedent to follow in February with Barr and others. And of course the Republicans in the Senate will then complain bitterly. Some folk speculating that they may come to wish they had not issued the subpoenas as they cannot be at all sure what might come out that could damage the Trump outfit.

      Did you see the opinion by the retired judge in the Flynn case? He actually said that Barr’s actions were corrupt. Fun times.

  • Karabar says:

    Here are the thoughts of one committed voter, for what it’s worth.

    Could somebody explain to me rationally why they support Donald Trump? I want to understand this.
    I’m not interested in further gun control. Not a bit. Full stop.
    Biden won’t commit to a universal single-payer national healthcare plan, and neither will about half of the Dems in office.
    Only Gabbard was pushing for military drawbacks, and they ran her out.
    Black Lives Matter. Police overreach is a problem. However, in almost all of these cases that resulted in rioting, after the smoke cleared and evidence rolled in, it turns out the cops were right.
    The first “victim” of the Kenosha shooter had spent 15 years in prison for molesting a child; he should’ve been shot a long time ago. The second victim was a career criminal, a violent drug dealer. The third was a drunk felon in unlawful possession of a firearm, which he brandished at a kid who’d tripped and fallen. There is no way I’m willing to show an ounce of sympathy for any of those three.
    Trump bungled coronavirus? What’s the Democratic plan? More masks and shutdowns that haven’t worked for six months, but will suddenly work now if a Democrat gives the order?
    In Biden’s acceptance speech, he spoke for nearly 13 minutes before giving a concrete policy idea (manufacturing medical supplies domestically). Lots and lots of useless platitudes.
    Affirmative action is an okay policy to hire postal service clerks, but not the Vice President of the United States. Joe should’ve picked Harris because he believes in Harris, not because she can check off the right boxes.
    The 2016 predictions of Trump leading us to war turned out to be wrong, as did those about him crashing the economy. The economy was fine until Democratic Governors shut down businesses because of a virus with a .5% fatality rate.
    I really, really hate gun control. The Parkland shooter is in custody; blame him for his actions, not me. Collectivist blame against gun owners is absolutely no different from collectivist blame against Jews in Europe several decades ago.

    • Stu says:

      Regarding the Coronavirus part of your piece. The previous administration (Biden in fact) left a play book, a plan and a team in place in case of a pandemic arising. They even had a team in place in China as forward scouts and to assist in early control. Trump through the whole lot away “I don’t like paying people to do nothing” – or words to that effect. Oh what might have been.

      • Boambee John says:


        “They even had a team in place in China as forward scouts and to assist in early control.”

        Obama and Biden had a team in place in China to assist in early control at least tgree years before the Kung Flu became an issue? Please provide more detail of this early knowledge of something well into the future!

        PS, don’t forget that Obama and Biden ran down contingency stocks during the 2009 pandemic, and didn’t rebuild them over the next seven years. Not much foresight there!

        • Stu says:

          “ to assist in early control at least tgree years before….”. Before a possible future pandemic as had happened before, not specifically this virus, surely even you can grasp that.

          As for the stock run down, that is not the real story. Some stocks, like N95 masks turned out to be deficient for the high demand placed on them in 2020. But remember, by that time Trump had been in office himself for three years so it is a bit rich to then whinge about the shortage, if he had done nothing to correct the situation. It is akin to him also complaining that Obama did not leave him any test kits FOR A DISEASE THAT DID NOT YET EXIST. And that is exactly what he did.

          Come on man, get real, just for once.

          • Boambee John says:


            Two points.

            First, interesting that Obama/Biden recognised China as a key risk for new pandemics. Makes a nonsense of suggestions that blaming China as the origin of the Kung Flu is racist.

            Second, Obama/Biden had seven years to re-stock, but you criticise Trump for not doing so in three. Bias maybe?

            I would suggest that you remove the log from Obama/Biden’s eyes before commenting on the mote in Trump’s, but you don’t like religious references, do you?

          • Stu says:

            “Second, Obama/Biden had seven years to re-stock, but you criticise Trump for not doing so in three. Bias maybe?”

            No, not at all, it was you that brought up the issue of stocks.

            You wrote “PS, don’t forget that Obama and Biden ran down contingency stocks during the 2009 pandemic, and didn’t rebuild them over the next seven years. Not much foresight there!”

          • Boambee John says:

            No Stu, I mentioned that Obama/Bislden did not re-stock in seven years, you defended them by saying yeah, but Trump did not do so in three.

            Come on man, get real, just for once.

    • Bryan Roberts says:

      Because he is possibly the first politician in history to do publicly what most people do in private. Which horrifies almost everybody.

  • Neville says:

    Lomborg tries to school the Newsom and Biden donkeys about Californian fire history and also supports the new studies via the GWPF.
    Following the DEMs stupid ideas would be a disaster for the US and of course have little impact on fires EVEN IF THEY MOVED TO NET ZERO emissions.
    But they would have a very fragile, super expensive and intermittent power supply and regular ongoing blackouts to add to the misery of its citizens.
    He also backs up Dr Christy’s main points about USA and world fire history at the GWPF lecture in 2019.


  • Neville says:

    Another fact filled column from Michael Shellenberger about their so called CAGW nonsense and a good coverage about Californian fires.
    He agrees with Lomborg’s data and has a good summary about the recent Aussie fires. We must do more hazard reduction burning every year until we clean up the very high fuel loads in the bush.


  • Neville says:

    Here’s an expert analysis of 113,000 Aussie fires that proves that 87% are started by humans ( accidental 47%, deliberate 40%) and only 13% are started by lightning strikes. Here’s the quote and the link.

    “A 2015 satellite analysis of 113,000 fires from 1997-2009 confirmed what we had known for some time – 40 per cent of fires are deliberately lit, another 47 per cent accidental. This generally matches previous data published a decade earlier that about half of all fires were suspected or deliberate arson, and 37 per cent accidental. Combined, they reach the same conclusion: 87 per cent are man-man made”.


  • spangled drongo says:

    Surely the US voter is smart enough to see what’s happening:

    “California’s dream of becoming a world leader in virtue has collided with the laws of physics.

    On some days, the state generates so much solar power it has to pay other states to take it. When the sun sinks over the Pacific on a hot summer evening, however, the “greenouts” begin.

    On these days, the Californian Energy Commission pays top dollar for fossil fuel-generated power from other states to meet a shortfall of up to 15,000 megawatts a day — roughly twice Australia’s average daily consumption.”


    • Neville says:

      SD you would hope that all voters in every country would be smart enough to check all the data about so called CAGW, but alas that isn’t the case.
      I mean look at the nonsense we see from so called educated people about so much of their fantasies and then a refusal to accept the facts, even if we box them around ears with it on regular basis.
      But then we have stupid people like Biden and Newsom who’ll believe any BS and fra-d from the lefty con merchants and other so called scientists.

  • Chris Warren says:

    The rubbish being posted by Neville claiming that 87% of fires are deliberately lit cannot be left to befuddle the rest.

    The results of a authoritative inquiry are now available here:


    The facts are that over the 2019-20 fire season in NSW, there were 11,774 fires [pg23]

    Only 11 were deliberately lit with the intention of causing a bush fire [pg29]

    This is the index of Neville’s veracity with facts and truth – 11 out of 11774 ie less than 0.1%. Only Donald Trump performs at this abysmal level.

    • Boambee John says:


      Still eith the reading comprehension problems.

      The 87% figure was for all human caused fires, more than half (47 of the 87%) being accidental.

      Interesting that you reject the evidence of 113,000 fires in favour of a much more limited sample. Cherry picking?

  • Neville says:

    Here’s the latest data from NASA satellites and interesting graphs that show a 25% decline since 1998.
    African fires are the real problem, but as more people move from earlier lifestyles to urban living fires have started to drop. Dr Christy noted this as a reason why fires have declined in western countries since 1900 as well.
    I correctly noted that the SMH story said that 87% of fires were started by humans and 47% were accidental and 40% were deliberate.
    I can’t be blamed for donkey 1 not reading properly or misunderstanding proper data/evidence.
    Don’t forget this fool actually believes we can reduce fires around the world by reducing our co2 emissions in OECD countries, just like stupid left wing parties here and the EU and USA, Canada etc.
    I’ve repeatedly linked to co2 emission graphs since 1990 like Wiki and NOAA co2 level trends/decade since 1960 and yet it still doesn’t sink in.
    And even our CSIRO tell us that the SH is already a NET co2 SINK and I’ve linked to that Cape Grim site many times.
    Here’s that NASA link and I hope people have the time to read this info.


  • Neville says:

    I should have noted that Africa has increased its pop by about 950 + million people since 1970 and yet they are wealthier, have better nutrition, education etc and fires now show a declining trend. Note the blue dots on the NASA map of parts of Africa and the world. Not everywhere yet but the trend since 1998 is down.
    Note the Amazon red and even central Australia near the Alice.

  • Neville says:

    Here’s the US govt National Park Service site and they have this to say about wildfires across the US. See my further comment below.

    Humans and Wildfire

    “Nearly 85 percent* of wildland fires in the United States are caused by humans. Human-caused fires result from campfires left unattended, the burning of debris, equipment use and malfunctions, negligently discarded cigarettes, and intentional acts of arson”.

    *Source: 2000-2017 data based on Wildland Fire Management Information (WFMI) and U.S. Forest Service Research Data Archive

    The SMH story claims 87% of fires for OZ ( 47% deliberate 40% accidental) and the US NPS says a total of 85%, are started by humans but doesn’t list the % deliberate and accidental. Note just 2% of difference between the two countries.

  • Neville says:

    Sorry, above should be 47% accidental and 40% deliberate for OZ.

  • Karabar says:

    It is a strange psychosis indeed when and individual, confronted by well researched and factual information, declares it “rubbish” simply because it falls contrary to his deeply engrained leftist viewpoint.

    • Boambee John says:


      Chris will tie himself in knots cherry picking data and research to find something, anything, that supports his pre-conceptions and prejudices.

      • spangled drongo says:

        Yes BJ, here is blith’s story to a T:

        “It was strange. It was almost as if the left did not want good news about the climate! It was as if the left hated the idea that their services to cure this non-problem were not necessary. But how could this be? They loved Science! Yet when science said “Calm yourselves”, that love evaporated.

        It’s true. The left became science deniers. A sad thing to see.”


  • spangled drongo says:

    Chris Kenny in the Australian:

    “Examples of fear and ignorance abound. This week Joe Biden stood in a park near his home in Delaware — while people were still battling devastating wildfires in California and Oregon, and battening down for hurricanes and flooding in Florida and neighbouring states — and read words from a teleprompter, with feeling, into the camera.

    “If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more of America ablaze?” he shouted. “If we give a climate denier four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised when more of America is underwater?

    “The core case presented here, that re-electing Trump will lead to more bushfires and flooding in the US, is so unscientific, irrational and blatantly false that it would not and could not be supported by any scientist. It calls into question the intellectual capacity of the man delivering the words.”


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