Australia and the United States – Interesting Comparisons

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by Neil Godfrey

Why are Australians more accepting and trusting of the role of government than Americans?

  • The United States was settled primarily in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by people fleeing from tyrannies;
  • Australia was settled primarily in the nineteenth century in a land much harsher and more difficult to settle than North America — government was needed to provide roads, water, finance, health services, to enable people to move and populate much of the land. Government was viewed more positively than had been the historical attitude in America. Settlers weren’t fleeing to Australia from governments, either. They were being transported by governments and relied on governments services for survival.

I’ve also found Australia at times to be a very controlled country, too tidy and neat and orderly sometimes. Australians pride themselves on the larrakin tradition, the disrespectful and self-reliant “digger” of Gallipoli, that sort of thing, which is seen as originating in the convict past, and many of the convicts were Irish rebels. But there is also a stifling authoritarian and reactionary strain in Australia, led by conservative politicians, churches, wealthy businesses and various clubs like the Returned Services League. And that, I have heard it said, might be seen as traced back to the other sector of our convict days, the guards, soldiers, police, brutal applications of power. It’s that second element that I feel has been depressingly dominant for far too long now, especially since it is led by political figures who want to take us towards the American ways of privatization of what have traditionally been seen as public services, such as health care and education.

What are the voting (government participation) differences?

  • Voting is not compulsory in the United States, or course, and voting takes place on a Tuesday;
  • I think many Australians look askance at both of those practices. By making voting compulsory the poorer and otherwise voiceless sectors will have a say and those seeking election cannot avoid taking their interests into account; that’s a good thing. Also by making it compulsory the otherwise “silent majority” will have their say so that radical partisan movements of either the left or right cannot take over the government by default.
  • It is more democratic to have voting on a Saturday. That’s a holiday or half-day holiday for most people so it is much easier for people to arrange to get out to vote. Sunday would have been better but we have the influence of the churches insisting generations ago that Sunday people should be in church and reading the Bible, not getting mixed up with worldly things.

Such are some interesting (to me) reflections inspired by an interview with historian Judith Brett and comments on a recent Drum program by David Marr. Some of the ideas may be myths, but they make interesting discussion topics — well for some of us anyway.


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Neil Godfrey

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9 thoughts on “Australia and the United States – Interesting Comparisons”

  1. Good start to an interesting problem.

    I have also heard of a ship “mate” tradition. Which stresses loyalty to friends, whether criminal or legal?

    It contributes to an English stress on social conformity, to one class or another, more than (now itself fading?) American individualism? Which is itself fading due to “identity politics.”

    1. People can also vote ahead of the election day so the answer is no.

      (There are a handful of people who don’t vote at all for religious reasons and if they submit their reason as a recognized religious or other conscientious objection they are not penalized. Otherwise the penalty is not very much, closer to a token fine if my recollection of many years ago is still valid.)

  2. Australia has always had a reactionary element starting from the Eureka Stockade era. Unions have defied governments and secured a more equitable society than have Americans. Even now, there are many citizen groups that seek to control authoritarian excesses. Bloggers make public the dirty secrets that power blocks try to conceal. The conservative voters, mainly the religious and the brain-dead–(same people?) are losing ground as scandals unfold. With the pressure of Global Warming, we might see Australia move to a more humanitarian country. Or not.

    1. Yeh, the whole idea of “moving towards” something better as some kind of invisible/inevitable force is a myth I have lost faith in. Sometimes we go forward, but often backwards or just holding and resisting.

      I have come to think that movement comes with the luck of who is born at the right time and in the right circumstances and emerges to instigate action and organization for change. We live in hope.

  3. Many Americans feel great affection, in any case, for Ozzies. Though we are both the creation of a British Empire that had good and bad aspects to it, hopefully we will both learn to correct deficiencies.

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