Category Archives: Politics

Short Essay: Strengths and Weaknesses of Federalism for Australia

The acceptance of Australias’ constitution created a system of government for its disparate colonies, in the form of a ‘federation’.  Explanation varies as to why this form of government was chosen, which has faced a decline in popularity (Ward & Stewart, 2010, Galligan, 2003), with claims of inherent weaknesses.  To explore this, the strengths of federalism, along with these identified weaknesses will be highlighted.

The disparate colonies, with differing needs and difficulties, had developed their own ‘imagined communities’ (Anderson, as cited in Barker & Kelly, 2008, p. 129), which gave rise to differing outlooks and goals.  Federalism, which allowed the retainment of this shared community and ‘local patriotism’ (Craven, 2001, Gillespie, 1994), was seen as the method where the colonies could join together for issues of national importance, whilst retaining their own identities.  This feature of the constitution allowed the states to have an individual ability to set policy priorities, and develop responses that were specific to their circumstances, and their respective electorates.  This is the likely reason why federalism is seen as ‘closer to the people’, with the ability to be more responsive to the needs of their electorates, and so being more accountable to them.  Arguably, this was the founders’ intention (Galligan, 2003, Ward & Stewart, 2010, Singleton et al., 2003).

This ‘tailoring’ approach was not the only benefit here, since by allowing different policies in the states, and utilising the competitive spirit that developed within this evolving community, new policies were able to be ‘tested’, allowing for a wider range of policy mixes that ‘work’ to be found, which could subsequently be copied or innovated by the other states.  Unfortunately, this competitive spirit has also had a negative effect, in that policies that require collaboration and agreement between the states can be difficult to achieve (Singleton et al., 2003, Ward & Stewart, 2010).

Co-ordinate federalism, where the states had clearly defined and separate roles than that of the federal government was the expectation at Australias’ formation  (Singleton et al., 2003).  Over time, this has changed to become increasingly collaborative, to a ‘cooperative federalism’ (Ward & Stewart, 2010).  This has become necessary not least because of relatively recent changes to taxation, where the Commonwealth government now has ‘fiscal dominance’ (Ward & Stewart, 2010), where they are the primary collector of revenue, creating a Vertical Fiscal Imbalance (VFI).  This provides the commonwealth government with considerably more leverage to govern spending policy, which were decisions intended for states.  This control of spending policy has hindered the founders’ intended limits on government (Ward & Stewart, 2010).

In addition to the VFI, some federal services and policies now encroach onto state territory, leading to some area of duplication (Ward & Stewart, 2010, Singleton et al., 2003).  This can have negative consequences, primarily in lesser efficiency because there is ‘too much government’ (Abbot, as cited in Ward & Stewart, 2010); however it can also be argued that this can provide benefits to the electorate, in that they can pursue alternate avenues for resolution of difficulties (Singleton et al., 2003, Ward & Stewart, 2010).

I have shown that the strengths of federalism are: being closer to the people, increasing responsiveness and accountability; acts as a limit on government, has allowed the cultures of the states to flourish, has provided the ability to utilise different policies based on state differences, and allowed testing of new ideas before mass implementation, to find policy mixes that work.  I have also established the antagonistic features; the primary concerns with federalism are duplication of services, VFI, difficulties in securing national agreement and ‘too much government’.

 

Bibliography

Barker, J. & Kelly, S. (2008) ‘Technology and Nationalism’ in G. Herb & D. Kaplan, (eds.), Nations and Nationalism: A Global Historical Overview,Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 126-136.

Craven, G. 2001. The Australian States and the Australian Nation. in Sunday Special – The Barton Lectures Part 7 Australian Broadcasting Commission, Australia: Radio National. Radio (Transcript).

Gillespie, J. (1994) ‘New federalisms’ in J. Brett, J. Gillespie & M. Goot, (eds.), Developments in Australian Politics,60-87.

Galligan, B. (2003) ‘Federalism and the Constitution’ in The Cambridge handbook of social sciences in Australia,Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Singleton, G., Aitken, D., Jinks, B. & Warhurst, J. (2003) Australian political institutions, 7th ed., Frenchs Forest, N.S.W.:Pearson Education.

Ward, I. & Stewart, R. G. (2010) Politics One, 4th ed., South Melbourne:Palgrave Macmillan Australia.

 


The Symposium on Australian Settlement

It is widely accepted that the past can influence the future.  This is the dominant discourse which surrounds the concept of an ‘Australian Settlement’.  Posited as the ‘more or less enduring resolution of conflict’ (Stokes 2004a, p. 5) that created bipartisan support for particular ‘political ideas and policies’ (Stokes 2004a, p. 7), this ‘settlement’ seeks to define an Australian political identity which guided Australia from Federation through to the 1980’s.  However, this ‘Australian Settlement’ has now crumbled, and our society is significantly different.  While it is a relevant tool for studying political history, a genuine understanding of modern politics cannot be reached through study of the ‘Australian Settlement’ alone, because the forms presented have been decontextualised, are selective in features and its focus on the past does not assist to provide direction for the future.

Decontextualisation

Politics is not a distinct super-section of Australia.  It is, according to our ‘style’ of democracy, theoretically representative of our population, by extension, politics should reflect the values of our society. This means that past policies cannot be accurately viewed, or fairly judged, exclusively from this angle.  To obtain a genuine understanding of Australian politics, it is necessary to consider the societal context, discourses of assent and dissent, as well as the underlying beliefs and motivations for particular policy decisions.

In this, Stokes (2004a) attempts to be more flexible, however much is still judged based on current values, and neglects how ‘progressive’ much of the early years were, and is based on the authors own underlying values.  As Melleuish informs, ‘… in an age which no longer accepts its values, we are apt to forget its positive aspects and its virtues’ (Melleuish 1995, p. 131).  When approaching the ‘Settlement’ from a modern perspective, issues are seen with the management of race and gender relations, the inequalities in democratic institutions, increases in the role of the state, an increasingly insular country.  However, in most cases, this modern perspective means these problems are considered in conjunction with persuasive discourses, positive or negative, towards neo-liberalism, and globalisation (Conley 2004).  If viewed from the perspective of the makers themselves, the view would likely be quite different.  The context, intent and outcomes should be judged holistically.

Selective in features

The governments of federation, and still today are, to varying degrees, ‘social liberal’.  Many of the ‘settlement’ policies were not, as Kelly appears to assert, purely economic, but had significant social basis, which Stokes incorporates, albeit at a reduced importance (2004a, p. 15).  Also, as seen in the symposium, the ‘Australian Settlement’ as originally written had ‘limited scope’ (2004a, p. 9), and as Brett (2004) notes, even Stokes’ expanded version of the settlement misses key considerations.  While the idea of an ‘Australian Settlement’ has gained significant currency, there are still significant points of contention.  By choosing elements and framing them in particular ways it becomes possible to alter the discourse these elements are subjected to, allowing both the ‘identity’ and individual component discourses to be usurped to a particular purpose (Stokes 2004a, p. 7; see also Conley 2004).

Past focused

Stokes (2004a, p. 5) correctly asserts that future directions are shaped by ‘past errors and achievements’.  It is, however, unfair to consider that all of the Australian Settlement was worthy of being discarded as a ‘past error’, and the policies enacted to remove the ‘pillars’ as being the ‘achievements’.  A holistic judgement of political history does indeed give us insight into how, and why policies were enacted; however this insight does not really provide direction for our future.  Society has undergone significant changes, as have the political and economic imperatives now faced.  It would be imprudent to deny any possibility of enacting similar policy again.

Stokes’ contribution to the identity discourse of an ‘Australian Settlement’ is significant to providing a good underpinning knowledge and understanding of Australia’s political history, however it cannot provide a stable platform for understanding modern politics, or the politics of the future.  Looking to the past for shaping the future has its own problems, and it would be easy to consider that at the end of the next ‘settlement’, which is not yet formed, the decisions made now may be judged in the future to be incorrect.  Priorities should be clearly focused on the present, working for the future, rather than looking back.

 

Bibliography

Brennan G & Pincus J. (2002) From the Australian Settlement to Microeconomic reform: the Change in Twentieth Century Policy Regimes. CIES Discussion Paper No. 0213. Adelaide, SA: Adelaide University.

Brett J. (2004) Comment: the country and the city. Australian Journal of Political Science 39:1, 27 – 29.

Conley T. (2004) Globalisation and the Politics of Persuasion and Coercion. Australian Journal of Social Issues 39:2, 183-200.

Kelly P. (2004) Comment: the Australian settlement. Australian Journal of Political Science 39:1, 23 – 25.

Melleuish G. (1995) Understanding an “Age of Uncertainty”. Australian Journal of Politics & History 41:1, 130-134.

Sawer M. (2004) Comment: the Australian settlement undone. Australian Journal of Political Science 39:1, 35 – 37.

Smyth P. (2004) Comment: Australian settlement or Australian way? Australian Journal of Political Science 39:1, 39 – 41.

Stewart RG & Ward I. (2010) Politics One, South Melbourne: Palgrave Macmillan Australia.

Stokes G. (2004a) The ‘Australian settlement’ and Australian political thought. Australian Journal of Political Science 39:1, 5 – 22.

Stokes G. (2004b) A rejoinder. Australian Journal of Political Science 39:1, 43 – 47.


Tom Conleys ‘Globalisation and the Politics of Persuasion and Coercion’

A Critical Review of Tom Conleys 2004 article, ‘Globalisation and the Politics of Persuasion and Coercion’, Australian Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 39, Issue 2.

The authors objective in this article is to show that politics worldwide has been significantly impacted by the ‘discourse and practice of globalisation’ (Conley 2004, p. 195).  The three salient, interlinked themes are ideology, persuasion and coercion, which together, the author claims, have led to a singular view of reality, persuasively presented to the public, followed by coercive implementation of an economic liberal agenda; all alternatives having been marginalised.

Ideological and Material Components of Globalisation

The first theme discusses the effect of political ideology on globalisation.  The author claims that equal, bilateral consideration needs to be given for ‘ideas, rhetoric and discourse’ and material components of globalisation, since it is the ideological factors that influence perceptions of political economic policy constraints and opportunities (Conley 2004, p. 186), and the material components that provide the structural limitations.  Further, it is argued that ‘dominant interpretations’ can influence the fulfilment of the process, and change the political environment (ibid., p. 186).

According to the author, governments have developed a ‘deterministic’ evaluation and liberalising reaction to globalisation.  The author concedes that various political and economic events caused a shift in policy perception, and equates this with liberalised policy changes becoming institutionalised ideology.  This may be partially accurate, however the article appears to neglect the impact of the growing strength of global institutions such as the World Bank and World Trade Organisation, which have placed considerable pressure on states to implement a neo-liberal structure (Firth 2005, p. 11).

Whilst the argument that ideology certainly impacts world views and narrows the range of options which are open for consideration is acceptable, the author does not do enough to show that ‘at each point of material change’ Conley 2004, p. 186) there were alternative interpretations of this ‘material reality’ (ibid.) leading to differing policy when considering the impact of the world economy.

Globalisation as Persuasion

Closely linked with ideology, the second theme contends that globalisation has been framed as an ‘international imperative’ (Conley 2001, p. 241, 2004, p. 184), to persuade the population that liberalisation of the economy was the best, indeed, ‘only viable option’ (Conley 2004, p. 185).  It is ultimately claimed that globalisation is the justification for the shift to economic liberalism.  It is also suggested that the government has used ‘persuasion’ to lower the publics’ expectations of the state (Conley 2001, p. 241, 2004, pp. 184, 188).

With a degree of rhetoric, the author presents these ideas, and attempts to persuade.  His primary argument has an element of success, effectively showing that governments have used persuasive methods, to both push globalisation as a national good, and also showing that a degree of public ‘education’ has taken place, espousing the same notion.  The use of the term ‘education’ has negative connotations in the article, and the authors own beliefs come through strongly in this section.  The author places negative images of various changes, both at a social and political level, however beyond his own use of language and interpretation, there is little that shows ‘economic liberal’ globalisation has caused this.  It could be argued that it is actually the social changes have led to this change.

Economic Liberal Coercion

After persuasion paves the way, it is argued that coercion, in the form of ‘economic liberal policy change’ is then used to enforce change (Conley 2001, p. 241, 2004, p. 192).  According to the author, the public has been coerced into becoming market driven and self-regulating, ‘succeeding and failing on market terms’ (Conley 2004, p. 193).  Further, economic liberal coercion has allowed the role of the state to limit itself, as well as ultimately limiting political choice with an institutionalised conception of globalisation and state capability.  Since coercion ‘has’ the effect of modifying the economic policy ‘terrain’ (Conley 2001, p. 241), and ‘economic liberal globalisation has dominated the perceptions of those who have made the decisions’ (Conley 2004, p. 195), then, he informs, that this has the additional effect of reinforcing ‘the already substantive constraints of the world political economy’ (ibid., p. 192).

There is an degree of contradiction here.  While the author first informs that governments are not as tightly constrained by global forces as they claim, here it is stated that they are constrained.

The author certainly points out some inherent issues with economic liberal policies in this section, and clearly demonstrates the economical effect on several sections of community and industry.  However it is a large leap to claim such a change has come from a small group of politicians, at a certain time.  The concepts that underpin economic liberalism are not new, nor is the idea of globalisation.

The author suggests that effective ‘social democratic globalisation’ alternatives to liberalisation exist (Conley 2004, p. 195), however they have been marginalised by the liberalised, institutionalised ideas of the two major parties.

Overall

Language use in the article is overall reasonable, however the use of some terms can be perceived as loaded.  The bias against ‘economic liberal’ globalisation is quite evident, and there is emphasis on the social inequalities ‘created’ by economic liberal globalisation.  It is apparent that the author places all onus on government, when that government was ‘elected’ by the nation; it would seem that some of the blame should be accepted by the voting populace.  It is therefore surprising that more sociological data was not considered, as particular trends in sociology are likely to have considerable application in this area.

Conclusion

The author certainly succeeds in demonstrating that since the Hawke/Keating years, the dominant theories of globalisation have led to adoption of economic liberal policies.  Overall, the article succeeds in showing the main portions of his argument, however in many cases it raises more questions than answers.

(Western et al. 2007)

 

Bibliography

Conley T. (2001) The Domestic Politics of Globalisation. Australian Journal of Political Science 36:2, 223-246.

Conley T. (2004) Globalisation and the Politics of Persuasion and Coercion. Australian Journal of Social Issues 39:2, 183-200.

Firth S. (2005) Australia in International Politics : An introduction to Australian foreign policy. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Western M, Baxter J, Pakulski J, Tranter B, Western J, van Egmond M, Chesters J, Hosking A, O’Flaherty M & van Gellecum Y. (2007) Neoliberalism, Inequality and Politics: The Changing Face of Australia. Australian Journal of Social Issues 42:3, 401-418.

 


‘Sapere Aude!’ Kant and the Public/Private Distinction

“Sapere Aude! […] Have the courage to use your own reason!” (Kant, 1997, p. 83, my emphasis)

Kant is economical: In this short quotation, he indicts society, credits them with universal reason, and calls them to action. The quote suggests that every individual1 has the capacity for reasoning; they simply lack the courage and will to do so; this, according to Kant, implicates us in a ‘self‐incurred tutelage’ (p. 83). Kant presents Enlightenment as the escape from this immaturity; all that was required was the freedom to ‘make public use of one’s reason’ (p. 84). However, everywhere there were limits on freedom; some constraints were necessary to maintain public order. The acceptable, and useful constraints on freedom could be found within a distinction between ‘public’ and ‘private’2 reason (pp. 84‐85). This distinction rests largely upon the degree of exclusivity, publicity, and emancipation from higher authority.

Kant sees society as immature, limiting itself to following the dictates of ‘benevolent’ authority figures who demand from ‘all sides, “Do not argue!” (p. 85), but adhere to ‘statutes and formulas’ without questioning (p. 84). Instead of developing their own abilities, they have abandoned them; they have allowed themselves to become comfortable and safe with ‘a book which understands for me, a pastor who has a conscience for me, [and] a physician who decides my diet’ (p. 83). Kant likens this acceptance to a herd of domesticated cattle, made dumb, placid and timid; afraid of a danger made to appear serious by the ‘guardians’ who wanted to retain their control (p. 83), yet in reality was considerably less. In this ‘easy’ life, there was no real need for an individual to exert their own will or their own reason; the road to an easy life only required the money to pay for it (p. 83). However, in this ‘easy’ life, there would be no way to ‘extend knowledge,[or] purify […] errors’ (p. 87), a condition which, according to Kant, would be a ‘crime against human nature’ (p. 87).

Kant did not impose a definition or rules for correct reason; this is viewed as an avoidance strategy; he did not want to provide a new ‘authority’ for society to follow, to inculate himself as another guardian. Instead, he was focused on encouraging the proper way to use our ‘natural gifts’ because true reform could not come from a ‘revolution’ (p. 84). Enlightenment must therefore proceed gradually because revolution merely replaced ‘old prejudices with ‘new prejudices’. This is why a single individual may not be extricated from dependence on their ‘benevolent guardians’ through this process, but the wider society could become more enlightened (p. 84).

Turning to Kant’s distinction between public and private reason, it is important to avoid being misled by these terms; ‘Public’ and ‘Private’ are used in specific ways. For Kant, ‘Public’ reasoning was used to highlight the open and inclusive nature of the reasoning process, the wide social network it was publicised to, and also necessity for the individual to be speaking in their ‘own voice’ (p. 86). Conversely, ‘private’ reasoning was closed and exclusive, in some ways limited in its publication, and was carried out as a subject to the will of another (p. 86). What is clearly seen here is a demarcation between the ‘modes’ or ‘roles’ which an individual has. In an Enlightened age, every individual will use both of these forms of reasoning dependent on their circumstances.

An individual using the ‘public’ form of reason stepped into the role of a scholar disassociated from their socio‐political milieu. Regardless of rank, this individual could openly criticise, discuss, and consider alternatives to policies and matters with which they were concerned. A citizen in this role would be active, and use their courage to provide the public with ‘all of his carefully tested and well‐meaning thoughts’ (p. 86) about errors being made. Private use of reasoning, however, was markedly different. This kind of reason is used within the constraints of an organisation, where you have a specific function within that organisation. Only those in charge have the capacity to determine process, and criticism or discussion is highly limited. While in this ‘private’ mode, citizens can think ‘what [they] will, but obey!’ (p. 85).

A similar dichotomy occurs with the publicity aspect. When utilising ‘public’ reason, the necessity for a broad audience is highlighted. Kant specifically highlights this using terms such as a ‘readership’, and a ‘society of world citizens’, and ‘the reading public’ (p. 85). Public reasoning aims at reaching the widest possible audience, specifically to encourage diverse opinions. There is also a sense here that Kant implies the capacity for publicity for posterity, with the unacceptability of unceasingly binding a society (p. 87). To the contrary, private reasoning limits its reach to a specific group, for a specific duration, and only while those within the binding of the institution remain.

The final and most important dichotomy occurs in the degree of emancipation from higher authority. For an individual to use public reason, requires them to be speaking from their ‘own person’. Contrast this with the conformity required by individuals limited to private reason, required to carry ‘out the orders of another’ (p. 86). Consider this in light of one of Kant’s typical examples, modified for these purposes. There exists a tax collector, call her Ann. Ann, using her capacity for ‘public’ reason, submits articles to various journals highlighting her understanding of the inconsistencies and inequality in a newly implemented tax regime. However Ann, in her position as tax‐collector has no capacity for arguing; she must accept her duty passively and obey the law as it currently stands.

For Kant, this ability to reason and argue, whilst obeying, is the epitome of enlightened behaviour. Through the individual act of courage by ‘throwing off the yoke of tutelage’, and free use of public reason, courage in others would be stimulated (p. 84). Through this engagement with others, giving and receiving cognitive challenge and through reflection and response to alternate viewpoints, all parties, including those who remain on the outside of the interchange, are provided the opportunity to progress in their path toward enlightenment.

In order to create a mature, enlightened society, it was necessary to have the courage to use the ‘natural gifts’ (p. 84) within all, rather than relying on various authority figures to simply tell us what is right, healthy or true. This is characterised as a social process of Enlightenment; a continual progression towards freedom, a means, as well as the end for human nature (p. 87). it was essential that the use of ‘Public’ reason was completely free, as the right, indeed the duty of society was to progress toward enlightenment (Kant, p. 87). However, constraints on ‘Private’ reasoning could be implemented without blocking public enlightenment, since one acts as a passive actor, a ‘cog in the machine’ (p. 85); this temporary constraint would be offset by their ability to use public reason.

Bibliography

Kant, I. (1997) ‘What is Enlightenment?’ in Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals and What is Enlightenment 2nd ed.,Trans. Lewis White Beck. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

1 Indications within the text suggest a gender-neutral reading is possible; this neutral reading could be challenged in conjunction with other work by Kant. This is a topic for a separate essay.

2 ‘Public’ and ‘Private’ reason used in this paper relate to Kant’s usage in Kant, I. (1997) ‘What is Enlightenment?’ in Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals and What is Enlightenment 2nd ed.,Trans. Lewis White Beck. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.


Hobbes and Human Nature: Wish-fulfilment of the father manifested in the Unconscious

Any political theory has at its core a set of assumptions concerning human nature. Thomas Hobbes theory of human nature was a particularly unedifying and scathing indictment of mankind outside of the ‘civilising’ influence of absolutist government.

Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man. […] In such condition there is no place for industry […]; no culture of the earth; […]; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short 1.

This, according to Hobbes, is discovered through knowledge of physics, and honest introspection2, so first, a necessarily brief introduction to his physics, followed by an outline of the key components of Hobbes conception of human nature. For Hobbes, humans are material, mechanical beings, with hedonistic passions, a lack of rules, a measure of rationality and a natural equality which breeds insecurity. Since Hobbes claims this can be understood through introspection3, it can be assumed that he has attempted analysis of his own psyche; using his theory of human nature as manifest content, a psychoanalytic exploration will be undertaken to highlight the wish for the return of the father that has been repressed in Hobbes’ unconscious.

According to Hobbes, human nature is inextricably linked to the nature of bodies; just as bodies are purely material, mechanical structures, so too are our psychological states. As a materialist, Hobbes considers that matter is all there is; further, with the acceptance of ‘Galileo’s principle of the conservation of motion’4, Hobbes presents the view that Man5 is essentially a complex machine, operating on natural laws6. Humans are determined, and they are in constant motion. This view has important implications for Hobbes’ theory of human nature; since motion is constant, so too are our ‘passions’.

Based on this view of physics, Hobbes first characteristic of human nature is found. Just as humans are determined by the laws of motion, so too are our ‘passions’7, since they too are ultimately motions. ‘Passions’, for Hobbes, are hedonistic motivations, whether they are innate, or developed from experience; there are ‘appetites’ towards acts and objects that provide pleasure, and ‘aversions’ away from other acts or objects that provide pain. These ‘passions’ are experienced throughout life, and, while not everyone experiences the same passions, nor will their passions be the same throughout their lives, they will not cease until death. It is these dual passions for the pleasures of life, and the fear of death that push us to survive and thrive.

Life according to Hobbes is an egoistic quest for the satiation of desires8; that is, the quest to maximise ‘felicity’. Felicity is a ‘continuous prospering’9, from satisfaction of passions, but it has no final state of ‘complete satisfaction’10, or greatest good. Instead, it is an unceasing cycle of desires, progressing from one object to another11. Humans are forward looking creatures, and they aim at satisfying desires over time, not simply a once in a lifetime, fleeting moment of achievement12,13. This looking forward is also a reminder of the unsurmountable fear of death.

Even more powerful than this desire for pleasure, is the aversion, manifesting as fear, of death. Once life is set in motion, the imperative is to continue; humans have a tendency to accept any ‘new conditions’ if it means they have a greater chance of survival14. However with an awareness of mortality the “‘perpetuall solicitude of the time to come’ causes anxiety”15 in mankind. For Hobbes, it is this fear, and knowledge of death that is both the main cause of, and solution to overcoming our human nature; it also has a deleterious effect on the capacity for morality in humans.

Humans are amoral, in the sense that there is, and can be no common morality. Moral terminology has no significant meaning in a humans’ atomistic, natural state; morality is a distinctly social construct. This must be so, because ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ are not intrinsic to objects; there is no physical or mental capacity to determine if something is right or wrong. Instead, for Hobbes, these terms are simply used to describe the objects of our appetites and aversions. The value of every act or object is relative to an individual; each individual must use their own reason to decide16.

For Hobbes, all humans are capable of rationality, if that rationality was equated with ‘reckoning’ of the consequences of agreed general names, and ‘marking and signifying our thoughts’. Our capacity for thought and imagination provides us with the ability to consider future outcomes; we develop prudence through experience, have the ability to deliberate over particular courses of action and apply our judgement to discern the most ‘rational’ course of action. However, humans are fallible, and so can reason incorrectly; they have a tendency to appeal to reason or custom as it suits their ends17, and also, due to their egoistical nature, will give precedence to their own rationality in the case of dispute. In the absence of an independent arbiter, we have no way of judging outside of our own experience.

By nature, all humans are fundamentally equal in body and mind. While there are differences, in that some may be physically stronger, others may be smarter, and yet others may have the ability to influence others, these differences are not so great as to make someone invulnerable18. Even the weakest can overcome the strongest by ‘secret machination, or by confederacy with others’19. All can be perceived as threatening to someone. This equality breeds hope for acquiring goods for survival and ‘commodious living’20, however, since all are equal, it is likely that there will be many others with similar passions. This natural equality actually makes us powerless21. We understand that some things we desire are scarce, and many cannot be divided or shared. As resources are limited, and all men have the same essential desires, not everyone has the ability to realise these desires. This places us into conflict with others who share our particular passions; in the state of nature the division of resources will always be open to the possibility of conflict. This leads to a constant state of insecurity, driving mankind to constantly strive for power to extricate them.

Humans in their natural state cannot assure security. Their security is always threatened, due to their passions, and their equality. While we may not all individually be unsatisfied with our current lifestyle, we are driven by our need to secure our own survival; even though we ‘have enough’, what we have, even our life, is under threat of being taken from us at any time. Everything in the ‘state of nature’ is simply dependent on what you can take and keep; there are no rights of property, or even rights of self. This is we find, by the ‘natural law’22 in the state of nature, that man has the right to do whatever they regard as necessary to preserve their own life, even if that requires taking the lives of others. However, this is subjective, and what constitutes a threat depends on an individuals’ perspective; everyone is guided by their own reason. The threat need not even be imminent; ‘pre-emptive strikes’ are valid. There is no security of living a normal life span, and since we are afraid of death, we are continuously trying to expand our safety net by addition of instrumental power.

This power seeking places us in a precarious security dilemma, where any attempt to ensure our security may place others on alert23; there may be others who take our security measures as a threat on their position or power, and they may want to attack us for fear of losing this position. Likewise, there may also be others who are envious of our position, and seek to usurp our place. We recognise an advantage in ‘anticipation’24; even though we may not be directly under threat at a particular time, we are safest in assuming that any ‘Other’ is a potential threat. Life in this natural state is a constant struggle, based on ‘continuall feare’25 and distrust, with everyone keeping to themselves and using much of their energy on self-protection. There can be no social goods, because there is no safe ‘space’ in which to form long-term, stable cooperation between individuals or groups26.

II

The picture of mankind which Hobbes presents is decidedly unedifying, and indicts society by the claim that humans need the civilising effect of a god-like authority figure standing over us to make us ‘fit for society’27. Since, for Hobbes, one of the keys to recognising the nature of man is introspection, or ‘read[ing] thy self’28, it can be assumed that his own nature is being demonstrated in his thinking. So what insights can the themes within Hobbes’ thought offer about the author himself?

In Hobbes, there is an overarching theme of a man-made ‘god’ figure, the Sovereign, who stands apart from the rest of society, and is not subject to the same rules or limitations as the commons. This could be theorised as a substitute-formation29 fixation30 with the father figure, stemming from a complex relationship between the pre-oedipal event of abandonment by his father due to aggression issues31 and subsequent wish for the return of the sovereign (his ‘ultimate’ father) to conquer the insecurity of social interaction.

Firstly, due to an event of aggression at his workplace, Hobbes’ father exiled himself, leaving his family to the care of Hobbes’ mother, with financial assistance from Hobbes’ uncle. Without his father being present, Hobbes Jr. would have searched for other male figures through whom he could act out Oedipal-style identification. Hobbes, being educated in his formative years through the church, may have found this male role-modelling through his teachers at his church school, hence the strongly religious framed authority figure coming to dominate his theories. Perhaps through the mythology of the church, particularly the ideas of return, Hobbes had hope of his own father, or a replacement, returning to claim him. This is particularly prominent with the constant reminders in his theory of human nature that humans are naturally atomistic, and aggressive; the father figure, usually being the dominating figure, the voice of authority that stops the children fighting amongst themselves, would have been a strong desire for Hobbes, in an insecure, warring world. Further, this recurrent image of mankind as aggressive, whether through pleasure or necessity, could be theorised as a representation of a fixation on the ‘Anal’ phase of development, presenting an under-control of aggression, and a projection of a ‘playing out of the Oedipal psycho-drama’32 using the entire of human nature as the projectee. Finally, this can be seen as a manifestation of the Freudian origin myth33. The young Hobbes may have had very negative experiences with the alcoholism and abandonment34 of his father; there may have been a childish understanding of these events as being his and his brothers’ fault. In effect, he may have interpreted the abandonment as a kind of ‘death’ where he and his brothers ‘killed’ the father, as in Freud’s origin myth35 and subsequently felt ‘remorse’, and placing his father in an overly idealised position above him, leading once again to wish for the return of the father figure.

Humans in their natural condition are rather uninspiring creatures. For Hobbes, though, in spite of this, there was hope for peace, through identification and acceptance of an absolutist system of government. Only through having a strong ‘father’ figure, could mankind subdue the darker parts of his nature, and be protected from the harshness of others and the environment. This clearly presents a wish-fulfilment in his political theory; the desire for the return of ‘father’ to resolve the disputes of the warring brothers.

Bibliography

Ahrensdorf, Peter J. “The Fear of Death and the Longing for Immortality: Hobbes and Thucydides on Human Nature and the Problem of Anarchy.” The American Political Science Review 94, no. 3 (2000): 579-93.

Berger, A.A. “Psychoanalytic Criticism.” Chap. 3 In Media Analysis Techniques. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2004.

Felluga, Dino. “Modules on Freud: On Psychosexual Development.” In Introductory Guide to Critical Theory: Purdue University, 2011.

———. “Modules on Freud: On Repression.” Purdue University, http://www.purdue.edu/guidetotheory/psychoanalysis/freud3.html.

Freud, Sigmund. Totem and Taboo. Translated by James Strachey. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1950.

Hobbes, T. Hobbes: On the Citizen. edited by R. Tuck and M. Silverthorne Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

———. Leviathan. edited by Richard Tuck Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Millen, Raymond. “The Hobbesian Notion of Self-Preservation Concerning Human Behavior During an Insurgency.” Parameters 36, no. Winter 2006-07 (2006): 4 – 13. http://www.carlisle.army.mil/USAWC/parameters/Articles/06winter/millen.htm.

Moehler, Michael. “A Hobbesian Derivation of the Principle of Universalization.” Philosophical Studies 158, no. 1 (2012): 83-107.

Read, James H. “Thomas Hobbes: Power in the State of Nature, Power in Civil Society.” Polity 23, no. 4 (1991): 505-25.

Wolff, J. An Introduction to Political Philosophy. Oxford University Press, 2006.

1 T. Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Richard Tuck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 89.

2 Leviathan, ed. Richard Tuck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 10 – 11.

3 Leviathan, 10.

4 J. Wolff, An Introduction to Political Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2006), 9.

5 This author uses ‘man’ and ‘mankind’ in the sense of ‘(hu)man’ and ‘(hu)mankind’. There is textual evidence to suggest that in many cases, so does Hobbes.

6 Hobbes, Leviathan, 9.

7 Leviathan, 38.

8 Leviathan, 47.

9 Leviathan, 46.

10 Wolff, An Introduction to Political Philosophy, 10.

11 Hobbes, Leviathan, 70.

12 Ibid.

13 Michael Moehler, “A Hobbesian Derivation of the Principle of Universalization,” Philosophical Studies 158, no. 1 (2012): 85.

14 Raymond Millen, “The Hobbesian Notion of Self-Preservation Concerning Human Behavior During an Insurgency,” Parameters 36, no. Winter 2006-07, http://www.carlisle.army.mil/USAWC/parameters/Articles/06winter/millen.htm.

15 Hobbes, and Peter J. Ahrensdorf, “The Fear of Death and the Longing for Immortality: Hobbes and Thucydides on Human Nature and the Problem of Anarchy,” The American Political Science Review 94, no. 3 (2000): 580.

16 Hobbes, Leviathan, 91.

17 Leviathan, 73.

18 Wolff, An Introduction to Political Philosophy, 11.

19 Hobbes, Leviathan, 87.

20 Leviathan, 87, 90.

21 James H. Read, “Thomas Hobbes: Power in the State of Nature, Power in Civil Society,” Polity 23, no. 4 (1991): 514.

22 Hobbes, Leviathan, 91.

23 Leviathan, 89.

24 Leviathan, 87 – 88.

25 Leviathan, 89.

26 Ibid.

27 Hobbes: On the Citizen, ed. R. Tuck and M. Silverthorne (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 25.

28 Leviathan, 10.

29 Dino Felluga, “Modules on Freud: On Repression,” Purdue University, http://www.purdue.edu/guidetotheory/psychoanalysis/freud3.html.

30 A.A. Berger, “Psychoanalytic Criticism,” in Media Analysis Techniques (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications), 90.

31 Hobbes, Hobbes: On the Citizen, x; Leviathan, xii.

32 Dino Felluga, “Modules on Freud: On Psychosexual Development,” in Introductory Guide to Critical Theory (Purdue University, 2011).

33 Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo, trans. James Strachey (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1950), 143.

34 Hobbes, Hobbes: On the Citizen, x; Leviathan, xii.

35 Freud, Totem and Taboo, 143.


Boon or Curse? Australia’s resource abundance effects

“All in all, I wish we had discovered water.” Sheik Ahmed Yamani (as cited in Ross, 1999)

What could prompt the Oil minister of Saudi Arabia to prefer water to ‘Black Gold’? The answer lies in a hypothesis claiming resource rich countries are at risk for a ‘resource curse’, where states can be wealthy in resources, but still be outperformed by resource poor states. This concept of a resource curse is highly contested, with a range of contradictory results. Researchers form on three fronts; those that claim the resource curse does not exist, those that agree with the hypothesis, but claim Australia has escaped these effects, and those that claim the existence of a resource curse, and consider Australia to be cursed by an abundance of resources.

While proving the existence of a ‘resource curse’ is outside the scope of this paper, it is considered to be a useful conceptual tool to investigate the effects of resources on the Australian nation. To that end, the primary concern here is with the last group, who consider that Australia has not escaped the resource curse. Through an operationalisation of the ‘resource curse’, and investigation into the main themes raised by these researchers, it will be shown that while Australia has managed to avoid some of the biggest issues within the resource curse hypothesis, there are significant reasons to consider that Australia is at risk of contracting this ‘curse’, and that these objections are likely to be exacerbated in future. We cannot become complacent on the basis of past success.

Firstly, due to the disparity of these competing claims, it is necessary to understand what the ‘resource curse’ is. As with the hypothesis, the definition is also highly contested, however for the purposes of this paper, the term is used to describe a causal relationship between a states’ level of natural resources and social, political, ecological and economic issues (Sachs & Warner, as cited in Ross, 1999, p. 300, see also van der Ploeg, 2011).

While there may have been periods where Australia was ‘episodically cursed’ (Robertson, 2008), it is widely considered that Australia has escaped this ‘curse of natural resources’ (Leveille, 2009, Robertson, 2008, Bakwena et al., 2009). These approvals stem from macroeconomic factors like the ‘terms of trade’ – the ratio of export prices to import prices – which reflect the quantity of imports that Australia can buy with its’ exports. Australias’ terms of trade are high, which implies as a nation, Australia is better off. This has led some to discount the ‘resource curse’ hypothesis, and see Australia’s resource abundance as the main ‘driver of growth’ (Wright & Czelusta, 2004), even though we may have lagged in exploration and development of technology (see David and Wright, in van der Ploeg, 2011). Advocates of the ‘resource curse’ hypothesis, who consider Australia ‘free’, have compared nations, and designated Australias’ ‘good’ institutional base inherited from Britain as the key to success. They claim this has encouraged the use of resource wealth for nation-building and development, rather than for consumption. However it would be imprudent to become complacent on this basis, as this is not a complete picture of Australias position.

For presently rich countries natural resources have been a boon and a curse. (Greasley & Madsen, 2010)

Many reasons have been cited for why Australias’ resource abundance is a curse for Australia, including social, economic, political and ecological issues surrounding the primary sector (Goodman & Worth, 2008, Stiglitz, in Langton, 2010). These issues are acknowledged by advocates of the resource curse thesis, but also recognise that they may not be captured at a macroeconomic level with available statistics (Hajkowicz et al., 2011).

Resource-rich Australia experiences strong social divisions and income inequality. Davis and Tilton acknowlege that ‘few would dispute’ that local communities are impacted most by the ‘environmental and social costs of mining’, while the money generated essentially flows out of the community (2005, p. 239). This can be seen within regions within the same state, as seen between the Pilbara region, and the Western Australian (WA) capital city, Perth. Pilbara locals often claim they are not provided with their fair share of the royalties paid for mining, and that due to localised inflation caused by the mining industry, they are facing embedded disadvantage, and are unable to entice essential services to the region (see Goodman & Worth, 2008, Langton, 2010, Pick et al., 2008). Inflationary pressures caused by the resource sector can lead to reductions in social spending, not affecting the mining sector, but impacting on all others. While the Australia Institute finds that ‘some workers’ in ‘directly affected’ industries experienced high increases in income, other ‘wage earners generally did not benefit’ from recent ‘resource booms’. (Richardson, 2009, p. 14). Langton illustrates this well: informing that “Anyone who lives in a mining province but does not work for a mining company is disadvantaged in important ways: their income is much lower, yet they must pay the same exorbitant housing, food and services costs” (2010). These divisions are translated to the national level; there are common disputes between resource dominant and manufacturing dominant states, such as those between Western Australia and New South Wales. With increased interest and investment into mining, WA benefits. However, as its collorary, this increased investment in resources generally means a reduction in investment to manufacturing, leading to significant divisions and uneven impacts (Goodman & Worth, 2008, p. 209).

Political institutions set the rules. While it is generally acknowledged that Australia has good institutional support, and so have avoided the resource curse (Davis & Tilton, 2005, p. 237, Torvik, 2009, p. 250), others claim evidence of Australia being a ‘rentier’ state (Goodman & Worth, 2008, Davis & Tilton, 2005), with governments engaging in patronage, rent seeking activities (Davis & Tilton, 2005, Langton, 2010) and ‘politically rational but economically inefficient decision-making’ (Stevens & Dietsche, 2008, p. 59) evidenced by large ‘tax breaks’ through the Howard era (Goodman & Worth, 2008, Cleary, 2011). There are also claims that the politics of resource management is skewed disproportionately towards mining magnates and their companies, instead of the community, with claims of property rights being usurped, or coerced (Langton, 2010).

Further economic issues are found in industrialised nations, where the resource curse commonly presents itself through a form of ‘Dutch disease’. A sudden increase in resources, or demand, can lead to the ‘crowding out’ of other income activities in non-mining sectors (Papyrakis & Gerlagh, 2006, p. 118) and artificially raise exchange rates (van der Ploeg, 2011), which causes products from local manufacture to become more expensive, and uncompetitive in comparison to imports. The Department of Treasury is concerned about this, since “when commodity prices normalise or when resources are depleted, tradable sectors that have disappeared might not simply reappear” (Department of Treasury, 2010, pp. 4-14). Effects like these are being seen in the realm of higher education, with international students claiming it is no longer economical to study here (Cleary, 2010). Demand is volatile If this boom continues, it may cause further issues (Robertson, 2008), because while primary products are a small proportion of GDP, secondary and tertiary sectors are also largely based on the ability of the primary sector to generate foreign exchange for imports (Conley, 2009, p. 115, Hajkowicz et al., 2011, p. 32).

Perhaps most importantly, a reliance on resources creates ecological issues, which are highlighted in Australias’ ‘resource curse’. These extracted resources are inherently non-renewable, and so have a significant impact on both current and future viability of policies and expectations of continuous growth (Robertson, 2008). This effect is compounded by the geographic distribution spread of these resources, since local exhaution leads to wastage when new operations begin in another area. This can also lead to significant degradation of the land, affecting its feasability for future use. Related to this is the impact of climate change, which is considered to be impacting on Australia with significant weather events like droughts and floods, resulting in problems with current economic activity in other industries. Mining is considered to be a major culprit in exacerbating these effects through emissions from extraction and processing; domestic energy use; and manufacturing and subsequent consumption, either domestically (through local or imported manufactures) or through Australian exports consumed overseas (Goodman & Worth, 2008).

Even success may arguably breed failure (Robertson, 2008).

These significant factors will have a bearing on Australia’s resource wealth in the future, and will influence whether this wealth is made a blessing, or curse.

Our economy, while diversified, is still heavily reliant on resources, and this has been cited as a major risk factor for the ‘resource curse’ (Karl, as cited in Angius, n.d, p. 1). In fact, Australia is considered by the World Bank to be ‘at risk’ of the resource curse (Stevens & Dietsche, 2008, p. 58). The future economy is expected to change, with current expectations of a ‘long term boom’. It is claimed that this will necessitate ‘structural adjustment’ to the economy, expecting the mining sector to expand, with a ‘relative decline’ in manufacturing (Department of Treasury, 2010, pp. 4-12). While this may be seen as pursuing Australias’ ‘competitive advantage’ (Wright & Czelusta, 2004, p. 7), it may lead to significant issues with employment, because secondary and tertiary sectors employ a larger number of personnel.

Large scale macroeconomic effects of resource abundance have been beneficial for Australia, avoiding many of the political, social and economic problems associated with the resource curse. However, when looking at the issues at the microeconomic scale resource curse effects become salient. These themes, outlined here, are indicating the increased risk of Australia becoming a victim of the ‘curse of natural resources’. Australia will be in a significantly vulnerable position if these problems further inflate, then compound the negative effects of mining on the environment. For this reason, policy action is necessary to address these issues before they become worse, since without direct action, these problems are likely to be exacerbated in future, and will lead to some of those more damaging effects of the resource curse.

Bibliography

Angius, R. (n.d) Slackening Growth, Fuelling Politics: Introducing the Resource Curse,
University of Oslo, unpublished.

Bakwena, M., Bodman, P., Le, T. & Ki Tang, K. (2009) Avoiding the Resource Curse: The Role of Institutions, in No 3209, MRG Discussion Paper Series University of Queensland, Australia Econpapers.

Cleary, P. (2010) ‘Treasury tries to tame the ‘resources curse”, The Australian, available: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/politics/treasury-tries-to-tame-the-resources-curse/story-e6frgczf-1225866679354.

Cleary, P. (2011) ‘Riding our resources ‘dumb luck’ to ruin’, The Australian, available: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/riding-our-resources-dumb-luck-to-ruin/story-fn59niix-1226108572586.

Conley, T. (2009) The Vulnerable Country: Australia and the global economy, Sydney, NSW:
UNSW Press.

Davis, G. A. & Tilton, J. E. (2005) ‘The resource curse’, Natural Resources Forum, 29 (3), 233-242.

Department of Treasury (2010) Benefiting from our Mineral Resources: Opportunities, Challenges and Policy Settings, Budget Strategy and Outlook 2010-11 no. of Canberra, ACT.

Goodman, J. & Worth, D. (2008) ‘The Minerals Boom and Australia’s ‘Resource Curse”, Journal of Australian Political Economy, 61, 201-219.

Greasley, D. & Madsen, J. (2010) ‘Curse and boon: natural resources and long-run growth in currently rich economies’, Economic Record, 86 (274), 311-328.

Hajkowicz, S. A., Heyenga, S. & Moffat, K. (2011) ‘The relationship between mining and socio-economic well being in Australia’s regions’, Resources Policy, 36 (1), 30-38.

Langton, M. (2010) ‘The resource curse’, Griffith REVIEW, 28.

Leveille, E. (2009) ‘Natural Resources: unavoidable curse or manageable asset?’, Journal of Politics & International Affairs, 108-125.

Papyrakis, E. & Gerlagh, R. (2006) ‘Resource windfalls, investment, and long-term income’, Resources Policy, 31 (2), 117-128.

Pick, D., Dayaram, K. & Butler, B. (2008) ‘Neo-liberalism, risk and regional development in Western Australia: The case of the Pilbara’, International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 28 (11/12), 516 – 527.

Richardson, D. (2009) The benefits of the mining boom: Where did they go?, in Technical Brief No. 3, The Australia Institute.

Robertson, P. L. (2008) Resource Based or Resource Cursed? A Brief (And Selective) History of the Australian Economy Since 1901, in AIRC Working Paper Series WP/0108, Hobart:
Australian Innovation Research Centre, University of Tasmania.

Ross, M. L. (1999) ‘Review: The Political Economy of the Resource Curse’, World Politics, 51 (2), 297-322.

Stevens, P. & Dietsche, E. (2008) ‘Resource curse: An analysis of causes, experiences and possible ways forward’, Energy Policy, 36 (1), 56-65.

Torvik, R. (2009) ‘Why do some resource-abundant countries succeed while others do not?’, Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 25 (2), 241-256.

van der Ploeg, F. (2011) ‘Natural Resources: Curse or Blessing?’, Journal of Economic Literature, 49 (2), 366-420.

Wright, G. & Czelusta, J. (2004) ‘The Myth of the Resource Curse’, Challenge, 47 (2), 6-38.


Small Parties in Australia: Why they have not penetrated the heart of the two-party system

“[Minor party ‘x’] has good ideas for Australia’s future. Why can’t they get into power?” moans a disappointed minor party voter at the announcement of election results.

The simple answer that ‘they lacked the votes to propel them to power’ does not abate the disappointment of voters like this. The answer, while correct, doesn’t serve to provide understanding of the underlying barriers to small party electoral success, nor does it provide a way forward for minor parties and their supporters. A more comprehensive explanation is necessary; with a focus on the federal ‘government forming’ lower house, these barriers will be explored to develop a clear understanding of the difficulties faced by minor parties in breaking the hold of the ‘two-party’ system.

To understand why minor parties have difficulty gaining electoral success, it is necessary to understand where they ‘fit’ in the Australian context. While there is a degree of contention, Australia is generally understood to be a ‘two-party’ system (Ward & Stewart, 2010, p. 153, see also Gauja, 2010). This doesn’t imply a lack of other parties; the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) confirms a current registration total of over 30 political parties (AEC 2011). However, the majority of these are ‘minor parties’ who, in spite of putting candidates up for election, achieve little or no representation in parliament (1988). In the case of some small parties, this is not problematic; several minor parties have formed with a primary goal of politicising specific issues, and success for these parties is gained through major party incorporation. Success can also be gained for all minor parties through the passing of preferences (Haeg, 2006, Ward & Stewart, 2010, p. 163, Marsh, 2003) in a majority preferential election system. With this more flexible idea of success, minor parties can effect change (Gauja, 2010); however the fact remains that, in spite of the existence of these parties, only the two ‘major’ parties are truly ‘relevant’, in the sense that they are able gain enough votes to form government (Croissant & Merkel, 2004, pp. 3-4).

There are several reasons why these two ‘major’ parties have these privileged positions. If Von Beymes’ description of political party functions is considered (see Weil, 2001, p. 2153), it is clearly seen that through the historical development of this two-party contest the major parties have: built up their party policies; articulated, aggregated and represented interests; recruited and developed their ‘political elites’, and mobilised citizens in the electorate. The major parties have also had the time to shape the publics’ political interests and thinking (Beer, as cited in Marsh, 2003, p. 258, Conley, 2004). It can be argued that the opposite is true of the small parties; this idea forms a basis of understanding the lack of electoral success, however this explanation is still too broad, and overly simplistic.

To develop this base, consideration must be given to the simple factor of time. Major parties have had a fairly considerable monopoly in the political sphere for many years. This time has allowed them to develop policies and test them on the electorate, gradually modifying them through social and institutional change. Minor parties have not had this time to develop policies and test them; it has been noted that many small parties do not survive past a 3 year threshold (see Gauja, 2010, p. 489). This has led to a circular problem of small parties in the two party system; to develop, a small party needs to gain popularity quickly, but with the brief time the parties are in existence for, the electorates largely discount them. It is also the case that minor party platforms often lack coherence, and focus on specific issues or sectors of society, limiting their appeal to ‘mainstream’ voters.

Assisting the major parties was the fact that the primary politicised social division, or ‘social cleavage’ (Weil, 2001) between Australians through much of their history was that of social class. Particular features of the ‘Australian Settlement’ helped to ensure this (see Stokes, 2004). With a more modern, individualised (see Beck & Beck-Gernsheim, 2002) and pluralised society, this old line of cleavage has become blurred, and others become salient, encouraging the development of minor parties, who found a support base initially amongst floating and swing voters (Marsh, 2004). The advantage, however, has been with the major parties, since they were better placed to react to these changes. Platforms presented by minor parties, which usually form around new social cleavages, include policies or ideas the major parties may have preferred to ignore or avoid. This has resulted in both success and failure for minor parties; a measure of minor party ‘success’, through forcing recognition of issues, and subsequent modifications to major party policies; however it has also lead to erosion of a minor parties support base, effectively shutting them out of the competition. The major parties have taken advantage of this, by the development of their policies to a relatively ‘catch-all’ position (Puhle, 2002, pp. 68-69) towards the ideological ‘centre’; this has been primarily to target, and capture those floating and swing voters (Marsh, 2003), who had provided those minor party votes. Over time, this ‘catch-all’ position has led to major parties developing policies with broad appeal, in order to maximise their votes, while leaving little ideological space for minor parties to seize.

In concert with the limited social cleavages found in Australia, minor parties have had other significant issues in maximising their vote share. Minor parties need to compete with a relatively strong ‘party identification’ that the major parties have developed amongst the population. Wattenberg (2002) describes this as a ‘vital function’ of parties in ‘simplifying choices for voters’, so that the ‘party label’ provides ‘a key informational short-cut’ in making a decision on whom ‘people like me’ vote for (2002, p. 6). This has been compounded by an almost socially inherited allegiance to one of the major parties, usually through familial connections, in spite of the blurring cleavages that formed their original support base. This type of party identification effectively shuts out minor parties, since voters identifying with the major parties are considerably less likely to vote against that party (see Dalton et al., 2002, p. 38), and are much more likely to follow instructions on the distribution of their preferences. The minor parties have not yet been able to tap into this pool of voters with their policies, which are often specific to a particular issue, or subsection of the population.

Also affecting minor party vote share is a downward trend in engagement with social and political institutions, a perceived lack of efficacy (Cox, 2002), and a lack of interest in politics in general (Norton, 2002). This has been theorised as a result of declining social capital (Cox, 2002), and a developing ‘post-modernist’ society (various, see Marsh, 2004, p. 124); This combines a lack of confidence in interactions with others in society, with considerable changes to social values. These effects can lead to voters taking ‘short cuts’ with their vote, through ‘donkey voting’, where they simply number their ballot from top to bottom, or vice versa.. Alternatively, through disinterest, or believing their vote to be insignificant, they can simply vote for a major party on the basis that they are known entities, or follow any how to vote card offered to them, without considering the implications of such an act. This is difficult to prove, since these are all considered valid ballot papers, and questioning for ‘official’ purposes is difficult to do directly.

Interestingly, party size can also be a factor in minor party success. The major parties, with their large supporter base and time developed duopoly, have considerably greater visibility in the electorate, in turn allowing them to develop a greater perception of legitimacy. This is another circular problem for the minor parties, whereby they require a substantial member and support base to be seen as ‘legitimate’ (Paskeviciute, 2005), however in order to get their message out, and develop this membership and support base, they must be visible, and seen as ‘legitimate’. The major parties have also encouraged the notion of greater accountability through the increased visibility of politics through media advertising, which has been of greater advantage to the major parties. With access to significantly higher funding, both through membership fees and government sources, the major parties can afford increased access to national and regional advertising.

This raises another related point which inhibits small party success. Media has assumed an educative role within the political sphere, and has become the primary distributor of campaign messages and platforms. Mass media has been integrated to a point where they have become an intermediary between both politicians and the electorate. This has increased the financial costs of advertising to all parties, which makes it difficult for small parties, who most often do not have this level of financial support, to get their messages heard. This can lead to voters overlooking, or outright rejecting the minor parties through a simple lack of information, rather than issues outlined previously.

Institutional factors can also lead to the impotence of small parties. Consider the electoral system used for Australian federal elections; it favours the major parties through the compulsory nature of voting, the segregation of people by arbitrary borders into electorates, and the requirement for full preferences. All of these act to inhibit the success of minor parties.

While compulsory voting may act against major parties in cases where voters are disgruntled about being forced to ‘do their democratic duty’ (Mackerras & McAllister, 1999, Engelen, 2007), and take issue with major parties, it is commonly considered that compulsory voting is both popular (Mackerras & McAllister, 1999) and assists the major parties (Ward & Stewart, 2010, p. 223, Marsh, 2004, p. 134), especially on the left side of the spectrum (Mackerras & McAllister, 1999). By compulsion, there is less of a requirement to ‘mobilise’ their voters through active lobbying and advertising in their electorates; without compulsion, it could be considered that only those who were ‘active’ participants through encouragement or interest would turn out to vote (Engelen, 2007). Compulsion may also assist major parties through ‘default’ votes cast by disinterested voters, selecting a major party because they are a ‘known’ quantity. This also highlights a psychological effect of the electoral system on voters (Croissant & Merkel, 2004, p. 14, Norton, 2002, p. 34) in that people have a tendency to back a ‘winner’.

Due to an arbitrary segregation of the population into ‘electorates’, to win a single seat, a party must achieve more than half the total votes in their electorate, either through first preferences, or in combination with later preferences. As a result, a small party doesn’t only need to be popular, but they need to have their popularity densely grouped in one or more electorates. This is especially disadvantageous for small parties, since it is common that their support base is more evenly distributed across a much wider area. It also disadvantages small parties who do not contest in every electorate, where they are potentially missing out on a seat.

Preferential voting is an example of a majoritarian plurality system; it has been noted that ‘the “absolute majority by preferences” electoral system works to ensure two-party control of the House of Representatives’ (Haeg, 2006, p. 14). Full preferential voting also forces voters to provide preferences to candidates they do not wish to support at all, since there is no option besides submitting a blank voting slip to refuse support for a particular party or parties. Bennett and Lundie also note another disproportional feature of the majoritarian system in a single member electorate. They call it the ‘winners bonus’, where there is a strong likelihood of the winning party being awarded a greater number of seats than their vote share would entitle them to (2007, p. 8).

Despite these factors limiting minor party success, the outlook for minor parties is not all bad. The research suggests increasing areas of social cleavage and a gradual decline in party identification, or ‘dealignment’ (see Dalton et al., 2002, Ward & Stewart, 2010 and others). The increase in availability and uptake of technology may help to counter the costs of media advertising through self-advertising on the internet. These factors indicate that those minor parties who develop and promote a broad policy platform to entice supporters, utilise current and emerging technologies to promote and enable voters, and ultimately recapture the interest of the electorates will have a much greater chance of success in future elections.

Overall, there are many and varied obstacles to small party success; from party specific issues, more complex societal issues, as well as institutionalised features within the system itself. As discussed earlier, the party system fulfils specific functions, which can be seen in the major parties development. To emulate this success, a small party must utilise all resources to perform these functions earlier, and better, than their major party counterparts. With research showing that major societal shifts are occurring, minor parties have been provided an opportunity to do this, and may ultimately lead to wider participation in Australian politics.

 

Bibliography

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The Macquarie Library Pty Ltd., South Yarra, VIC, Australia, [online], available: http://www.credoreference.com/entry/mdpol/minor_party.

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