Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Heady mix of parties in Aussie election

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BRISBANE -- Putting coke in school bubblers is not the inspiring, Lincolnesque pledge voters long to hear from politicians in election mode.

But the novel idea goes some way to explaining the cynicism with which many Australians have greeted the 2013 federal election campaign.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd fired the starting gun last Sunday shortly after 3 p.m. with a two-word email message to supporters -- "it's on.''

The news was warmly welcomed by his friends and foes alike. Most Australians hope the nation's much anticipated 44th parliament will free us from the fragility of a minority government, which has dogged the business of law-making and nation building for three years.

Australia wants a period of solid, sound leadership, but a quick look at the political landscape throws doubt on whether our version of democracy can ever again rely on the old political certainties.

Canadians will probably hear a few vague snippets of news about the Australian contest which most (quite rightly) won't give a damn about.

But what they won't hear is the extraordinary number of political parties lining up for the ballot.

Like most western democracies Australia once ping-ponged between left and right politics -- the left represented by Labor the right by the Liberal Party and its long time partner, the Nationals.

That table tennis match had a few hiccups in the half century since the Second World War. We've seen the rise of the Democratic Labor Party in the 1950s, the Democrats in the '70s and the Greens towards the end of the century.

But the two-variable equation of "Liberal/Labor'' in Aussie politics was readily grasped in an electorate where voters often belonged to the party they voted for.

How the times, they have a-changed. This week the Australian Electoral Commission confirmed a record 54 parties have their right to put a name on a ballot paper in the Sept. 7 poll.

That's double the number that turned out for the 2010 election, and while many are merely special interest groups (Bullet Trains for Australia) pretending to be political parties, many are serious outfits which will win a small percentage of the vote.

Long time political observer Ian Ward, who lectures in politics at the University of Brisbane, says the trend is the death knell for the old certainties.

The rise of social media combined with an increasingly vocal and sophisticated electorate have allowed democracy to give its voice full roar, and it's coming at us from all angles.

Australians won't opt for a prime minister emerging from the Shooters and Fishers Party.

Nor will the Australian Sex Party, the Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) Party, the Motoring Enthusiasts Party or the Pirates Party be in charge of the nation's future (and treasury).

But the Coke Bubblers Party does give an articulate voice to the frustration behind the rise of so many alternatives view points.

The Coke Bubblers are running a good line in irony but they do make a serious point about the Groundhog Day that is Australian politics.

The Bubblers take their name from student elections in high schools, where ambitious candidates promised to put coke in the water fountains as a sure fire way of winning office.

"Unfortunately, it feels like our political leaders are trapped in a system that still forces them to promise short and sell long,'' the Bubblers say.

"We're fed up with all the name-calling and finger-pointing.

"We're tired of going in circles between Left and Right, Labor and Liberal, even though we can barely tell the difference anymore.''

Michael Madigan is the Free Press correspondent in Australia. He writes mostly about politics for the Brisbane-based Courier Mail.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 9, 2013 A9

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