Tim Tams. Vegemite. Paw Paw. Of all the gifts to the world Australia has to offer, why is Trump choosing to import two of the most flawed?
The news that President Trump is basing his immigration plan on Australia’s turned my stomach. While Australia takes in more immigrants than the United States on a percentage basis, the system is rigged towards the wealthy, educated and connected. So much for your tired, your poor, your huddled masses. What’s more, the recently leaked transcript of the call between Australian Prime Minister Turnbull and President Trump shows they are also making backroom deals on refugees. People, including families with children, have put their lives at risk to start anew and are now being held on islands like criminals, leading to high levels of depression and suicide. It’s one of Australia’s greatest shames, but per the transcript President Trump called it, “a good idea,” adding, “We should do that too.”
The morning after the 2016 Presidential election, I asked myself what I was willing to do to be a part of the resistance. How far was I willing to go?
The answer, as it turns out, is exactly 7,497 miles.
One month ago, I moved from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles, California to join the resistance. After living in Sydney for almost 12 years, I moved my cat, dog, husband and two kids back to the states to join Revolution Messaging and empower organizations to fight back.
Twelve years gives you time to get perspective on a few things. I joked when I moved to Australia that it was in part a political protest of the Bush administration. Little did I know how much things could change. From my new perspective in Australia, I watched wistfully as America corrected course a few years later, electing Barack Obama and gradually achieving the kind of progress we could only dream of under Bush. Trump’s election changed all that. With hard fought gains in health care, climate change mitigation, LGBT rights, immigrant rights, labor rights and education now at risk because of Trump, this time I could not stay away.
While many of my friends were asking me how they could get a visa to live in Australia, I began planning a move back stateside to do my part to fight the Trump agenda.
During my time in Oz, I stayed in touch with what was going on back home as Chair of Democrats Abroad Australia, and while working on campaigns for many progressive organizations including Greenpeace, Antarctic Ocean Alliance, Australian Marriage Equality, WWF, ActionAid, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, labor unions and left leaning political parties.
Even though Australians were always interested in what I could bring to the table from my American political background, I have walked away with a new perspective on areas where America can learn from the Aussies. If Trump is looking for policy help from Australia, he should not be looking at immigration and refugee policy.
Looking to import some policy ideas? Look at how Australia runs its elections.
It’s about issues, not personality. One of the pleasures of the parliamentary system is that parties campaign about the issues. Sure, individual personalities get caught up in the rhetoric, but by and large campaigns are about issues, not people.
Turn off the TV. Now, you might find this surprising from someone who works for a company in the paid advertising business. But Australia’s broadcast media blackout for political advertising the week leading up to an election makes for a much more interesting final stretch – one of an interchange of ideas rather than barbs and attacks.
This rule is one of the many reasons why campaigns in Australia cost less, which means that there is not as much time spent by candidates fundraising. Which leads us to the next point.
Money can’t buy you love. The 2016 US presidential election cost upwards of $1.5 billion. The 2016 Australian election cost just under $1 million, or 0.000007% of the U.S. election. (Yes, Oz has fewer people – about 7% of the US population -, so not nearly enough to compensate for the difference). To drive that point home, spending by Australian parties amounted to about 5 cents per person, while US candidates spent more than $4.50 per person.
This kind of money in an election distorts the process and puts special interests ahead of the public. The disastrous Citizens United decision means it might just get worse before it gets better.
Everyone votes. Australia’s compulsory voting laws make it a democracy that is truly participatory. Of course, it is a double edged sword in a way. Forced voting means that not everyone who goes to the polls is informed or cares, and many make a “donkey” vote, meaning they will write in “Mickey Mouse,” or some such. Still, it’s always better to have more people vote than fewer.
Not that Australia has it all right – we still don’t have marriage equality, we have heavily regulated abortion laws in most states, and the public school system has been suffering under the Australian version of the Betsy DeVos plan for quite some time.
Even so, America’s resistance movement will benefit by keeping the best lessons from the land down under close at heart. And I will be here to spread the word: The political process should be about the issues (not attacks), votes should not be for sale, and – ultimately and most importantly – it takes the participation of all people to make this the truly remarkable country it has been and can be.