Will we get a new opposition party?

There is a now familiar aftermath to significant Liberal defeats. People say that the Liberal Party is finished, and needs replacing as the opposition party. BA Santamaria took this view in the mid-1980s (see his essay in Australia at the Crossroads). Norman Abjorensen is the most frequent advocate of this position today, in his rather feverish Crikey contributions and elsewhere. John Quiggin has joined in the funeral rites, and Steve Biddulph argued in the SMH last week that the Greens would replace the Liberals as the main opposition party to Labor.

While I can see the theoretical argument as to why existing political alignments don’t neatly match the Australian population or contemporary issues, in practice the major parties are deeply entrenched. In the last 60 years, only three minor parties have had a lasting parliamentary presence outside of a Coalition with the Liberals, and of these only the Greens have a secure future.

While the Green sociological base is large enough to give them a base vote larger than the Democrats, it is not yet clear that the Greens can genuinely make the transition from an issue movement to a mass political party, with all the compromises and deals that would inevitably require. The consternation caused by the very idea of a preference deal with the Liberals in the 2006 Victorian state election, even though the Greens are unlikely to win lower-house seats without Liberal preferences, highlights the problem. Identity politics and democratic politics sit uneasily together.

The 7.5% Green House of Representatives vote in 2007 over-states their reliable support. Continue reading “Will we get a new opposition party?”

Should public schools be privatised? Day 2

[Introduction] [Day 1]

From Andrew Leigh:

Dear A.N,

I’ve enjoyed your writings on education for some time, so am chuffed to be discussing perhaps the biggest issue in education policy: should we have public schools at all? I’m also pleased for another reason – after a year of getting beaten up by the AEU and ACER for my work on teacher quality, I’m finally lining up with the comrades on an education policy issue.

Our question concerns one of the great puzzles of public finance. Across the globe, there is huge variation in whether governments play an active role in banking, airlines, pensions, and even health. But so far as I am aware, every government in the world runs a large share of the schools in that country. As Julius Sumner Miller (a privately-paid educator, you’ll point out) used to say on Australian television, ‘Why is it so?’

You suggest one answer: governments use public education as a means of indoctrinating their citizenry. I don’t deny that this can be important. My mother – an educational anthropologist – wrote her PhD thesis on the way in which the Indonesian government used schools in Aceh to indoctrinate young Acehnese minds into the belief that their identity was as Indonesians first, and Acehnese second.

Still, indoctrination isn’t all bad. I’d like to live in an Australia where children shared a basic understanding of democratic values, and understood our geography and our history. I’m more confident that public schools will achieve this than I am about private schools. Sure, lots of people have been fighting over what should be in the school curriculum, but we’ve also been hotly arguing about refugee policy and water policy. Sometimes conflict is a sign that an issue matters.
Continue reading “Should public schools be privatised? Day 2”