For those outside of Australia, we'll be having our federal election on Saturday. The major contestants are John Howard, the incumbent conservative leader of the Liberal Party who has been in power since 1996, and Kevin Rudd, leader of the centrist Australian Labor Party.
Once again, as a staunch libertarian I find myself faced with the very difficult question of who to vote for. I have major objections to both parties, so I find myself trying to pick the lesser of the two evils. Here's a summary of both candidates.
John Howard has been the second longest running PM in Australian history. His policies have been socially conservative, and, debatably, economically conservative. On social issues Howard has opposed gay marriage, opposed safe injecting rooms for heroin users, declared his government as having zero-tolerance for drugs, opposed the RU486 abortion drug, and opposed cloning research.
On foreign policy Howard has been staunchly pro-US, being one of the handful of countries to actively participate in the Iraq war. He has also been staunchly pro-Israel. He has been very outgoing in pursuing trade relationships with our Asian neighbours, in particular China.
Howard received both both a lot of criticism and a lot of praise (at the time) for the infamous 'children overboard' affair, where a group of refugees arriving by boat were alienated and accused of having thrown their children overboard, which was later found to be a fabrication.
One of the main issues being debated during this election is the so-called 'Work Choices' legislation, which was introduced by Howard. This legislation provides a framework for private employer-employee contracts in the workplace. This policy has been extremely controversial, and has been viewed by many as an attempt to wrestle away power from the union movement.
Howard has succeeded in keeping budgets in surplus, and using the proceeds to massively reduce government debt. He has also kept unemployment rates very low. However, he has received some criticism for failing to use his surpluses to reduce taxation levels. Howard has overseen the introduction of middle-class welfare on an unprecedented scale, which undermines his credibility as an economic conservative. He has introduced grants for first home buys, introduced one off payments for babies, and introduced a plethora of other payments and subsidies.
One of the major policy platforms of Rudd during his election campaign has been his opposition to the Work Choices legislation, which he has vowed to repeal. He has received some criticism for his party's close connection with the union movement, which many cite as the real motivation behind his opposition to Work Choices. Despite his opposition to Work Choices, Rudd has indicated that he would retain some elements of the labour market reforms.
Rudd, like Howard, has declared his opposition to gay marriage. He is a self-declared economic conservative, and has promised to keep the budget balanced. He has claimed to have identified billions of dollars in savings to reduce government spending.
On foreign policy, Rudd has declared his support for the US alliance and pursuing closer ties with Asia. He has vowed to pursue ties with China and the US. During a recent visit by a Chinese delegation to Australia, he addressed the Chinese President in fluent Mandarin, wowing the delegation and audience.
Rudd has promised massive government investment in nation-wide internet infrastructure and more spending on education.
It's very difficult for a Libertarian to decide which of these options is the lesser evil. Howard has a proven track record in social conservatism, which I whole heartedly oppose, while Rudd's ambitions are less clear. Economically, Howard is a self-declared economic conservative, but, while he has paid off debt and maintained surpluses, his embrace for middle-class welfare and failure to significantly reduce taxes are unpalatable. Howard's support for the Iraq war, and the scandalous children overboard affair have been equally morally unsavory.
While it's difficult to judge Rudd, since he has no track record as PM, the Labor Party is traditionally less socially conservative than the Liberal Party. I support freedom and flexibility in the workplace, and therefore oppose his promise to overturn Work Choices. Finally, Howard has been in power since 1996, more than my entire adult life, in part due to a string of poor Labor leaders, which left the party is disarray. In my view this has led Howard and his government to become complacent. As a result I feel that a fresh leader would be welcome. In my view, Rudd, as the current Labor leader, is a stronger leader with a clearer policy agenda than his predecessors. As such, I feel that this is perhaps the appropriate time for a change of government.