Month: August 2014
New Zealand Election TV ads
here’s the first Nationals TV ad for the 2014 NZ election
and here’s the first NZ Labour TV ad for the 2014 NZ election
More to come…
More “black ops” accusations hit NZ PM Key’s office (article via The Guardian)
The New Zealand Revolution – a look back at a critical series of event in recent NZ political history.
Ben Raue’s guide to NZ elections: http://www.tallyroom.com.au/21105
Victorian Election starts to heat up – 100 days to go
Each of the Victorian Campaign Directors and their Campaign Headquarters will now have a big sign (or whiteboard) somewhere in the office with number 100 in big, bold letters.
I read this run-down earlier today on the Guardian website by Gay Alcorn and it’s quite a good summary. No need for me to reinvent the wheel! I’ll do a bit more research over the weekend and add some more tid-bits. back soon! 🙂
Ben Raue at The Tally Room on the upcoming ACT Redistribution
Ben Raue lives in Sydney and is the resident data analyst for GetUp. If you’re interested in Australian elections (and other elections) his blog The Tally Room is worth following on Twitter (as is Ben’s twitter account).
I’ve also just added Ben to my list of favourite Australian Political Blogs here.
Regarding the next ACT redistribution (which includes an expansion of the ACT Assembly from 17 to 25 seats) there has already been a few drafts circulated by “insiders” speculating about the size, shape and composition of the new five electorates.
As Ben correctly points out, the guiding principals that Elections ACT will use to manage the redistribution process are pretty clear. There is a growing consensus that the five electorates will be based on Tuggeranong, Woden/Weston, the Inner city (including the parliamentary triangle south of the lake that divides the city), Belconnen and Gungahlin. There have been approximate maps of such an arrangement previously distributed by former Greens candidate and Gungahlin Community Council President Alan Kerlin during the most recent redistribution process in the ACT in 2011.
Ben provided a rough map in a previous post here which gives an approximate shape for each likely electorate based on past booth locations.
He’s also “taken the results by polling place of the 2012 results to produce my estimate of how many quotas each party would have polled in each of these five hypothetical electorates in 2012.” and produced the following table:
Ben explains “Bear in mind that each electorate will need to have approximately 20% of the ACT population within it. The current legislation allows electorates to diverge from the average by up to 10% at the time of the redistribution, and by up to 5% of the estimated population at the time of the next election.”
Would there be any consequences if the size of electorates were allowed to differ greatly from average? Say by changing the margin at the date of the election from +/- 5% to +/-10%? This would certainly allow more long-term stability in the boundaries. Canberra is a very well-planned city were population projections can be fairly well predicted years in advance. However the Electoral Commissioner has previously argued that a tighter margin is fairer as it reduces the disparity in the value of votes between different electorates.
Antony Green also posted on this topic earlier this year.
other options? There was a radical proposal in 2011 to move the larger seven-member electorate to encompass both Belconnen and Gungahlin. Such a radical redistribution is unlikely and it’s probably unlikely two major town centres would be combined due to the fact it will make further radical redistributions almost inevitable.
Twitter, media and politics
Twitter is a relatively recent communications tool and its affect on mass media and politics is still evolving in rapid and sometimes unpredictable ways.
There are already very lengthy and serious research papers being written on the subject and I don’t claim any particular research experience or expertise. However I have enjoyed watching the evolution of this new communications conduit and I’ve made a few mistakes myself along the way. Some funnier than others!
For the purposes of this short article my views and learnings (briefly) are:
1. Journos are learning how important Twitter is, but a few dinosaurs remain. The younger and hipper ones are clearly much better at it. The smart ones understand how to use lists and hashtags to monitor developments and also answer legitimate questions. They also aren’t afraid to block anonymous trolls.
2. Twitter now drives breaking news in mainstream media. The good journos get this. Many mainstream media stories are now peppered with pictures, videos and eyewitness accounts ripped straight from Twitter, often without any investigative or precautionary fact-checking.
3. Twitter is a good comms tool for insiders, sadly no soft or swinging voter’s minds will ever be changed on twitter,
4. The block key is great for anonymous trolls. Don’t feed the anonymous trolls.
The story below is an interesting yarn from the US via Campaigns and Elections magazine (a great resource for campaigners and journalists alike). I recommend subscribing to them for regular updates as well as following them on Facebook and Twitter.
Read the full article online here: http://www.campaignsandelections.com/magazine/us-edition/446907/is-twitter-ruining-young-press-operatives.thtml
It’s a great warning for young, enthusiastic (and sometimes inexperienced) digital campaigners (of which there are many in modern campaigning).
Key learnings from the article above include:
1. Here’s just one example: a snarky tweet from our opponent’s communications director ended up being retweeted a dozen times (I assume entirely by his friends and family), and this suddenly constituted a communications crisis for our campaign. It wasn’t. Not even close.
2. As all encompassing as Twitter seems in the Beltway Bubble, many voters, especially older voters who are your most reliable voting demographic, don’t use it. Some have no idea what Twitter is. And those who do are probably tweeting about the score of the latest baseball game, not the negative attack ad on TV.
3. Campaign communication plans need to be balanced with both traditional and new media, which means we need operatives who are balanced, and most importantly, know how to filter out the noise. Young operatives have come up in a world where everyone is on Twitter and everyone uses their Facebook accounts. In their world, much of public life is transacted online. The reality of life for most voters is far different. They’re reading news stories, in many cases online, but still a good portion in print. They’re also listening to talk radio and watching live broadcast television. A good hit in any of these mediums is far more likely to move voters than a tweet.
4. If Twitter is your only news source, which too often it is for many political reporters, some random malfeasance would appear to have seismic repercussions when survey research would show 80 percent of voters are unaware of the issue at all.
5. Now, this isn’t to say that social media sites like Twitter are useless to campaigns. They can be great ways to communicate with supporters, opinion makers, and drive action, but social media alone, or even primarily, does not move popular opinion or shape the discussion the way a print story in the major local daily does.
That said, Twitter does drive many mainstream stories, simply because of its speed and accessibility. Take for examples our (current) Federal Treasurer’s recent statements about poor people not owning cars or driving far. The explosion of memes and jokes on twitter (in which mainstream journalists shared and participated in the online furor) resulted in this joke even being carried the next day in conservative newspapers like the Herald Sun. It’s a good example of a story spreading initially through twitter and then the mainstream media. The MPs and candidates who were paying attention were able to participate in the conversation and in some cases help spread the wildfire which the conservatives are still trying to extinguish two days later.
There were some more hilarious tweets and memes the following day and then a further wave of very funny cartoons in the mainstream media after that (and online) .
here is a small sample found via google and twitter:
Anyway, don’t just take my word for it. Go to twitter and type “#auspol Hockey” into the search field …and enjoy the visual spectacle yourself.
If all this talk about Joe Hockey is a bit confusing (maybe you’re reading this via Pandora in a few years time) … this article by Lenore Taylor might help to make some sense out of it: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/14/dumb-ways-to-sell-a-budget-a-singalong-guide-for-joe-hockey?CMP=twt_gu
While I’m typing this up poor old Joe Hockey is getting an absolute shellacking on ABC PM radio in Australia. I’m listening to a Vox Pop where every person is describing him as arrogant and out of touch. Will try and find a transcript later and add it to this post.
12 years ago in New Zealand – one outsider’s glimpse of the 2002 NZ election
In 2002 I wrote a short report report summarising observations made during my participation in a NZ election study tour sponsored by the Australian Political Exchange Council (APEC). The delegation from Australia included representatives from the Labor, Liberal, National, Democrat and Green Parties. Participants were invited to construct their own itineraries focussing on personal and political interests. I must begin by thanking APEC and Gary Gray, who was then one of the Labor representative on the APEC Board, for this opportunity – I am sure that other participants will agree it was an extraordinary journey into New Zealand politics and culture.
Our activities focused primarily on the New Zealand Labour Party’s campaign. The study tour included visits to Wellington, Auckland and a day at Rotorua. Our itinerary included (amongst other events and meetings listed in the report): Prior to departure, a briefing at the New Zealand High Commission in Canberra; In Wellington, several meetings with Mike Smith – General Secretary, New Zealand Labour; In Wellington – briefings from Jenny Michie – Women’s Organiser and Communications Officer New Zealand Labour; Labour ministerial staff election campaign briefing – led by Heather Simpson – Chief of staff for Prime Minister Helen Clark; Meeting with David Burchett – IT/Communications Manager for Prime Minister’s office; Meeting with Dot Kettle – Senior Advisor to PM Helen Clark; Meeting with Tony Timms – Advisor to PM Helen Clark; Meeting with Marian Hobbs MP – Environment Minister and Member for Wellington Central and Electorate Representative Jordan Carter; Attended a very entertaining old-school town-hall-style ‘Meet the Candidates’ function at Kiora Community Hall (for Wellington Central candidates); Attended fundraising performance by ‘Hen’s Teeth’ for Ohariu-Belmont Campaign; Visited Te Papa National Museum Wellington; Attended Televised Candidates Debate (front row seats!); Lunch meeting with Chris Eichbaum – Senior Advisor to Hon Steve Maharey MP, Minister for Social Services, Employment, Tertiary Education; Meeting with Mike Williams–New Zealand Labour Party President and Campaign Manager; Meeting with Stephen Mills – Managing Director, UMR Research Ltd.; Attended Labour Campaign Launch – International Wharf Wellington; Accompanied General Secretary Mike Smith and Assistant General Secretary Murdo Macmillan at official briefing by Mark Johns, Manager of Operations Electoral Enrolment Centre, New Zealand Post; Briefing with Labour Auckland Regional Organiser Andrew Beyer and Labour Maori Organiser Jason Ake; Attended Campaign Meeting for Maungakiekie campaign (Mark Gosche MP); Meeting with Chris Carter MP at his electorate office; Meeting with Jonathan Hunt – Speaker of the New Zealand Parliament; Assisted with preparations for Helen Clark visit to Manakau Westfield shopping centre; Met Prime Minister Helen Clark at Manakau Westfield (and have a bad photo as proof!); Visited Waitakere Campaign Office in Glen Eden; Meeting with Labor candidate for Waitakere Ms Lynne Pillay; Meeting and briefing with Waitakere campaign manager Don Clarke; Sign Painting, door-to-door canvassing, billboard construction in Waitakere; Campaigning in Atoa Markets – campaigning/leaflets; Briefing with John Utting and visited UMR polling centre in Auckland; Attended Auckland Labour Party campaign directors meeting; Meeting with NZ Engineers Union organisers and activists at Auckland office; Going door-to-door to get out the voters on election day; Scrutineering during the election and in the evening during the count; and (on one day of rest) visited Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley and Maori village at Rotorua.
MMP – New Zealand’s Parliamentary system
The Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)* system was adopted in New Zealand in 1996 via referendum as a solution for the electorate’s frustration with the existing first-past-the-post system. Voters were fed up by the behaviour of previous governments, which abused the unchecked mandate delivered by a first-past-the-post system. MMP effectively ensures that no single party can rule in its own right. The election on Saturday 27 July 2002 was the third election under the MMP system. Under MMP each voter receives a single ballot paper on which they choose (by placing two ticks on the paper) a local representative candidate (from the list of candidates for the local seat), as well as a party vote. The New Zealand Parliament has 120 MPs. 61 MPs represent 61 general electorates. 6 MPs represent 6 Maori electorates (elected by voters on the Maori electoral roll only). 53 MPs are elected from the party lists in a manner that ensures their party’s final proportion in the parliament reflects their party’s ‘party vote’. In order to be represented in parliament, a party must either reach a 5% threshold in its party vote or hold at least one local electorate seat (in which case 2% of the Party vote will get you a friend elected as well from your ‘party list’). As far as the major parties are concerned, MMP necessitates that the focus of the election campaign is maximising your ‘party vote’, even at the local campaign level. A high party vote ensures that the maximum number of candidates from your ‘party list’ is elected and you are more likely to be part of the inevitable coalition Although Labour won three quarters of local electorates it still needed coalition partners to form a government. As it only won 41% of the party vote it only received 52 MPs in total.
Campaigning is campaigning: The NZ election campaign in a nutshell.
The New Zealand election showed that successful election campaign methods are universal: Assess the environment; define your strategy and implement appropriate However, despite the complicated calculations when counting the MMP ballot – the basic political tactics during this campaign remained the same as under any electoral system. Electorally successful parties (Labour, New Zealand First, United Future) increased their popular vote by: having a simple message that resonated with voters, repeating that message ad nauseum in their campaign material, maximising the coverage of their message in free-to-air media and canvassing for votes. Electorally unsuccessful parties (the Nationals and the Alliance) never had a fighting chance because their original strategy was flawed. They targeted the same constituency (with the same message) that had got them elected in 96 and 99, despite all the signs that the political landscape had seismically shifted around them. The leaders of both the Nationals and Alliance spent the last two weeks of the campaign in damage control.
Labour won almost three quarters of the local electorates and ended up with three extra seats – enough to form a minority Coalition Government with Jim Anderton (a reliable ex-Labour coalition partner) and another minor party. The National Party was decimated, receiving only half of the Labour popular vote. Traditional National Party voters deserted in droves to other conservative parties who had stolen their traditional message (and constituency) during the campaign.
The full report can be found here: AusPol Exchange Hallaj report (apologies for any typos in this 12 year old pdf version of this report).
I’ll come back to this post or a linked post to give a run-down of the current New Zealand electoral landscape as well as some coverage of interesting events and observations from the 2014 NZ election campaign, due later this year.
In the meantime, here’s the best place to start if you’re an aspiring psephologist: http://www.elections.org.nz/events/2014-general-election
Vale Robin Williams. He never shied away from jokes about sex, politics and religion.
Today the world lost a great comedian who brought much joy and humour to millions of lives.
Robin Williams never shied away from taboo topics or important issues. He wasn’t without fault and often pointed them out himself.
Here he describes 10 years in US politics:
He also participated in many worthy causes:
this is one of my favourites – Robin Williams and Stevie Wonder helping recruit Young Democrats!
And here he is talking about his first serious Broadway role… he was a great communicator who will be sorely missed.
Would you name your daughter after a Nintendo game? This is so cool! 🙂
Great story about one of his recent movies here: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/sep/20/robin-williams-worlds-greatest-dad-alcohol-drugs?CMP=twt_gu
Peter Brent (@Mumbletwits) casts a sceptical eye over opinion polls and the media’s obsession with them
I like Peter Brent (and so does Malcolm Mackerras) even though I disagree with his obsessive criticism of Wayne Swan and Penny Wong, both of whom I admire greatly. For those minor faults though Peter has a world of wisdom to share about politics and political science. Despite his reluctance to be labelled a psephologist he does have a very good grasp of election numbers, “the vibe” and “common sense” when it comes to interpreting polls and election results.
Me in Inside Story getting, um, meta on opinion polls. http://t.co/fwhiM9gqSM
— Peter Brent (@mumbletwits) August 7, 2014
As a party professional I have been privileged to have access and use of opinion polling and must admit that I have learnt to always treat it VERY carefully. Peter is correct in that it is often misinterpreted and misused, not just in the mainstream media. At a recent Campaign Management and Political Marketing Workshop at Sydney University one of the highlights was a presentation by Stephen Mills from UMR, in defence of opinion polls. I’ll share those insights in a future post!
Here are some highlights from Peter Brent’s latest work on opinion polls and pollsters (full text here at inside.org.au If-an-election-had-been-held-on-the-weekend) and if you haven’t subscribed to Inside.org.au yet, seriously, what are you waiting for?
“Within the political class, Newspoll is the most watched and most influential. Published every second Tuesday in the Australian, the poll results are interpreted for readers by the paper’s political writers. It’s that interpretation – captured in headlines and opening paragraphs – that’s repeated, largely unquestioned, on ABC radio news bulletins and in other media across the country. No one holds a gun to their heads to force them to follow the Australian line, but something about the news-creation process means that they do. It’s probably just the path of least resistance.”
“The routine preface to the media reporting of survey results – “If an election had been held on the weekend…” – is terribly misleading. No poll can tell us what result an election last weekend, preceded by a campaign, would have thrown up. A pollster contacts a person and asks him or her to imagine there is an election today – and how would you vote? It’s a preposterously hypothetical and artificial exercise: a silly question eliciting silly answers.”
“Even after an over-hyped Malaysia Airlines–induced “boost” in satisfaction ratings, the most recent Newspoll had Tony Abbott on just 36 per cent satisfaction and the government trailing in voting intentions after preferences 46 to 54. At the equivalent time in his prime ministership, Kevin Rudd enjoyed 65 per cent satisfaction and the government led 54 to 46. John Howard was on 52 per cent satisfaction and the Coalition was in front 53 to 47. But Rudd didn’t even make it to the next election. Howard did, and scraped back, and then comfortably won two more. The Abbott government might be performing “badly” in the opinion polls but today’s numbers mean almost nothing. At the same time they mean a lot, because political players can’t ignore the way they influence what the media sees as the “narrative.”
“Abbott would be aware that if the polls continue as they are, speculation will arise about his prime ministership. His actions will increasingly be interpreted through the polls. On the Labor side, new rules have provided institutional ballast to the leadership, but they can be easily reversed. One day the forty-fourth parliament will end, and we’ll be starting a new one, most likely with a re-elected Coalition government. The mid-2014 polls will be long forgotten, and probably, with hindsight, judged laughably unreliable.”
If you have time after reading that article above by Peter you might also want to read the one in the link below. As I said on twitter when I shared it – I don’t agree with all of it but I’m still quite keen to read part 2! 🙂
Me rating various MPs' political skills. Beginning with one Georgey Brandis: http://t.co/wnstxkKtlr
— Peter Brent (@mumbletwits) August 8, 2014
Political Thriller to be filmed in Canberra Australia
From the Canberra Times today:
A multimillion-dollar six-part fictional mini-series shot in Canberra, and peeling back the capital’s layers of power, is now in the development stage.
Based on The Mandarin Code and The Marmalade Files books by journalists Steve Lewis and Chris Uhlmann, the mini-series is in the hands of production company Matchbox Pictures, known for its work on The Slap and The Straits.
A statement from Foxtel confirmed it would be working with Matchbox Pictures with funding support from Screen Australia. Prime Minister Tony Abbott was expected to make the announcement while launching the book at Parliament House 10.30am Wednesday.
Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said it would be fantastic for Canberra.
“There’s nothing bad about this, it’s all great,” Ms Gallagher said.
“For anyone who loves the city it will be wonderful to watch.
“Just the exposure that [Canberra] will get through Screen Australia.
“What we all love about the city is going to be projected as part of this wonderful story by two local authors and respected journalists.”
Pene Lowe, owner of Hansel and Gretel cafe at Phillip featured in two key scenes in The Mandarin Code, was thrilled about the news and about her shop being included in the fictional storyline.
“We need to put up a little sign saying ‘spies corner’,” Ms Lowe said…
More here: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/multimilliondollar-political-film-project-to-be-shot-in-canberra-20140806-100w5u.html
The Hard Sell – what would Dee Madigan do with Jack Lyons?
I was distracted during my lunchbreak today by the latest political scandal to hit the front pages. This one was the story of the now disendorsed Liberal candidate Jack Lyons from Bendigo.
The full story is here: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/bendigo-west-liberal-candidate-jack-lyons-quits-over-racist-sexist-offensive-jibes-including-bendigo-needing-an-enema/story-fni0fit3-1227013304657?nk=593763a54a2161a51d10420f90cc4ff0
It’s a real shocker.
Sometimes in politics leaders have to make tough, difficult decisions and this is one where you have to give the Victorian Liberals some credit… but also ask why it took so long? Why didn’t anyone ring an alarm bell earlier, or was it rung and ignored until the cost in advertising and marketing the deteriorating Liberal brand in Victoria become too high?
Maybe the answer lies in one of the latest books on political advertising and marketing (currently on my ridiculously long ‘to-read’ list) https://www.mup.com.au/items/144842 ?
It’s worth following the link just to see Dee Madigan’s amusing promotional trailer. http://youtu.be/nOfvD7MpAC0
In case you don’t subscribe to the Australian. Today there’s a short review and interview about Dee’s new book by Troy Bramston (which can be found and read via Google): http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/labor-cant-blame-media-for-2013-election-loss/story-fn59niix-1227013342421
“LABOR’S election advertising strategist, Dee Madigan, says the party cannot blame the media for its defeat last year given its own communication failures and reveals she opposed a push from Kevin Rudd’s inner circle to target News Corp Australia over allegations of media bias.
“Certain forces within the PM’s office tried to push this as part of the (campaign) narrative,” Ms Madigan writes in The Hard Sell : The Tricks of Political Advertising.
“Media bias is just not something that resonated with the swinging voters.”
Ms Madigan’s book, to be launched today by former Queensland Labor premier Anna Bligh, exposes other divisions over campaign strategy, including the “A New Way” slogan and Kevin Rudd’s micromanagement of campaign operations.
While criticising The Daily Telegraph’s election coverage, Ms Madigan reveals the issue of media bias did not rate as an issue with voters in the party’s focus groups.
“I remember one focus group at which the facilitator tried over and over to see if there was any interest in media bias,” Ms Madigan writes. “One fellow finally piped up and said, ‘Well I do think the media in this country is biased … Collingwood always gets a bad rap’.”
Ms Madigan describes Labor’s “A New Way” slogan as “a terrible idea” and says it was imposed on the campaign by Mr Rudd, who “wanted it”.
“While ‘A New Way’ was a decent strategy for Rudd’s comeback, it should never have been the strapline of the positive ads,” Ms Madigan writes. “Because unless we were planning on staying totally positive … the entire press would rightly call us hypocrites.”
When asked if the slogan “A New Way” would appear with ads Ms Madigan was shooting, her response was blunt: “Only if we want every single f..king person to laugh at us.”
Mr Rudd’s strategist, Bruce Hawker, wrote in his campaign diary that the slogan was recommended by advertising leader Neil Lawrence, that it tested well, and it was agreed to at meetings attended by Ms Madigan.
The Hard Sell (MUP) examines advertising, particularly political advertising, in Australia. It couples extensive academic research with the author’s experience in corporate, community and political communications.
Ms Madigan says Labor stopped referring to “Gonski” as a label for its school reforms as “it had no emotional pull for parents” unlike the term “education funding”.
Although Ms Madigan strongly defends Labor’s economic management she says the party failed to communicate this effectively.
“We never did manage to sell the economy. As tempting as it would be to put all the blame at the feet of a largely unfriendly press, the reality was that much of the problem lay with Labor’s failure to sell its handling of the global financial crisis.”
[new article] Advertising strategist @deemadigan says Labor can’t blame the media for its ’13 defeat in a new book http://t.co/ByDcDyvBJD
— Troy Bramston (@TroyBramston) August 4, 2014
Updated 14/08/14 – Dee Madigan and Stephen Mills both appeared with Rob Sitch on ABC Melbourne to discuss the “tricks of political advertising and campaigning” (their words not mine!) listen here:
The tricks of political advertising and campaigning – ABC Melbourne – Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Highlights of the podcast include:
Jon Faine’s co-host is director, producer, screenwriter, actor and comedian, Rob Sitch whose latest ABC TV series Utopia, premiered last night at 8:30pm.
Their first guest is creative director, author and political commentator, Dee Madigan. Her book is called The Hard Sell: The tricks of political advertising.
“Negative ads work and the reason they work is because they hone in on the people who are disengaged,” she says.
“Disengaged voters are far more likely to vote against a party than for them.”
Then they are joined by Dr Stephen Mills, former speechwriter to Prime Minister Bob Hawke and political journalist, who now lectures at the Graduate School of Government at the University of Sydney.
When asked about the campaign directors that he interviewed for his latest book, The Professionals: Strategy, Money and the Rise of the Political Campaigner in Australia, he says, “They’re intelligent, they’re focused, they are loyal party servants and they are doing their job which is to win the election.
“I think the real reason Rudd lost from a campaign point-of-view, is that he had no discipline in his campaign strategy.”
and no discussion about political advertising would be complete without the inclusion of this explanatory dissection of negative Liberal TV ads from 2007:
Could this happen today? around 60,000 Australians obliterated in a distant war 100 years ago
You can’t study the history of politics and campaigning without being exposed to the historical facts around Australia’s past involvement in wars and how governments rose and fell during these conflicts in our recent history. Despite our relative isolation and peace, war has had a big impact on Australia’s past and its current psyche.
I respect current and past members of Australia’s armed forces and the sacrifices many have made in the past (and today) in the name of our nation. I think our many war memorials and ANZAC Day commemorations serve as an important reminder of the massive sacrifice that has been made by Australian service men and women in the past, sometimes in wars and conflicts they didn’t really understand or believe in. I’m also a firm believer in the need for a strong professional defence force that is capable of defending Australian interests here and abroad as well as assisting in humanitarian missions in warzones.
But as we approach the centenary of Australia’s involvement in WW1 (‘the Great War’, ‘The War to end all wars’, etc.) and the federal government starts spending the millions of dollars it has allocated to this anniversary, it’s worth asking the question would sending a large army to a foreign war be possible today? Would modern Australian society accept a slaughter of the same magnitude today as we did in 1914-18 and what would the public’s reaction be to a call to arms on such a large scale for a foreign conflict on the other side of the world?
I think it’s hard to judge these past decisions because we are culturally and educationally a different society now. It’s easy saying “it would/wouldn’t happen again” without explaining why. I suspect it couldn’t happen again unless we believed there was an existential threat to Australia. Back then, when our armed forces fought under a Union Jack and our national anthem was “God save the King” there was an existential threat to the UK and its allies from Germany. This threat to the “mother country” was all that mattered to many that enlisted and fought and died under the Union Jack and in Australia’s name.
I also wonder if Australia would have been a different place now, had those men and women who died 100 years ago been left to live, marry and have children? For a start, our population would be larger now and perhaps some of them would have been great leaders or scientists and business minds, but are now lost for eternity.
From the Australian War Memorial website we can see:
Enlistment statistics, First World War
Enlistments by State
Australian population 1914—1918: approximately 4.9 million
416, 809 Australians enlisted for service in the First World War, representing 38.7% of the total male population aged between 18 to 44.
|New South Wales||164,030|
|South Australia||34, 959|
A.G. Butler, Special problems and services, Official history of the Australian Army Medical Services in the war of 1914—1918, vol III (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1943), p 890.
Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics, Official yearbook of the Commonwealth of Australia, no 12, 1919 (Melbourne: Albert J Mullett, 1919).
At end of war
|missing or prisoners of war||4,098|
|suffered from sickness||87,865|
At almost 65%, the Australian casualty rate (proportionate to total embarkations) was among the highest of the war.