Why Hasn’t Rupert Murdoch Damaged Australia Like He Has America?

Brian Leiter, philosophy professor at the University of Chicago, has a blog and asks “Why hasn’t Rupert Murdoch’s media empire destroyed Australia the way it has destroyed America?”

“Destroyed” is an exaggeration, so let’s rephrase it: Why hasn’t Murdoch destroyed the right-wing in Australia like he has in the US?

The rise of Murdoch’s Fox News in America since 1996 has coincided with the complete crazification of the Republican Party in the U.S., with the result that America is now ungovernable and teetering towards collapse as a democracy (I discussed some of this development in this recent paper). 

Yet Murdoch’s media empire has not had such deleterious effects in his native Australia.  Here’s the program of the Australian Liberal Party, the party of the right in Australia.  With only a couple of exceptions, it’s a set of proposals that would be associated with the more progressive end of the Democratic Party in the U.S.:  spend money on infrastructure, on the elderly, on families, on healthcare, on women.  Of course, Australian politics started from a different baseline, but the question that naturally arises is: why didn’t the Murdoch media wreck Australia too?

I was discussing this with a friend who recently relocated to Australia, and her explanation was striking: mandatory voting.  Everyone has to vote, which means elections (and, in the US, especially primary elections) aren’t dominated by highly motivated partisans.   Most people, so the hypothesis goes, are interested in stability, peace, and services, and since everyone must vote, that’s what they vote on, with the result that even the right-wing party has to stand for a program that delivers stability, peace, and services.  The Murdoch media rant and rave, as they do here, but since most people (including in the US) ignore the Murdoch media, their effect in Australia is muted by the fact that everyone is voting.

He asked what his readers think. One answer was:

Yes, mandatory voting is part of the difference. But I suspect that the preferential voting system is also important, and tends to select more sensible, stable legislators.

The Australian government explains its system of preferential voting:

Elections that use a simple majority, or “first-past-the-post” systems, elect a candidate who has received the most number of votes in a contest after a single count. This is regardless of whether or not the number of votes for the successful candidate represents a majority of the total amount of votes.

First-past-the-post voting systems are used in many countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and India.

Preferential voting

There are many different types of preferential voting systems in use across Australia and the world.

Some preferential voting systems make it compulsory for voters to mark a preference for every single candidate on the ballot paper, some require a certain number of preferences to be indicated and others are optional preferential.

Australian federal elections use a preferential voting system where voters are required to:

  • mark a preference for every candidate on the green ballot paper (House of Representatives)
  • mark a preference for a designated number of preferences on the white ballot paper (Senate)

Note: voters in Australia are subject to a small fine if they don’t vote.

Of course, we could never institute mandatory voting in America, because, you know, FREEDOM!

In other words, a right-wing minority is free to destroy American democracy because, you know, a Constitution ratified 232 years ago.