Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Rural Australian lawmakers in the driver's seat to form new government

Meraiah Foley reports in today's New York Times under the headline, "Rural Lawmakers Hold Key in Australian Election." Here's the lede:
On the main streets and byways of Bob Katter’s outback Queensland electorate, everyone knows the man in the 10-gallon cowboy hat. But in the rest of Australia, the lawmaker who could cast a deciding vote in Australia’s cliffhanger election is virtually unknown.

With the country still waiting for the final results of the Saturday vote, reporters in the capital, Canberra, got a dose Wednesday of the self-described “force from the north” and the other independent legislators who could hold the balance of power in Australia’s first deadlocked Parliament in 70 years.

Katter is quoted describing Australian rural challenges that sound similar to those in rural America.

If you live in a country town in Australia, every year you own a business, you know it’s going to get worse and worse. ... Every year, you know your kids are going to leave because there are no jobs for them. Maybe a high school closes this year, maybe you lose your dentist next year.

The people of rural Australia have put some of us here. They expect a return for having done that. As far as I’m concerned, they will get a return.

Katter has indicated that he intends to demand a "fairer go" for rural Australians. This excerpt from the story expands on a long-standing rural-urban conflict in the nation's politics:

All three independents hail from sparsely populated rural areas, where voters have long been at odds with the mainstream parties in Australia’s urban-focused political debate. Access to education, hospitals, jobs and telecommunications are key issues for voters in “the bush,” the vast stretches of scrubby grasslands that are home to about a quarter of Australia’s 22 million people.

The divide between urban and rural voters has long been a feature of Australian politics. The country’s vast expanses and relatively small population and tax base make it difficult for the government to provide basic services to many remote areas. But many country dwellers feel that their concerns are ignored by politicians scrambling for the bulk of votes in Australia’s heavily populated cities.

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