Tasmanian Times


Why has Scandinavia got it right and we haven’t?

Recently I spent some time in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Apart from being mightily impressed by the scenery, natural and man-made, I was also impressed by the facts that:

1. The infrastructure of public transport, roads, tunnels and bridges is expensive and serves even small, remote communities.

2. All are generous welfare states; health and education to tertiary level are free and pensions generous.

3. I saw no obese children. Not one.

Returning home I did some homework and learned that several surveys have shown that indices of wellbeing and happiness are far higher in Scandinavian countries than in Australia, and Scandinavian people have much greater trust in politicians and in police than we do. Further, as Transparency International consistently finds over the years, Denmark, Sweden and Norway have the least amount of corruption compared to other countries. Many Australian politicians know they are despised but in their arrogance, and considering their perks, they couldn’t care less (this factoid was reported in our ship’s news summary).

How can we account for this? The most obvious difference between Scandinavian countries and Australia – forget climate for the present discussion – is our respective political systems. While there are differences between the three Scandinavian countries themselves (omitting Finland and Iceland), the similarities are greater and I shall therefore lump them together for comparisons with Australia. (For what it’s worth, the populations of the three Scandinavian countries are: Denmark 5.7 million, Norway 5 million and Sweden 10 million, totalling around 21 million, as compared with Australia’s 23 million).

There are two aspects to this comparison between political systems: structural differences in the way the systems work, and policy differences.

Structural differences

Scandinavian countries are multiparty systems and it is rare when a single party has an absolute majority. Australia is designed around a two party system although there are minor parties and independents. A majority government of Labor or Liberal is considered the right way for the system to work, and where that doesn’t happen parliament is said to be “hung”, as if the life of good governance is slowly being strangled. A hung parliament may seem to give a minority party or an independent a disproportionate amount of power, but in recent practice that has worked well, modifying excesses of poor governance by the ruling party.

Where one major party has an absolute majority, they are in effect granted open slather to do whatever they want to do: the opposition and other MPs are simply dealt out of the game until next election. In fact, only the cabinet or even just the prime minister alone have any real decision-making power because the rank and file almost always back what the inner few decide. This is oligarchy not democracy. Only when the calls, or the modus operandi, of a prime minister become so intolerable does a party revolt against him or her; this is rare but it happened twice in the last Labor Government.

One frequent consequence of a two party system is that in an election campaign the opposition party adopts a small target of the electorate for the enlightenment, instead they dwell on how absolutely terrible the current government is, promising to undo everything they have put in place. This is precisely what Abbott did when he gained power, undoing anything to do with science, climate change, education and health. Election campaigns thus dwell on negativity not on what positive initiatives may be in the interests of good governance.

This virtually unchecked power of the ruling party clearly opens the door to corruption because it provides a focus for lobbying and political donations to influence decision-making. Uncapped or nonaccountable political donations distort the question of whose interests a party is governing for. For example, we know that the fossil fuel and mining industries donate massively to both parties, but especially to the Liberal Party. Thus, current legislation and taxing policies strongly favour the interests of these industries, including strong discouragement of alternative energy sources. The donations and the legislation may be coincidence but the pub test would strongly suggest otherwise. Similarly, the enthusiasm with which the Liberal Party enters into free trade agreements, incorporating investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses that allow foreign corporations to sue Australia if our legislation is deemed to harm their potential profits, is certainly not in the interests of the Australian people but is in the interests of multinational corporations.

In multiparty governments, if no one party has this kind of power, corruption of the above kind is much less likely, as indeed the above mentioned Transparency International surveys confirm. Similarly the interests of any one party dwindle in the presence of several other parties, so that politicians will tend to concentrate more on the business at hand, which is legislating in the interests of the people. Legislative decisions thus have to be made through discussion and negotiation between parties, a procedure that focuses on producing outcomes that have been discussed from different perspectives. Outcomes of legislation are therefore highly likely to be that much better considered and their consequences analysed.

The design of the parliament reflects these differences between two party and multiparty systems. In Westminster systems the two parties face each other across a divide that surely fosters confrontation, whereas Scandinavian politicians sit in a semi-circle all facing a president and five vice presidents. In Norway, the unicameral parliament has 169 members, and is elected every four years, based on proportional representation. There is no upper house, but where people trust their parliamentarians, an upper house of review in order to keep the bastards honest is deemed unnecessary.

Another bonus at least in Denmark is that electioneering is limited to three weeks, which means that for the greater part of the year politicians can get on with governing rather than scoring points in election-mode the year round, and of course short campaigns save a lot of money.

Scandinavian politicians are probably not more honest, less corruptible as people than are Australian politicians, but the respective structures of their respective systems elicit or encourage very different kinds of behaviour.

Policy differences

These structural differences are important but perhaps the greatest difference between Scandinavian countries and Australia lie in policy.

All Scandinavian countries are social democracies; they agree on a welfare state, promoting social mobility, gender equality, egalitarian and extensive benefit levels, the doctrine of all men’s rights, which includes same rights of access to essential infrastructure whether you live in an urban or in a remote area, and ensure the universal provision of basic human rights. Thus, health and education are free, public housing is readily available and pensions are such that the disabled and retirees can live in comfort and dignity. The State pays maternity and paternity leave, which takes over when mum’s leave runs out, are a high fraction of usual salary, as are pensions a high fraction of last salary before retirement.

Scandinavian countries also agree in stabilizing the economy, alongside a commitment to free trade, maximizing labour force participation, and liberal use of expansionary fiscal policy. Social democracies value economic returns, and one way of doing that is by maximizing the number of people on wages so that there is more money circulating and the more people there are paying taxes the better. The neoliberal way is to reduce the workforce people and minimise wages in order to push up profits.

Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the US gave neoliberalism political reality, many Western countries following suit to a greater or lesser extent including of course Australia. The only exception to cutting government spending was (and still is) defence: Reagan racking up a deficit of trillions of dollars on his crazy Star Wars project. The rationale for that however was not neoliberal philosophy but raw politics: frightening the pants off the electorate is a common strategy of the right to get re-elected when on logical grounds they should be soundly thrashed by an angry and deprived electorate. In all countries with neoliberal governments the gap between rich and poor is high and increasing, while in Scandinavian countries the gap is much narrower – and would be much so except for the fact a few Scandinavian industrialists are extremely wealthy. Ignoring those few, the gap between highest and lowest paid is very small by our standards.

Neoliberalism asserts that the only legitimate purpose of the state is to safeguard individual liberty and private property rights and especially commercial liberty by “small government”. In other words the government regulates the economy as little as possible, privatising publicly owned businesses, allowing “the market” to operate freely, crushing trade unions for they interfere with laissez-faire capitalism, and eliminating budget deficits. Profits are protected by minimal tax and individual worker contracts not collective agreements. The market is of course an abstraction: what it really means is that rich people and corporations are free to make themselves richer, which inevitably means depressing wages and access to a pool of unemployed, and low taxes.

Australia has a neoliberal government; indeed both major parties espouse neoliberalism with Labor having a softer version. Labor might have a stated socialist objective – “The Australian Labor Party is a democratic socialist party and has the objective of the democratic socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange, to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features in these fields.” – but these are words only. In practice Labour operates as a neoliberal government. Indeed it was Hawke and Keating, not the Liberals, who embraced neoliberalism, then called economic rationalism, in the first place. The result was large tax cuts, the wages share of GDP falling from around 61.5 per cent of GDP to less than 55 per cent, which amounted to a transfer of $50 billion from workers to the already very rich. That’s Labor’s version of “democratic socialism” for you.

Naked neoliberalism drove the first Abbott May 2014 budget. Welfare was cut, taxes on superannuation for the rich decreased but increased for those on under $35,000 pa, swinging cuts on public spending in health, education and scientific research. Fortunately the general public and the Senate angrily rejected that Budget.

In sum, Scandinavian countries explicitly legislate for the health and welfare of their citizens, while Australia in true neoliberal fashion legislates almost entirely on an economic agenda for the benefit of the already wealthy. The irony is that all Scandinavian social democracies are doing better economically than Australia is. By way of example let’s take the way Norway and Australia reacted to their creation of huge surpluses: Norway through North Sea oil, Australia through iron ore. Norway created a Futures Fund that is now valued at nearly $900 billion and is intended to keep the country and its population going with special reference to pensions when North Sea oil runs out. The Fund’s investments comprise 1% of all the stocks and bonds in the world; a committee ensures investments are ethical, the Fund having divested itself of tobacco, munitions and most recently fossil fuels. As Norwegian economist Eirik Wekre said: “We cannot spend this money now; it would be stealing from future generations.”

Australia dealt with the huge income from iron ore profits by giving massive tax cuts to income tax and industry that in the way of a progressive tax benefitted the rich more than the poor, and when the downturn came, as it inevitably did, Australia was heading for a deficit. The Norwegian way was rational, ethical and humane, the Australian way greedy and monumentally short-sighted if not downright stupid. The UK reacted to the North Sea oil bonanza in the same profligate way.

Norway’s infrastructure does not however depend on the Futures Fund. Tromso had a traffic problem, particular in winter when the roads are iced, so they built an underground network of roads, like a metro, with several exits and underground interchanges. I was reminded of Hobart’s traffic problems and Max Darcy’s proposal for a traffic tunnel (which he modestly called the Darcy Tunnel) that would leave the city and the waterfront connected. Pie in the sky, way too expensive, the critics scoffed. Well, Tromso is one quarter the size of Hobart yet they financed a much more ambitious scheme very simply: every litre of petrol sold scores a surcharge of half a kroner, or roughly 10c, to the enormous benefit of the whole community. Or take Bergen, two thirds the size of Hobart. They have light rail, ferries , roads and bridges crossing over and under fjords, far more difficult terrain than the level shores of our simple Derwent.

Now for that matter of obesity. Under neoliberalism, deregulation allows markets to operate freely so that business can maximise profits. Thus, fast food chains and suburban liquor outlets are allowed to open in places even where they will do most social and personal dam, likewise for attempts to restrict gambling, labelling requirements for food are not enforced, advertising for fast foods is allowed in peak hours, because maximising profits is what neoliberalism is about. The Scandinavian countries on the other hand regulate in the interests of the people, including their health, so that such things as the sale of alcohol and fast food, and advertising in prime time, are regulated. It is also true that fish occupies a large part of the diet and a culture of fitness prevails (we saw several Iron Man competitions in our travels) while walking trails and bicycle paths are common everywhere. Put all that together and the absence of obesity especially in children is easier to understand.

Many economists and more politicians have adopted Thatcher’s mantra of TINA: “There Is No Alternative!” Well, the Scandinavians have shown very clearly that there is an alternative: it is called an enlightened social democracy.

Then there’s the question of taxation

The downside to the Scandinavian model – if it is one – is that taxes are higher. We in Australia have a culture of regarding taxes as an unwarranted impost and to be minimised or better avoided wherever possible. In the eyes of all but the most idealistic Australian politicians that settles the matter: to legislate in favour of higher taxes is to commit political suicide – or so it is assumed. However, according to Per Capita’s 2014 Tax Survey, attitudes of Australians to taxation but government expenditure are changing. Most Australians believe they pay the right level of tax and would support more spending on health and education. They also think high income earners are not paying their fair share and would support higher taxes on the top 5% of income earners to fund improved services.

High taxes are especially anathema to neoliberals, which means that to avoid a deficit, governmental expenditure on health, education and other services is cut to a minimum – except of course in defence and those billions spent on incarcerating asylum seekers.

In Sweden, which has the highest taxation rate, income tax is progressive rising to 59.7% of income in the highest bracket (I can remember 60% in Australia in the 70s), the VAT rate varies according to item at 25%, 12% or 6%, with no tax breaks for the well off such as superannuation, capital gains tax and negative gearing. Compared to our tax rates, which are amount the lowest in OECD countries, the Scandinavian tax rates sound insupportable.

But Scandinavians prefer higher taxes because once they have paid their tax they don’t have to pay anything for health care, education (no $100,000 degrees there), liveable pensions, decent public transport and so on. It’s rather like those cruises that charge higher fares, but once on board there are no further expenses: all drinks, meals, even tips, everything, are free. Of course you have already paid for it but it feels good. And that’s the Scandinavian experience: once the taxes have been paid they have so much less to worry about in case of accidents or emergencies. It feels good and the surveys confirm that.

Now for the question

Scandinavian politics are so much better than Australian politics, as far as most citizens are concerned, on two counts.

Structurally their multiparty system minimises playing party politics instead of getting on with good government whereas a two party system maximizes these party games. The party’s interests and winning the next election become the focus of politicians, not ethical dealing or the interests of the country. The very design of parliament in the one case facilitates discussion and negotiation, while the other encourages “the boys’ shouting match”, as one female Liberal politician recently put it.

In terms of policy, Australian and Scandinavian parliaments address different issues. Neoliberal governments anywhere are all about deregulation, laissez-faire economics and budget surpluses coupled with the bizarre demand for lower taxes. Ordinary people are the losers in that political sandwich. Multiparty social democracies on the other hand govern for equity, human rights and a thriving economy.

On every count that I can think of: personal happiness and well-being, political stability, absence of corruption, even economic well-being, the European social democracies are doing far better than Australia.

So now for the crunch question: How has Scandinavia got it so right and we haven’t? According to the above analysis, the answer is to make our government a genuine social democracy – not the ALP’s symbolic nod in that direction – that would deliver the sort of society that we so badly need and I am sure that most people would really want.

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  1. John Biggs

    August 8, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    #16. Yes I agree with Chris that there many layers of culture that I wasn’t able to unwrap from a tourist’s viewpoint. My focus was mainly on what I could glean about political systems and what to me were admirable outcomes for the majority of people. The key question remains and many are asking: how did the Scandinavians develop their version of social democracy and we didn’t? One factor in their evolution was a common language and a Viking culture which within itself (but not outside it) had the germs of democratic dealings with each other, despite the Nordic wars. We on the other hand had little over 100 years to develop a national political culture, prior to that we inherited and modified the class-based 19th British system with a two party default, and then all the confrontation and violence mentioned in #10 and further by Mike on #22.

    #18. I have Googled the influence of the Murdock press and as far as I can see there isn’t any in Scandinavia, I may be wrong. But then it seems there doesn’t need to be. As one commentator pointed out the Swedish press given their basic values should be right behind Assange but the mainstream press like News Ltd vilified him and were all behind his trial. Recently there has been a sharp swing pro-America, with Sweden now more to the right of other Scandinavian countries (but still a social democracy). Simon below elaborates on that.

    #19. Thus I agree with you Simon, Sweden is very far from lilywhite. They have more than the others had a strong industrialist background of very rich individuals working in cahoots with government. The few very rich individuals (think armament, Volvo, Scania) have strong government support to increase employment, now that is a difference. http://scancomark.com/Market/Swedish-industrial-production-increased-as-heavy-industries-have-seen-increased-interest-to-expand-employment-115214082013. Those very rich industrialists maintain a large spread of wealth between rich ordinary people but unlike us, where the spread is bottom heavy, they are middle heavy. But there is a dark side in this link: while Sweden was officially neutral Swedish arms were sold to the Germans, the govt weren’t too stressed that arms sales would get in the way of big business. BTW I am not sure of the presence of a two party system in Scandinavia but at present there and other places in Europe it is many parties and government by shifting coalitions depending on the issue of the moment. I agree a no-party system would be better still but I can’t see that as remotely possible at this stage.

    Every day since writing this article we saw more and more examples of where the two big parties are becoming more and more vomitous: strong bipartisan support for each other on torturing asylum seekers and rorting themselves, with Abbott suggesting that while people acted possibly beyond community expectations but it was all still legal, for instance to fly your family around in Business Class to private events. And just to make sure, my bet is the new rules will be expanded to cover all those gross indiscretions. They’d never get away with it in Scandinavia.

  2. Steve

    August 7, 2015 at 10:18 pm

    #22; Good comment Mike. You’d hardly expect a system established by the “wealth extractors”, to work to their detriment.

  3. Mike Bolan

    August 7, 2015 at 8:40 pm

    One reason for the differences might be that Australia was set up as a colony and its laws and governance were structured to allow major extractions of wealth while keeping the citizenry in check through a bogus democracy that offered them only obligations, while the colonial powers in government retained all of the rights.

    The Brits have gone, but everything else is pretty much the same (including the Crown), just occupied by narcissistic Aussies or dual citizen types like the P.M. We still get told about Crown land and even get lectured by public servants and pollies about how everything is supposed to work.

    If the Scandinavians set up their own systems and laws (as opposed to having an occupier do it) that might create major differences.

  4. Kim Peart

    August 7, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    Re: 19 ~ I wonder if our problem stems from an unhealthy focus on competition as the only way to exist as an economy or a society. I suspect the key to a healthier future for all Australians and the way out of poverty for so many thousands of Aussie children, will be through cooperation. An investment in cooperatives might be the way for us to tackle unemployment and poverty. If we accept the challenge of allowing all able citizens to access a fair share of the national pie, then we can achieve this if we add cooperation to the national economic menu. If we look to Nature, we can see that both competition and cooperation are essential for evolution to work. A focus on competition alone could therefore be labelled as unnatural, as well as rather unhealthy.

  5. Mike Bolan

    August 7, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    Good work John. Always useful to compare systems to identify key differences. In case you haven’t seen them, there are some very interesting articles and books on the topic of systems including their analysis and description as well as thinking systems that help us to avoid self deception.

    The Unbounded Mind – Mitroff and Linstone and,
    Cybernetics A new management tool – Clemson are a couple that may be on Google Books by now.

  6. Simon Warriner

    August 7, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    To what extent are the Scandinavian politics dominated by two party politics? Have they ever been dominated by political parties that hold majority power?

    Straying slightly, I once worked for Asea, a truly huge Swedish industrial conglomerate. Their influence over the Swedish government was profound and undoubtedly incestuous. Asea was owned primarily by a single family, and shares were not allowed to be owned by American citizens, certainly at the time they were offered to employees, prior to the merger with Brown Boveri, which created ABB. Pragmatic xenophobia perhaps?

    With that in mind, doubt is formed about the degree to which their system of government is lily white. Asea certainly had close links with Swedish government and it certainly exploited those links. The extent to which that exploitation could be described as corruption, or corrupting is debatable, but their was a clear national interest argument playing out. Since the merger of Asea and BB which formed ABB (RUmsfeld was a board member at one point, I believe) we now see Swedish government working hand in glove with the Americans to keep Assange couped up in a couple of rooms in London. Clearly the xenophobic attitude towards America has diminished.

    Understanding why that has happened would certainly help put the social progressiveness in a more realistic perspective, because if “American” attitudes to legal matters are creeping into Swedish government we can expect them to metastasize throughout the system, as they have here.

    Maybe what this presents is an opportunity to observe the process of decay, and from it better understand how our own problems came about.

    Then again, we could just save time and focus on improving the standards of government here by getting rid of those who are dragging those standards down. We could start doing that, not by hoping they will change rules to their disadvantage (like introducing secret ballots) but by campaigning to inform our fellow voters of the damage party politicians are doing. Could it be that simple?

  7. Phil Lohrey

    August 7, 2015 at 3:39 am

    Thank you so much John Biggs.

    As far as I can see from a brief reading there appears to be one likely explanation for Aus/Scandinavian contrasts that has not been highlighted in the comments: the mass media.

    Now, I have to confess that I’m not familiar with the Scandinavian media. Can you, John, give us your impression? Could mass media ownership be as concentrated to the extent that it is in Australia? Has Murdoch achieved high penetration? Is there a counter-balance to the neo-liberal view, for instance? Is independent public broadcasting widely supported?

    It seems that our mainstream media have encouraged the decay of parliamentary debate, promoted machismo, populist anti-intellectual values. You name the areas of decline in civility and equality; our media has been a key influence.

    Then there is our culture. Again, think machismo. Think domination. Look at the way that brutish sport dominates our TV screens and newspapers. Do we see a religion of winner takes all? Isn’t there a direct reflection in parliament?

    Is there hope for reform through social and independent media online? Can people be influenced to re-embrace public education and health?

    Could our parliamentary debate be reformed by secret voting on all legislation? Could this be the beginning of unravelling the 2 party system, and encouraging independents?

    Oh for the civility emerging here in the 1970s and 80s – still prospering in Scandinavia.

  8. Steve

    August 6, 2015 at 10:38 pm

    #16; It would also be interesting to assess the influence of the insanity of the two world wars. I’m thinking Sweden was the only one not to be drawn into that mess, however I’d suggest the other Scandinavian countries were reluctant participants, forced, literally at gun point, to join in.
    #15; The statistics on children in poverty is somewhat slanted by the simple economic reality in this country which means that those at the bottom end of the economic spectrum benefit hugely from having children, whilst those at the other end suffer hugely (economic assessment only!)
    Another example of where having idiots running the country results in an outcome contrary to all logical processes. Of course, let’s establish a situation where we encourage the least successful, to breed the most. The rumbling noise is Darwin spinning in his grave. Thank God Australia has lots of natural resources to sell to the lowest bidder!

  9. Chris Harries

    August 6, 2015 at 9:31 pm

    Thanks, John, for a thought provoking article.

    It used to be asked why Australians bought Volvo cars whereas Swedes didn’t even know what a Holden was. But as someone pointed out above, their cultural differences go much deeper than our inherited political system. I would add, neither does make up of our economy, nor even our resources wealth explain the differences.

    From what I’ve witnessed, differences between nations comprises layers and laters and layers of cultural development that can’t be unravelled quickly. More so than we can imagine. I used to wonder about this in PNG where even the concept of Time is so different to our own. Just one tiny cultural difference that makes it manifestly difficult for them to ‘progress’ in the same way we have done (thank god for that!).

    Cultural differences between German and Greek culture – two modern European states – is playing out now for all to see within the Euro financial crisis. It’s not that one of the two is better than the other, nor is it all to do with money. That’s why trying to impose a German economic model on Greece is an anathema to their own cultural mores, so it’s not going down well.

    I think it would take many decades, and many layers of learning, for Australia to attain the level of political and cultural maturity that are generally evidenced in Scandinavian countries. In the meantime we can and should use them as role models, albeit accepting that they have their own shortcomings and we can, no doubt, lay claim to being ahead of them in some small aspects of our culture. Can’t we?

  10. Kim Peart

    August 6, 2015 at 9:28 pm

    Re: 14 ~ Annie

    I wonder if equity would be fixed if we addressed the question of one in 8 Australian children trapped in poverty.

    If we got serious about ending this political and economic-dreven level of child abuse, we may also see our way open to apply Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and allow all able citizens to access real work with real pay.

    Go there, and we might just turn out to be ahead of those Scandinavian nations as the happiest people on the planet.

    Kim Peart

  11. Annie

    August 6, 2015 at 8:40 pm

    Chris at 7 has posted the link to how the current Abbott Government unfortunately doesn’t address equity at all well in comparison with Sweden, Norway and Iceland.

    The concept of equity can help with an adequate conceptualisation of structural disadvantage, and how Sweden, Norway and Iceland are doing better. Yes, I agree that John B. started quite a useful conversation, with very good points about how a social contract towards better equity has shaped the tax base and a more diverse and representative political system.

    However, It can be good to ask questions about how the invasion of Australia, followed by neo-liberal governments is linked with the structural systems of racism, sexism, ageism etc and the capitalist system that is geared towards profit and plunder rather than sustainability.

    As the list in the link kindly posted by Chris indicates, it is Unfortunate that our collective happiness and social and environmental equity has been diminished the last few years by a ruggedly neoliberal agenda.

    The effect upon women, the arts, health and education; upon aboriginal people, multiculturalism, pensioners, the unemployed, students, former refugees and asylum seekers and the environment is the equivalent of an asteroid.

    Great strides were made with equitable access to higher education, Medicare, environmental protection, multiculturalism, and gender equity previously during the Whitlam era.

    We do not need to be defensive about an analysis of gender, which is not really about men v women (as all are innately peaceful prior to patriarchy and other forms of oppression) but about an analysis of HOW the structural system of patriarchy that oppresses everyone, men as well as women, whales, as well as people living with diversity; and also the environment.

    For example, we can ask ourselves WHO decides to spend what on health care, education, environmental protection, disability support, aged pensions as compared with defence spending.

    (ok to have war ships but not to have helicopter junket rides or refugees arriving by boat or plane currently it seems).

    At least we have the lovely creative folkloric dancing culture within Australia that tends to be more egalitarian and inclusive as a gift from the Irish and Scottish forebears along with the thistles, don’t we, to throw a spanner at the patriarchal system to help to dismantle it.

    I like countries such as Sweden, Norway and Iceland as they faced up to patriarchy and sought to address it. People in Iceland were quite lucky and sensible to nominate a genuine feminist leader for a while. ? Influence of the Vikings or due to modernity and feminism. Not wishing to sound nationalistic or anything, however facing up to patriarchy tends to help the environment too, as discussions become more solution focused.




  12. Kim Peart

    August 6, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    12: RJ Peak ~

    The roots of colonialism can be seen in Nature, which seeks expansion at every possible opportunity. Human colonialism, beginning with the movement out of Africa, has been a feature of human society for ever. Could one argue that expansion is part of evolution, driven by survival toward every greater diversity, which in human society is ultimately seen in our technology? It is human technology that gives Nature the means to expand life beyond Earth, so we may wonder if human technology is essentially an evolutionary tool of Nature.

    At the time slavery was getting on the nose as a labour tool in the British Empire, the convict system filled the gap with cheap compulsory labour to build Australia. Was the convict system essentially a system of slavery?

    I wonder if the last great slave trade happened in 1962, when Australia went along with America’s wishes to give half of New Guinea to Indonesia, instead of allowing a free vote by all adults on independence. As a consequence, we are all lumped into the guilt bin of supporting the slave trade of West Papuan lives in 1962, as long as the western Papuans are denied their freedom to choose.

    Kim Peart

  13. RJ Peak

    August 6, 2015 at 4:27 am

    #5: A couple of corrections.

    The Vikings did not invent colonialism; it has a long history (consider the expansive empires of the ancient world – Babylon, Egypt, Macedon, Rome, etc., etc.). It also has not been confined to the West (instance the Aztec and Incan empires).

    The big one. While Australians might draw comfort, and a certain smug sense of superiority, from the conceit that there was no slavery here, that is certainly not true.

    Consider the practice of ‘blackbirding’, the kidnapping of Melanesians and their transport to Queensland for forced labour in the cane fields of that state (see, for instance, http://www.smh.com.au/national/blackbirding-shame-yet-to-be-acknowledged-in-australia-20150603-ghfn9c.html). This practice ended in 1904, not because it was morally wrong, but because of the dawning of the White Australia Policy. So it was an activity both conceived in racism and terminated by racism.

    But there is more. Forced and unpaid labour went on in this country well into the 20th Century (arguably into the 1960s and 70s)in the case of many Aboriginal people who were sent out from missions and reserves to work, or who worked on stations, and either were not paid or had their ‘pay’ appropriated by government without them ever seeing it.

    Given this, one could argue that slavery was a feature of Australian life for a much, much longer time than in any other Anglophone, indeed any Western, nation.

  14. Steve

    August 5, 2015 at 10:30 pm

    #10; The chicken and egg theory is possibly right John but I suspect it goes deeper than our inherited political system.
    Our political system allows for more than two parties, as indeed does the British system which must have a dozen or more of them. It’s our thinking that’s makes it “us or them”. Perhaps a religious thing?
    I would like to have the time to go and live in some of these other countries for a few years. A passing visit is no help in understanding the differences.
    I recall discussing unemployment benefits with someone from Switzerland (OK, slightly off topic!) and was fascinated when I eventually realised that they couldn’t understand that we have people who actually don’t want to work. Their whole viewpoint revolved around re-training and assisting people back into employment. OK they were young and I’ve no doubt that Switzerland also has serial unemployed but it was interesting that to someone who had grown up there, this was an alien concept. They automatically assumed that everyone wanted to go to work.

  15. John Biggs

    August 5, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    #9 Thank you Steve. Scandinavian people do think differently but I wonder if that is chicken and egg. Their system allows more inclusive and thoughtful government which changes the way people think about it. Australian people inherited the British two party system that made us think in a them-and-us way, no doubt enhanced or maybe created by our beginnings as prisoner vs warder, rich landed gentry vs labourer, employer vs employee, capitalist vs socialist — divisive categories.

    But please not man vs woman. While I agree with much of what has been written on gender politics here, I agree with you Steve that there is another thread in TT currently dealing with that issue and that is where that discussion belongs.

    One issue I’m a little surprised hasn’t been raised is whaling, so I’ll raise it myself.

    What is it about the otherwise enlightened Norwegians and whaling, a practice they still continue? On the one hand several guides drew our attention to the tourism value of whale watching, which they describe with as much love and emotion as we do: they love their whales not only because they eat them.

    They only eat Minke whales we were told, because that species are voracious eaters of the smaller fish lower down the food chain. If left to themselves, they would devastate fish stocks and therefore need to be culled for the sake of the whole food chain. Ironically, this is the argument we use against super-trawlers, precisely because they take enormous chunks out of the food chain and stocks higher up will be depleted.

    Their marine scientists calculate the numbers needed to be culled to preserve a sustainable balance between whales and pelagic fish. But are whales really as destructive as super-trawlers? The Norwegians seem to be sincere about whaling practices, unlike the Japanese who simple tell lies about doing research.

    The difference between super-trawlering and whaling is that despite what they say about “the science” super-trawlers will gulp up the lot,killing any by-catch. In super-trawling there is no issue about sustainability as nations off the west coast of Africa have found to their grave cost. The tragedy is that because Norway in their view need to cull Minke whales, they vote to continue whaling thus supporting Japan who don’t whale for anything like environmental reasons.

    I’d be interested in other views on this.

  16. Steve

    August 5, 2015 at 1:28 am

    Good article John. I would suggest the differences go deeper than just the political arrangements. It’s often said that we get the politicians we deserve. Spend some time talking politics with people from Scandinavian countries and you realise that they see things differently to us. Our politicians would not get elected there, indeed I doubt they’d want to get elected there!

    It’s possibly indicative of our problem that your excellent article has already attracted comments dragging in gender politics to muddy what could be an interesting discussion.

  17. Annie

    August 3, 2015 at 8:49 pm

    Equity or the idea of the fair go needs to include genuine gender empowerment.
    The concept of gender equity includes changing fixed gender norms or gender roles that can disadvantage women or a certain class of women (for example former refugee women, migrant women, aboriginal women and poorer women).

    Equity and gender equity also need to include gender social infrastructure and gender analysis, including a gender development index to assess social progress. This includes ensuring that harmful gender roles are challenged and changed along with harmful cultural gender norms.

    For example, it is not enough to just have paid parental leave or for men to help with the washing up.

    Questions need to be asked about the levels of violence against women-for example, is it the cultural norm for men NOT to think it is their right to abuse women and girls in the home or in personal intimate relationships? Is it the cultural norm, as in Sweden, Iceland and Norway that all men, especially younger men NO LONGER ASSUME it is their right to buy the body of another person, especially that of a woman, girl or a child?

    Is it the cultural and social norm for women and girls to participate in decision making not only in the home, but in the sporting arena, in government and so on?

    If there are cycle paths-who uses them? Is it the cultural norm for a diversity of people to be on the cycle path, including grandmothers, children, the elderly, not merely privileged white men who have always enjoyed the cultural privilege of taking up as much space as they like?

    Is “world population” really the issue when the majority of the world’s food growers are women who are exploited labourers who own the least land, and already know how to farm sustainably, spend enormous chunks of time carrying water; and who already know how to store seed in a seed bank? How is it that many of the women food growers, and their daughters eat the least or eat last? How are the world’s poorest people -WOMEN AND GIRLS-empowered to access sustainable livelihoods, public health and education?

    It is not good enough for wealthy white privileged men and women to talk about “rationing” food or anything else; or to use a neoliberal agenda in the looming politics of climate change, where the effects of the politics are likely to be worse than the effects of the climate. The world already has millions of displaced people and refugees, the vast majority who are women and children. They have been on “rations” for years.

    Just how big is their collective carbon footprint compared with that of Shell in the arctic, or the nuclear industry, or a privileged white man zooming around in his Suzuki?

    The equity agenda map Transforming Our World by 2020: A new System for Global Action is worth looking at

    The earth has been a really like hot and thirsty place for a hell of a long time for really poor people who deal with difficult weather events and are MOSTLY WOMEN AND CHILDREN AND REFUGEES who don’t get a place at the snooty climate change conference table unless gutsy groups like OXFAM stand up for them, or unless they go to the International Court of Justice like the Marshall Islanders did to get people to stand up to the nuclear weapons industry.

    Oh yes guys-great to measure the financial effects of extreme weather and climate events. However, just have a look at how many billions of dollars are sucked out of the bodies of poor women and girls and children in the interests of the profit hungry rich guys who run the sex industry.




  18. Chris

    August 3, 2015 at 2:58 pm

  19. Kim Peart

    August 3, 2015 at 5:20 am

    The simple difference between Australia and Scandinavian nations, is that they live the Fair Go and we crumble in its shadow, with 2.5 million Australians trapped in poverty, including one in eight children.

    If we had lived up to our 1948 commitment to full-employment, seen in Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which we helped to draft, we could be like the Scandinavian nations now.

    “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.” (there are three further points in Article 23).

    Instead, our politicians and the economy has become addicted to around 5% unemployment, which serves to keep the wheels of growth turning, enabling the well-off to grab a larger share of the national pie.

    The real “leaners” in Australia are all who essentially steal from the under-employed, the unemployed, the child in poverty and the homeless.

    With the dawning robot revolution set to eliminate half of current paid work over the next couple of decades, are we gunning for a future with half of our citizens trapped in poverty?

    We can turn this tragedy around, if individual citizens make a commitment to work toward real full-employment in Australia.

    Could Tasmania start such a ball rolling, making the push for real work with real pay for all able citizens a primary service activity.

    Success would bring an end to poverty and homelessness in our Great Southern Land.

    The current “leaners” could become “lifters” in rebuilding the Fair Go.

    We really don’t have to live under the tyranny of a fiscal dictatorship where greed is the creed.

    There are a million possibilities, if we dare to care and join Scandinavia in living the Fair Go.

    Kim Peart

  20. Karl Stevens

    August 3, 2015 at 1:49 am

    I like the ‘crunch question’ ‘How has Scandinavia got it so right and we haven’t’?
    In an amateurish attempt at answering that question I would say the Scandinavian countries don’t necessarily see themselves as a block. I understand Norway has way more oil money than the rest of them, and they are all just quaint little monarchies.
    The Vikings are the people who invented ‘colonialism’ aren’t they? Eventually their descendants in Britain perfected colonialism and went on to plunder the known world, while hypocritically deporting their own working class to Tasmania for stealing bread. Meanwhile, the Scandinavians had realised their Christian belief system was incompatible with raping and plundering.
    Maybe the hypocrisy of the founding of the Anglican Church was enough to give the British ruling class a fully developed ‘neo-feudal’ two-tiered moral system.
    A system they exported to Australia and which blossomed in the heat and dust.
    All I can say is ‘don’t blame us poor Aussies for the horrendous condition we are in’.
    We were built from your detritus remember and you inflicted ‘our’ Constitution on to us.
    At least we have never dealt in slaves like the rest of the European gentry.
    The reason we haven’t go it as right as Scandinavia is because we have a foreign-born PM and our national identity is being ruthlessly suppressed by the same b@stard$ that wiped out the Tasmanian Aborigines and introduced rabbits and foxes to ‘our’ continent.

  21. andrea

    August 2, 2015 at 10:58 pm

    Interesting article- However, I’d like to point out that the neoliberal idea that choice happens in a vacuum has been far from eschewed when it comes to women in prostitution in Denmark. With an estimated 15 x higher ratio per capita of prostiuted/trafficked women than countries such as Sweden which have implemented the Nordic/Swedish Model- Denmark has become (along with Germany, New Zealand, and parts of Australia) a living hell for the prostituted and a pimps paradise. Perhaps the reason lies in the fact that prostitution is fully legalised/decriminalised and therefore the sex-trade has been pushed underground. Collecting tax off the backs of mainly trafficked women serves to keep the sex-trade behind closed doors of Legal brothels, although some still operate on the street in the “window market”. Of course legal prostitution is only beginning to be recognised in Denmark, as it is in Germany, as a failed experiment where government ostensibly legalised the sex-trade believing it would make it safer. Now with a 14-17BN a year turn-over from prostitution, the women, mainly trafficked in from countries where such social democracy is not in place, are left out of sharing the substantial benefits the Scandanavian countries offer their native born citizens. Sex equality Danish women (quite rightly) enjoy allows them viable choices of employment- sadly,and ironically, the legalisation of the sex-trade has made Denmark one the of the primary destinations for pimps/traffickers. Sweden, Norway and Iceland are to be commended for implementing a policy on prostitution which FULLY recognises that the decriminalisation of the prostituted and the criminalisation of pimps and buyers ensure a material reality for the rights of ALL women, not just the women born there, and with any luck, Denmark will follow suit and earn more right to the overt praise it has received in this fascinating article.

  22. Isla MacGregor

    August 2, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    Because Scandinavian countries don’t ignore women’s voices and take women seriously and [i]Australians[/i] don’t?

  23. Chris Sharples

    August 2, 2015 at 5:52 pm

    Two years ago I spent a week in Copenhagen and the closest I saw to poverty was one single somewhat shabby gentleman (perhaps mentally ill?) inspecting the rubbish tins at the Central Railway Station. A few days later I was in New York for just one day and had to run the usual gauntlet of beggars in the streets and the subway (where they are banned by signage but still panhandle anyway).

    That pretty much says it all. But you wont read about it in the Murdoch media – they would never acknowledge the Scandinavian social democracies as actually being more successful (in the terms that count) than their preferred American neo-liberal model, right?

    Thank goodness for Tas Times. We need more media that will publish these good-news stories about societies that actually work. Please keep doing it!

  24. John Day

    August 2, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    Thank you John for this very valuable article and conclusions.
    The “Westminster” system is totally out of date with contemporary social, efficient administration and maintenance of long term planning demands and requirements. In the last years I have researched the differences between Scandinavian and our own community and government systems. John you have summed and highlighted these very well.
    What part of our “Westminster” system works efficiently and provides an excellent service to community members. I cannot think of one, except on a one for one people basis with our education, medical, defense and emergency services.
    The shear waste of money, duplication’s, rorting, and almost total lack of any coherent response from government departments is just staggering.
    My personal view after many years of trying to find a way through all this is:
    I will only vote for someone I believe will bring life skills to parliament and will answer my questions openly. Why would you vote for someone who is a party hack and will only supports the party line? Until 30 – 50 % of us vote in a legal way but not for anybody that we do not value, the current system will continue.
    I will continue to regularly ask hard questions of the elected representatives who should be representing the community, not their party, or blindly supporting the system or exclusively business interests. If enough of us did this regularly in a reasoned and “respectful” way, I believe it would start to make a change in the system. Perhaps post the questions and answers on a web page.
    A key issue for me is – how come an elected representative can be forced to vote a particular way – not as their conscience or on behalf of the feedback received from the broad community? To me this epitomizes how corrupt the whole system is.
    To get the average voter interested and let our elected representative know the community views, we must have regular public meeting at community level. Where we strongly invite our elected representatives to attend. Members of the community can ask questions directly and get to know who their representatives are.. They can also learn how focused the elected representative is. This can also be independent of the established media and these meeting can be posted on the web, for all to see. I am able to hold regular meeting in the Tamar area of Lyons. We need say another 10 TT readers or others to cover the rest of the state.
    Thank you again John for the article.

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