Successive Australian Governments have revelled in having a close relationship with their US counterparts. At times it is has been pandering; at others it has resulted in engaging in illegal or unwinnable wars; all cloaked in mutual admiration.
Yet on almost any political or socio-economic indicator the two countries are far apart even if our governments pretend we aren’t.
The only areas where we are probably close is popular culture where much of our TV, films, social media and music are US imports. That may well get worse as the Morrison Government slashes funding for Australian culture.
But the deep differences are to be found in the statistics. The raw numbers make things look even worse than they are. But the US population is 328 million compared with our 25 million. So, instead of calculating per capita differences you just divide the US statistics by 13 to get a fair approximation of US and Australian relativities.
Starting with democracy. As Judith Brett has demonstrated in her book, From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage, we have developed a robust system. We have the secret ballot; electorate boundaries are determined by an independent arbiter; and, elections are conducted by an independent government authority.
16,540, 849 Australians are on the electoral roll and 96.3% of them vote even if some spoil their ballots in disgust. Our donations disclosure is far from the best it could be; our register of lobbyists is a joke; and, the role of money is more significant than even cynical Australians believe.
In the US gerrymandering is rife; electoral boundaries are set by partisan bodies and voter suppression is widespread using tactics from limiting voting booths in African American areas to denying ex-prisoners previously convicted of felonies from voting. In Florida, where a referendum was carried reversing that, the Republicans are trying to frustrate the result so that more than one million – mainly African Americans – will still be deprived of their rights.
As far as money in politics is concerned the lobbyists actually write much of the legislation and regulation and the Supreme Court says corporations have a right to free speech which enables them to spend whatever they like to influence elections – something the Koch family has been doing for years. We may have a growing problem with corruption and rorts but we are still amateurs compared to the US.
Only 55% of Americans of voting age voted in 2016 and of the 245.5 million Americans eligible to vote only 157.6 million are enrolled.
Not surprisingly the statistics on gun deaths are also widely different. Each year more than 15,000 Americans are shot and killed while in Australia the latest figure, including suicides, is 206.
Health care is a chasm not a difference. In the US 27.8 million have no health coverage at all and according to the Harvard Medical School 45,000 die each year because of lack of access to care. We have Medicare.
The latest annual US drug deaths, including overdoses, is 67,300 while in Australia it was 1740.
While the Australian health thought police are extravagant in claims about obesity probably about 30% of Australians are obese compared to 40% of Americans although anyone who has travelled to the US knows there is obesity and the special US bigger than Texas version.
Death in car accidents in the US are around 38,000 a year compared with 1194 being the latest for Australia. Only liberals wear seat belts in the view of Trump America.
So far this year US police have shot more than 1,000 people and the latest Australian figure from 2019 is nil.
And the current figures on COVID-19 are 107 deaths in Australia compared with 134,000 and counting in the US.
On the economic side things are no different. The US might be the richest country in the world but the vast majority miss out. There are 39.7 million Americans living in poverty compared with 3.24 million in Australia and the US figure is 12.3%. If you use the 13 multiplier Australia is not doing well here although the number in deep poverty in the US is 18.5 million and the equivalent figure in Australia is unclear.
On any given night there are more than 550,000 homeless people in the US compared with 116,000 in Australia on Census night. Many of the homeless in the US are deeply traumatised veterans and the largest pockets of them are in some of the richest cities in the US such as San Francisco.
The Gini index measure of inequality is 0.47 in America having increased from 0.43 in 1990. In Australia it is 0.34 but that is higher than the OECD average.
In the Land of Oz 700,000 people are unemployed and 1.147 million are underemployed. We need to remember that in Australia you are defined as employed if you work an hour a week (and you don’t have to be paid money for the work – it can be ‘truck’or payments in kind). In the US the underemployed total 22 million.
Inequality has grown in the US partly due to outsourcing, legislative action, the use of immigrants who are undocumented or on limited visas and the decline in trade union membership to 11.5% compared with Australia where 28% of full time and casual Australian workers belong to unions.
82 million Americans are paid on an hourly basis – equivalent to 28% of the workforce – many of them getting the minimum wage of $7.95 (equivalent to $A11.44 an hour) compared with the minimum Australian wage of $19.49 an hour.
Home ownership rates are similar today but the foreclosures in the US after the 2008 financial crash totalled more than 10 million and for the first time for decades the numbers of renters exceeded the number of home owners. Meanwhile the bankers who caused the bust raked in billions.
Good news for Australians though is that there are now 30% of Australians with no religious affiliation compared with 18.2% of Americans with the 80% plus US religious majority comprising 200 Christian varieties from snake handlers to rich Episcopalians.
Despite all the differences both countries share a depressingly similar record on one issue: the state and status of the people they dispossessed or enslaved. While US First Nations have more secure land titles (and casinos that go with that) they share appalling levels of health and other problems with Indigenous Australians. African Americans and Hispanics still, despite progress, also suffer very significant disadvantage compared to white Americans who because of the opioid epidemic and joblessness have had their communities devastated too.
Ironically, many of these white disadvantaged voted for Donald Trump and can be seen attacking Black Lives Matter rallies demonstrating that the Marxist concept of false consciousness is still relevant.