Living in a goldfish bowl

We were told to be good boys and girls, remember? Keep our noses clean and the Aussie in the bow tie would put in a word for us.

Peters, M. 1969. Pommie Bastards. Sydney. Peter Leyden Publishing House Pty Ltd.
Government road safety campaign in regional New South Wales. In true Australian style, there’s no beating about the bush here. The intimation seems to be that men who speed will have small penises. I’m not sure of the science behind that intimation but I suspect that, like a lot of things in Australia, perception might be all.

Why would I use the analogy of ‘living in a goldfish bowl’ to describe living in a country that is almost as large as the USA, about 50% bigger than Europe and 32 times greater than the UK, and none of which might be described as a ‘goldfish bowl’? Well, I use the analogy because, compared to most other countries, the people of Australia are micro-governed and it is something that has been that way for a long time. Indeed, there are three levels of government for a population of only 26 million and these are national government, state governments and local councils.

As 90% of that population live on the east coast and generally not more than 50kms (about 30 miles) from the Pacific Ocean this makes ‘containment government’ very easy. This was demonstrated during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic when Australia became a fortress cut off from the rest of the world but also physically divided internally quite easily state by state and urban area by urban area.

Work undertaken by Professor Griffith Taylor over 100 years ago is still relevant today. Using the professor’s findings, the Australian Department of Information developed the map shown below. The majority of the population tends to be found in the ‘Good Agricultural And Pastoral Lands’.


Take voting as another example of micro-government. If you are an Australian citizen then it is mandatory that you cast your vote in all elections at every level. Penalties (fines and jail) apply if you don’t. In some of my earlier writings, I referred to this system of enforced compulsory voting as ‘unacceptable democracy’. As you might expect, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) sets out the arguments for compulsory voting on its website. I am not a psephologist but what the AEC doesn’t say (and what I believe is the fear of Australia’s Labor/Liberal political party duopoly) is that without enforced compulsory voting many Aussies might not turn out to cast their pebbles … and with only 17 million Australian citizens enrolled to vote (AEC June 2021) that may well allow extremist groups to come to power. Of course, and as you might expect from the land of the larrikin, there is some kick back against this in the form of ‘informal voting’ (a euphemism for ruined voting papers). Indeed, in December 2018, the AEC reported the level of informal votes in the most recent national election to be around 5%, a steady rise from 3% in 1993.

More to come …