S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Aug. 12, 2007
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/07.0812.queen3.htm


South Carolina can learn about life from Australians
By Andy Brack, Publisher

MARYBOROUGH, Queensland, Aug. 10, 2007 - - After traveling around Australia for almost three weeks, one thing is clear: Australians generally have a better quality of life than South Carolinians.

And for a resident of the country considered the greatest in the free world, that's pretty eye-opening.

Americans have a lot of advantages over people in other countries: the world's richest market, best university system, best technology infrastructure and best health care services. But in America, we've also got 47 million people who don't have health insurance and 37 million people who live in poverty. We've got huge drug problems, with crime and violence tagging along..

That's not to say Australia doesn't have drugs, violence or other problems. One Queensland constable said the state, which has the population of South Carolina, had fewer than 100 murders last year, compared to about 300 in the Palmetto State. But here, it's hard to find urban blight, blocks of people who live in poverty and ramshackle houses in the country.

All in all, Americans would be surprised how good the quality of life is here. Can you imagine an employment system that allows you to take "long service leave" - - extra vacation when you've been working at a job for a certain length of time? A police detective with more than 20 years on the job will take off four months in a row. Another officer with similar experience has so much vacation built up that he could take off a full year without returning to work.

Consider other parts of Australia's work system:

  • Vacation. While some Americans struggle to get even two weeks of vacation, just about everyone in Australia gets a minimum of four weeks of vacation. More interesting: they actually get paid more on vacation (about 8 percent more) because folks know vacationers spend when they're on holiday.

  • Minimum wage. As American politicians crow about a recent increase in the minimum wage to $5.85 per hour, Australians are appalled at our low wage. Their minimum wage is around $14 per hour, no matter what job - - and they fight for annual increases to reflect economic realities.

  • Health care. Australia has universal health care. Everyone has a Medicare card and can go to the doctor of their choice. There is, however, an alternate private health system that people with more money go to if they want better care. It, as you would expect, costs more. But the basic system provides enormous coverage for people throughout the country and is seen as a sacrosanct benefit that politicians can't really toy with.

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Overall, Australia seems to have a more egalitarian society than the United States. There is a very broad middle class. If there's deep poverty, it's hard to find. And while there certainly are some rich folks, it's uncommon to see a BMW or Mercedes on the highway. It is much more common to see Fords, Holdens (their version of Chevrolets), Toyotas and Nissans.

There's a sense among everyday Australians and those in government that it is important to do things for the "common good" of all. This value and others, such as people should be paid a living, fair wage for a fair day's work, permeate the culture beyond partisan lines.

As the United States was growing into a superpower, her people had this sense of building for the common good. But as many Americans have grown apathetic and even lazy about what we have, the system has changed into more of an "everybody out for themselves" society. Perhaps it's politics. Perhaps it's arrogance. Perhaps it is societal evolution.

America is a land of abundance. But one thing is for sure: we can learn a lot about living from people in other countries like Australia which might, many would argue, have a better overall quality of life.

Bottom line: I'm very happy to be coming home. But there are serious things our politicians and people can learn from people and politicians in our sister state, Queensland, and other parts of the world.

You can reach Andy Brack, publisher of SC Statehouse Report, at brack@statehousereport.com.

Recent commentary


National Beta Club started in Landrum in 1934

The National Beta Club was founded Jan. 8, 1934, at Landrum High School by Dr. John West Harris, faculty member at Wofford College. Reared on a farm and aware of the privations of his day, Harris worked to develop youth for effective leadership and achievement.

His high standards and goals were fashioned after Phi Beta Kappa and the Kiwanis and Rotary clubs. He knew achievers made A and B grades, and subsequently chose Beta (or B) for the organization's name. He asked principals and superintendents for permission to present his plan to local literary societies and sponsors.

WEEKLY EXCERPTS

S.C. Statehouse Report has partnered with USC Press to provide readers with an interesting weekly historical excerpt about the state. Each excerpt, which is used with permission and not for republication, is taken from The South Carolina Encyclopedia, a 1,077-page book published in 2006 with entries by almost 600 contributors and edited by noted historian Walter Edgar. We hope you enjoy this new feature.

The Landrum High School Literary Society (15 members) and sponsor Helen Prince were the first to apply for membership. Before the school year ended, eight other literary societies had become Beta Clubs. By the end of the following year, there were 75 chapters in four states.

As of 2005, the National Beta Club, headquartered in Spartanburg, had more than 417,000 members in the United States, the BAhamas, germany, Guam, Puerto Rico, Russia and the Virgin Islands.

-- Entry by James Walton Lawrence Sr., The South Carolina Encyclopedia

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Rex looks at school funding
By Bill Davis, editor
From the paid-subscriber issue of Statehouse Report

AUG. 10, 2007 -- Just because the General Assembly is not in session, school is not out on how to address public education funding. Big discussions being held in Columbia and around the state over the next few months may -- repeat, "may" -- spell big changes in how K-12 education is funded in South Carolina.

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AVAILABLE NOW: Furman University's Don Gordon has great things to say about Andy Brack's book of commentaries, "Bugging the Palmettos." Click here to learn more and buy the book -- only $15.00!

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Excerpts from The South Carolina Encyclopedia are published with permission and copyrighted 2006 by the Humanities Council SC. Excerpts were edited by Walter Edgar and published by the University of South Carolina Press. No republication is allowed.