Five days after its July 2 election, Australians woke up Thursday morning to find that they still don’t know who will lead the next government — and that Standard and Poor’s is moving its ‘AAA’ credit outlook from stable to negative as political uncertainty reigns.
The only clear result of the first ‘double dissolution’ election since 1987 is that it might be days or weeks before Australians know who will hold a majority in either house of their parliament, with every possibility that both houses could wind up with no clear majority.
The other clear result is that the election is that, though his Liberal/National Coalition is growing closer to winning the narrowest of majorities, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull is the clear loser of the election. Just nine months into his premiership after he convinced his party to oust its prior (more conservative) leader Tony Abbott, Turnbull has lost at least 16 seats in the 150-member House of Representatives to the center-left Australian Labor Party (ALP). The Coalition, as things currently stand, is now trailing in the so-called two-party preferred vote (under Australia’s single transferable vote system) by the narrowest of margins — 50.09% for Labor to 49.91% for the Coalition.
For someone whose leadership pitch came down to electability, it means his days as prime minister might be numbered — even if the Coalition emerges with a majority.
Politics isn’t always fair, but Turnbull’s problem has always been that he’s a moderate in a conservative party.
I have no doubt that Turnbull, who has always been far more socially progressive than many other Coalition MPs, would like to accomplish some heady goals as prime minister. He’s been an ambitious man his whole life, and there’s no reason to believe that, with the right kind of mandate, Turnbull would like to solve several conundrums that neither the Coalition nor the Australian Labor Party (ALP) have been able to solve.
He might *like* to find a way to end the detention centers in Nauru and Manus Island without encouraging thousands of poor Asians to risk their live by getting on rafts to Australia, especially after Papua New Guinea’s supreme court ruled the Manus Island detention center unconstitutional.
He might *like* to have Australia’s parliament vote to pass marriage equality for gay and lesbian Australians and be done with an issue that now separates Australia from much of the rest of the developed world — almost all of western Europe, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.
He might *like* to redesign the failed carbon trading scheme that former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard enacted (and that Abbott, a few years later, abolished) as perhaps a business-friendlier carbon tax. After all, Turnbull lost his position as leader of the Liberal Party to Abbott in 2009 after he tried to compromise with the Labor government on climate change.
He might even *like* to take another run at an Australian republic after leading the pro-republic campaign in the failed 1993 referendum.
Since Coalition prime minister John Howard lost the 2007 election, and thereby leaving office after 11 consecutive years in office, Australia has changed prime ministers exactly four times.
That wouldn’t be so remarkable in an era of rapid change and economic anxiety — except for the fact that Australians have only gone to the polls twice since 2007.
Internal coups, unknown in the democratic and developed world outside Japan, within both the center-left Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the center-right Liberal Party (the dominant partner in the ‘Coalition’ with the more socially conservative National Party) have made politics in Australia possibly more exciting in between elections than during election campaigns.
Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull came to power only last September after ousting his more conservative predecessor Tony Abbott in an internal coup, as Liberal MPs in Australia’s House of Representatives began worrying about polls that showed Abbott would easily lose the next election. Those polls turned around when Turnbull, a more moderate figure who led the Liberal Party briefly from 2008 to 2009 and who led the 1999 campaign to transform Australia from a constitutional monarchy into a republic, became prime minister.
Labor leader Bill Shorten, in his own right, has managed to do in opposition what Labor couldn’t manage when it was in government for six years — remain united. Though Labor was elected in 2007 with a wide mandate for Kevin Rudd, he was ousted by his own deputy prime minister, Julia Gillard, within two years. Though she won a narrower mandate in her own right in 2010, the Labor caucus, in turn, ousted Gillard in mid-2013 when it appeared that she would not win the next election. Instead, they turning back to Rudd, who subsequently lost the 2013 election, however narrowly, to Abbott and the Coalition.
As Australia goes to the polls in a campaign that has been unmercifully long by Australian standards and mercifully short by American standards (eight weeks), neither Turnbull nor Shorten seem to inspire much confidence from the electorate. The two have spent the campaign tussling over issues from health care to the economy to LGBT marriage equality to immigration and, in the process, making voters like each of them less.
It’s a tight race. Polls show that the Coalition holds the narrowest of advantages, about 51% to 49%, over Labor in the so-called ‘two-party preferred’ vote — which reflects the outcome of a compulsory electoral system that features a preferential instant-runoff mechanism. It’s almost certain that the Coalition is doing far better than it would have been under Abbott’s leadership, though it’s almost just as certain that, even if Turnbull wins, it will be with a much reduced majority in both houses — and in each house, the balance of power may lie with third parties such as the Australian Greens.
Though both the center-right Turnbull and the center-left Shorten are sensible moderates well capable of governing Australia in a competent and centrist manner, voters seem to have tired of the internal scheming that have come to characterize both of the country’s two major parties.
Turnbull, once a moderate lion who championed climate change legislation, LGBT equality and an Australian republic, was forced by his more right-wing caucus to run on a platform around an AUS$48 billion corporate tax cut.
Shorten, who once vowed to defend the carbon trading scheme, is running on an ambiguous platform, shellshocked by the damage that Labor sustained in 2013 over what was perceived as a double mining tax and carbon tax. Those issues have become especially tender now that the Chinese economy has slowed and the global demand for commodities is somewhat subdued.
On gay marriage, both Turnbull and Shorten personally favor marriage equality. But Turnbull has been pushed towards supporting a nation-wide referendum on the matter, while Shorten has promised to call a vote in the Australian parliament if elected. The Labor position is that a plebiscite is a Coalition tactic to divide Australians that would bring unnecessary strife and animosity to the LGBT community (though Shorten in recent days has taken flak for once supporting such a vote).
Though the Great Barrier Reef is going through a horrific moment of coral bleaching, Australian politics is moving away from the carbon trading scheme (and mining tax) that Rudd promised, that Gillard enacted and that Abbott repealed. Ironically, Abbott ousted Turnbull from the Liberal leadership in 2009 after Turnbull tried to strike a deal with Rudd on the carbon trading scheme. Today, Turnbull, in thrall to his more conservative parliamentary caucus, would never sign up to a similar deal. Shorten, for his part, failed to stop the carbon trading scheme’s repeal last year.
In recent years, both parties have moved towards a more restrictive immigration policy. Both are now wedded to the policy of offshore detention of immigrants bound for Australia in subpar camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, notwithstanding a Papua New Guinean judicial ruling in April that called into constitutional question Australia’s immigration policy.
In some ways, the Australian election feels retro, like a British election a quarter-century ago. Australian commentators are still talking about ‘swings’ from the Coalition to Labor in a two-party world. That’s even as the Australian Greens stand to make even more gains in Saturday’s election, under the leadership of Richard Di Natale, a senator from Victoria, who took over the party’s leadership in May 2015. Nick Xenophon, an independent-minded senator from South Australia who came to power initially to oppose gambling machines in the late 1990s, is now leading a centrist ‘Nick Xenophon Team’ that could win seats in both houses.
The stakes are particularly higher in 2016, because Australia is having (for the first time since 1987) a so-called ‘double dissolution’ election, in which all 150 members of the parliament’s lower house, the House of Representatives, and all 76 members of the upper house, the Senate, are up for election. In most elections, only half of the Senate’s members are on the ballot — in other words, half of an Australian state’s 12 senators are up for election.
But the current Senate is deadlocked. While the Coalition has more seats than Labour (an advantage of 33 to 25), 10 members of the Senate belong to the Green Party and another eight senators belong to other small parties or sit as independents.
If Australia’s House of Representatives and Senate twice fail to agree on legislation, the government may prevail upon the governor-general to dissolve both the House and the Senate under section 57 of Australia’s constitution. In the current election, four bills qualify to trigger such a double-dissolution election.
Of the most important elections in 2015, it’s a safe bet to argue that three of them took place in Greece: the January parliamentary elections, one insane roller-coaster of a referendum in July and another snap parliamentary vote again in September.
So what is the world to do in 2016, when no one expects Greeks to return to the polls? (Though, Athens being Athens, it’s impossible to rule the possibility out.)
Fear not. The new year will bring with it a fresh schedule of exciting elections on all seven continents, including in the United States, which after a marathon pair of primary campaigns, will finally choose the country’s 45th president in November 2016.
But following American politics only begins to scratch the surface.
At least two world leaders in 2016 will put ballot questions to voters that could make or break their careers (and legacies).
New governments could emerge from elections in Taiwan, the Philippines, Morocco, Georgia, Peru, Jamaica, Ghana, Zambia and Australia.
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy will either advance or flame out in his bid for a French political comeback in 2016.
Semi-autocratic leaders in Russia, Uganda, Congo and Vietnam will seek endorsements from their voters while hoping that the veneer of elections doesn’t unleash popular protest.
An opaque series of votes in Iran could determine the country’s future Supreme Leader.
A mayoral election in London (and regional elections outside England) could reshuffle British politics with an even more important vote on the horizon in 2017.
One very special election could change the international agenda of world peace and global security altogether.
Everyone expected that if Australia’s ruling Liberal Party were to lose the upcoming by-election in the Canning district, prime minister Tony Abbott would face an uprising against his hard-edged conservative style, even as rumors swirled that Abbott was preparing to call a special ‘double dissolution’ snap election that would involve members of both houses of Australia’s parliament.
No one expected that Abbott would face a leadership ‘spill’ even before the by-election, though it was abjectly clear that Abbott’s premiership was in danger as far back as February, when he defeated a leadership challenge by a vote of just 66 to 39.
Blindsided by a Liberal caucus worried about its fate in Australia’s coming election, which must be held on or before January 2017, Abbott’s internal party critics finally brought him down late Monday night, Canberra time, narrowly electing former leader and communications minister Malcolm Turnbull (pictured above) as the Liberal Party’s new leader — and, therefore, the leader of Australia’s Liberal/National Coalition government and Australia’s 29th prime minister.
Literally overnight, it brings a new government to Australia from the moderate wing of the Liberal Party — a new centrist prime minister who is LGBT-friendly, more likely to balance liberty and security, sympathetic to the fight against climate change and, above all, ready to signal a singular focus on Australia’s growing economic woes.
Turnbull — a moderate and a ‘small-l’ liberal
Turnbull is a moderate who has always been much more widely popular with the Australian public than Abbott, whose own prickly personality and economic and social conservatism dragged the current Coalition government firmly to the right. Six months into Abbott’s tenure as prime minister, Australia’s center-left Labor Party, under the new leadership of Bill Shorten, took the lead in polling surveys and never looked back. Labor now holds a healthy lead of between five and 10 points in most surveys on the two-party preferred vote (the measure when all third-party votes are distributed, through second preferences, to Labor and the Coalition, as the two largest parties).
Turnbull’s election will pull the governing Liberal Party back to the center of Australian politics after a two-year Abbott government that’s arguably one of the country’s most right-wing in history.
Turnbull is set to embrace a more urgent tone on economic policy, including a full-throated embrace of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) signed in July 2015 and the multi-continental Trans-Pacific Partnership. Turnbull, in his post-election press conference, praised New Zealand’s prime minister John Key for enacting economic reforms and explaining them well to the electorate. Joe Hockey, the government’s treasurer (essentially the equivalent of finance minister), an Abbott loyalist who denounced Turnbull’s leadership challenge, seems certain to lose his role as the chief economic policymaker.
Turnbull also embraces a much more liberal view on civil liberties, even in an era of rising national security. Unlike Abbott, who firmly opposes LGBT marriage, Turnbull fully supports it and it’s reasonable to expect that he will allow the Australian parliament to hold a ‘free vote’ on the matter — if for no other reason than to lower tensions on the issue before the next election.
As a former environmental minister who once supported the opposition Labor Party’s attempt to introduce a carbon pricing scheme, Turnbull’s election will give Australia a much stronger voice as November’s global climate summit in Paris approaches.
The Canning by-election, scheduled for September 19, comes after the death of Don Randall, a sitting MP who was first elected to the Australian House of Representatives in 1996. The contest, which takes place in a district on the outskirts of Perth in Western Australia, is essentially too close to call, even though Randall and the Liberals easily won the seat in the 2013 election with 51% of the vote (and with 62% of the ‘two-party preferred’ vote).
Though the Coalition’s political troubles are in large part due to Abbott’s personal unpopularity, Turnbull’s election will not magically transform the perilous fundamentals for Liberal reelection hopes. The tanking price of commodities has hurt Australia’s mining-heavy economy, especially as China’s economy stalls after decades of double-digit GDP growth. If Turnbull waits until early 2017 to call fresh elections, Australia might well be in recession. Moreover, Turnbull may seek a personal mandate as the new Liberal leader — in 2010, Gillard called an election almost immediately after succeeding Rudd to legitimize her own premiership.
It’s difficult to say what the Turnbull coup will mean for Saturday’s by-election. The new prime minister may himself call snap elections earlier than absolutely necessary, despite the fact that the current government can expect to command a stable majority for the next 16 months.
Second time lucky
A Sydney native, Turnbull is a banker whose first involvement in Australian politics came in 1993, when he chaired the Australian Republican Movement, which aims to make Australia a republic with an elected president (and not a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state) — republicans only narrowly lost a 1999 referendum on creating such a republic. Though the 1999 fight brought together traditional allies from the right and the left, Abbott is a committed monarchist and he drew derision in January when he awarded a knighthood to prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II’s husband.
Elected to the Australian parliament in 2004, Turnbull’s ascent was rapid and, in the final year of prime minister John Howard’s government, Turnbull served as minister for the environment and water. Though he won the Liberal leadership in 2008, discontent among the opposition’s right flank to the Labor carbon pricing scheme forced him out nearly a year later after Turnbull instructed his caucus to support the bill. After two leadership spills in a week, Abbott usurped the leadership in December 2009 after two ballots, by the narrowest margin of 42 to 41.
He may be one of Australia’s most conservative prime ministers in recent history, but Tony Abbott isn’t above using government as a nudge to coerce better public policy outcomes.
Earlier this week, Abbott announced that Australia’s national government is serious about compelling parents to vaccinate their children from diseases, such as measles, mumps, rubella and whooping cough, that were largely eradicated in the post-vaccination era, and that are now returning as larger numbers of parents refuse to vaccinate their children out of fears of autism or other untoward health effects. Doctors overwhelmingly argue that there’s no link between vaccination and autism or other severe side effects.
The anti-vaccination movement has become an increasing problem throughout the world for many reasons, including both pious Muslims in northern Nigeria (who have resisted polio vaccinations) and health-conscious leftists in California (with fears over autism). The Abbott government’s step is one of the most aggressive steps that any government in the world has taken to coerce parents to accept vaccination.
Starting in January 2016, the government will no longer recognize an exemption for ‘conscientious objectors,’ which currently allows nearly 40,000 Australians to refuse vaccination for their children. That, in turn, has boosted the number of incidents of childhood diseases that had largely disappeared (and not only among children). The change means that Australian parents stand to lose funding of up to A$2100 (equivalent to US$1600) per child in tax credits and up to A$15,000 (equivalent to US$11,400) in additional government funding, including rebates for child care, if they continue to refuse to vaccinate.
With enough participation in a vaccination program, not every person needs to be vaccinated, because of the so-called ‘herd immunity’ that comes when a high percentage of a population has been protected. It provided protect to those who can’t tolerate the vaccine, including very young children or the immune-compromised. But it also creates a ‘free-rider’ problem, whereby any given individual has an incentive to opt out of vaccination due to the fear, real or imagined, of any risk that might come with receiving a particular vaccine. Continue reading Australia’s government changes law to punish anti-vaxxers→
After two recent high-profile failures at the ballot box, the center-right Liberal Party is breathing a sigh of relief today with an election victory in New South Wales, Australia’s largest state and the home of Liberal prime minister Tony Abbott.
Less than a year after Liberal premier Barry O’Farrell resigned over a gift bottle of wine valued at $3,000, his successor Mike Baird won a renewed mandate for the Liberals in Saturday’s state election. That will come as some relief to Abbott, whose rising unpopularity caused a leadership spill in his own caucus in mid-February and whose hold on the Liberal leadership (and premiership) is still somewhat shaky. A Liberal loss in New South Wales, following losses last November in Victoria state and on January 31 in Queensland, would have certainly renewed calls for Abbott’s replacement.
New South Wales was the original name given to the British colony on Australia’s mainland established at Sydney in 1788. Over the decades of the 19th century, the colony was eventually whittled down to the pattern of today’s Australian states and territories. Nevertheless, its 7.4 million residents constitute nearly one-third of Australia’s population today.
Baird’s popularity won’t necessarily make him a direct threat to Abbott. Success at the provincial level in Australian politics only rarely results in a leap to federal politics. Former Labor premier Bob Carr, who served from 1995 to 2005, overseeing the 2000 summer Olympic games in Sydney, made the jump in 2012 only after then-prime minister Julia Gillard appointed him to Australia’s senate as part of his appointment as foreign minister. Moreover, Abbott is personally and ideologically closer to Baird than he was to O’Farrell. He’s far more likely to face a federal leadership challenge from communications minister Malcolm Turnbull or foreign minister Julie Bishop than from Baird.
Like Abbott at the federal level, Baird governs at the provincial level in a longstanding coalition with the National Party. Though the center-left Labor Party gained 11 seats, mostly at the expense of the Liberal/National coalition, which lost eight seats, Baird will continue to enjoy a plurality of seats in the state legislature’s upper house, the Legislative Council, and a strong majority in the lower house, the Legislative Assembly. Continue reading Liberals win big in New South Wales state election→
In some ways, Malcolm Fraser was the ‘George W. Bush’ of Australian politics.
For many Australians, especially on the left, his road to the premiership was tainted by the original sin of having taken power in a bloodless coup, when he convinced Australia’s governor-general to appoint him prime minister (and ousting Labor’s Gough Whitlam) in the middle of a political meltdown that, to this day, serves as a touchstone for constitutional crisis in Australia. As defence minister from 1969 to 1971, Fraser was among the first officials who bore responsibility for bringing Australia into the US-led Vietnam quagmire.
Fraser, who quickly won his own mandate in 1975, and again in 1977 and in 1980, died today at age 84. He served as prime minister from the center-right Liberal Party and, though he came to office with a reputation for very conservative rhetoric, governed more as the patrician Ted Heath than free-marketeer Margaret Thatcher. Though he’d become Australia’s third-longest serving prime minister — he left public office after his 1983 defeat by popular Labor leader Bob Hawke — he became in his later years a pariah in Liberal circles, beginning with what many young Liberal firebrands believed to be a milquetoast and unambitious record for an eight-year premiership.
In his later years, however, Fraser became something else altogether. When his former treasurer, John Howard, returned the Liberals to power in 1996, he quickly found in Fraser more of a critic than an ally. The most searing rupture came over Iraq, ironically, with Fraser denouncing Howard’s willingness to send Australian troops to fight an American war in the Middle East.
By the end, Fraser had made peace with his ally Whitlam, who preceded Fraser, his old rival, in death by just five months. Fraser had so alienated Howard and the Liberal hierarchy that Fraser became he of an inconvenient fact, too contrarian to embrace with a record too long to forget.
Like Bush, however, whose efforts to reverse the HIV/AIDS plague across sub-Saharan Africa loom larger to his legacy with every passing year, Fraser too had a humanitarian side. He was a friend to the opponents of South Africa’s apartheid regime before it became a politically safe position, and he even opposed white minority rule in what was then Rhodesia, hastening the rise of majority rule in the new Zimbabwe (at a time when no one could have known just how horrendously Robert Mugabe would betray the promise of its independence). He pushed forward legislation to boost indigenous Australians, and he boosted immigration by welcoming Vietnamese refugees to Australia.
He died unloved — neither by the Liberals who viewed the Fraser years as a wasted opportunity nor by the Labor stalwarts who thought Fraser nothing more than a usurper. But his final message is one that US policymakers should hear more often, as outlined in his 2014 book, Dangerous Allies, a critique of the bilateral relationship between the United States and Australia.
Fraser’s most enduring legacy, beyond the disastrous constitutional plotting that ended Whitlam’s premiership, will be the voice he found later in life, two decades after the end of his own premiership in questioning Australia’s passive willingness to join the United States in short-sighted foreign policy. Continue reading What Malcolm Fraser can teach the United States→
More than an unpopular mining tax or one of the world’s most progressive carbon trading schemes, Australian voters booted the last Labor government as a punishment for the personality-driven drama between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard who, in six years of government, traded the premiership twice and fought through four different leadership battles.
Rudd eventually returned to leadership in the summer of 2013 when its fickle members worried that sticking with Gillard would result in an electoral catastrophe. Labor lost the election anyways, and Tony Abbott, the conservative leader of the opposition Liberal/National Coalition, became prime minister.
Just 17 months after taking office, however, Abbott now faces the same dynamic, and Australia’s prime minister survived a ‘leadership spill’ earlier this week by a narrow margin of 66 to 39. If successful, the challenge would have opened the way for a direct leadership contest, presumably against either two more popular figures — communications leader (and former Liberal leader) Malcolm Turnbull or Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop, a rising star.
The leadership wobbles point to a growing trend of snap leadership contests that are reshaping Australian politics by narrowing the time horizons for leaders of both major parties. Though that makes party leaders conceivably much more responsive to their colleagues and it also gives individual government ministers more power and leverage, it correspondingly creates uncertainty and drives weaker leadership. Think, for example, of the rotating-door premierships so common in Japan or Italy for much of the post-war era.
Why Abbott was so vulnerable
Abbott largely did what he said he would do when he was elected in September 2013. He’s deployed enough military personnel and detained enough asylum seekers at detention centers in Papua New Guinea to sufficiently disincentivize immigrants from attempting the dangerous trek to Australia by boat. He successfully won enough support among the Australian Senate’s independents to kill both Rudd-Gillard era accomplishments — first, their landmark carbon trading scheme and, a month later, an unpopular tax on mining profits (that, in any event, raised far less revenue than initially anticipated). For good measure, Abbott finalized two key free trade deals, with Japan and with South Korea, at a time when the Australian economy is reeling from both China’s economic slump and a decline in global commodities prices. In the crisis over downed Malaysian Airline flight 370, he showed genuine regional leadership, especially in contrast to the Malaysian government. In Abbott, Australians got exactly the prime minister that was advertised — a passionate right-wing conservative not afraid of controversy.
It may yet be a long way back to taking national power in Australia, but the center-left Australian Labor Party will begin in Victoria, where it reclaims only its second state government across Australia.
Victoria, the second-most populous state in Australia, and home to Melbourne, has long been friendly terrain for Labor.
It’s not surprising, then, that Labor would win Saturday’s election, even though it represents the first time in 60 years that the electorate in Victoria tossed out a government after just one term in office.
Though results are not yet final, reliable early accounts give Labor 47 seats in the 88-member Legislative Assembly, and the Liberal Party’s leader, outgoing premier Denis Napthine, has already conceded defeat.
The Victorian election is a moderate defeat for Liberal/Coalition prime minister Tony Abbott, who had hoped that Napthine, who has led a razor-thin majority coalition since 2013, could eke out a victory. Napthine replaced Ted Baillieu, who resigned in March 2013 in the wake of a minor scandal involving government favors and the anti-corruption commission. Geoff Shaw, a rogue backbencher, caused headaches for both Liberal premiers, and he was indirectly responsible for Baillieu’s resignation last year.
Labor will take power under Daniel Andrews (pictured above), the leader of the opposition since 2010. Abbott didn’t campaign hard for Napthine, but national Labour leader Bill Shorten, a Melbourne native, devoted significant time and resources to the campaign.
Among the hottest issues in the campaign was a proposed East-West Link, an 18-km tollroad that would have linked the far ends of the Melbourne metropolitan area. It was one of the crowning infrastructure projects of the Liberal/Coalition government in Victoria, though Labor was always far more hesitant about the project.
Ultimately, it’s hard to say that the Victoria result, close as it was, is a harbinger of much of anything for national politics. Abbott brought the Coalition back to power in September 2013 after six tumultuous years of Labor government under Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and, for a brief time, Rudd again last summer.
His chief policy accomplishment is the repeal of the two chief policy achievements of the previous Labor government — a carbon trading scheme and a mining tax, both of which Gillard and Labor enacted in 2012, after Rudd and the party campaigned on them in 2007.
Abbott doesn’t have to call another election until January 2017 and he currently enjoys a strong majority in the House of Commons, the lower house of the Australian parliament. Nevertheless, though Abbott last year won a relatively robust victory (53.5% of the two-party preferred vote for the Coalition versus just 46.5% for Labor), the government now narrowly trails Shorten’s Labor by a margin of 52% to 48%, according to the most recent November Essential survey. Much of the unpopularity stems from Australia’s slowing economy, due in large part to China’s respective economic slowdown, and unemployment in Victoria is currently running the highest in the country at 6.8%.
In short, though Victoria’s election was a solid win for Labor and something of a personal victory for Shorten, there’s not so much to read into the result for a federal election that might be held more than two years from now.
Gough Whitlam served as Australia’s prime minister for just three years, but the tumultuous Whitlam era gave the country its most severe constitutional crisis, a universal health care program, diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China and a progressive statesman whose spirit continues to guide the Australian left today. Notably, his short-lived government was the only one headed by the center-left Australian Labor Party between 1949 and 1983.
Whitlam, who died today at age 98, left office in 1975 after Australia’s governor-general, Sir John Kerr, controversially dismissed him as prime minister, transforming Whitlam into something of a martyr. Whitlam lived for nearly four decades to watch seven more prime ministers come and go, including the internecine battles between the two prime ministers from within his own Labor Party between 2007 and 2013, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.
Whitlam personified the hope of the new post-war generation when he came to power in 1972, the first center-left prime minister in over two decades. Despite the opposition of the newly dethroned center-right Coalition of the Liberal Party and the Country National Party, Whitlam introduced a whirlwind of legislation. He created a national healthcare system, Medicare (initially ‘Medibank’), abolished student university fees, eliminated the federal death penalty, withdrew Australian troops from Vietnam and, most controversially at the time, recognized Beijing over Taipei. Within Australia, Whitlam delivered to the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory representation in the Australian parliament’s upper house, the Senate, fought for environmental protections for the Great Barrier Reef (including a ban on offshore oil drilling) and delivered greater control over tribal lands in the Northern Territory for Australia’s indigenous population.
He introduced Australian, rather than British, passports and he replaced ‘God Save the Queen’ with an Australian national anthem. Decades later, he would team up with his former Liberal rivals to support an Australian republic in an unsuccessful 1999 referendum.
If the carbon trading scheme was the signature accomplishment of six years of Labor government, perhaps its second-most important policy achievement was the promulgation of a mining profits tax that came into effect in 2012.
But a month after Australian prime minister Tony Abbott successfully scrapped the carbon scheme, he’s now also managed to repeal the mining tax as well, which levied a 30% tax on mining profits. Ironically, the tax failed to raise anything close to the projections that the Australian Labor Party hoped, due in part a slowdown in demand for Australian commodities as China’s economy decelerates. Eliminating the tax was one of the chief campaign pledges that Abbott made in his campaign to defeat Labor last September.
Nevertheless, with the decision by Australia’s Senate to scrap the tax by a margin of 36 to 33, Abbott will easily pass the repeal through Australia’s lower house, the House of Representatives, where Abbott’s Liberal Party / National Party coalition holds a more solid majority.
As with the carbon scheme, Abbott secured the legislative victory with the support of Clive Palmer, a former mining magnate, and his new Palmer United Party, an alternative to the center-left Labor and to the center-right Coalition. Palmer holds the party’s sole seat in the House of Representatives, but the PUP holds three seats in the Senate, making it a key power broker in enacting Abbott’s policy agenda. Palmer himself is an often beguiling mix of ideologies, but he seems more at home on the right than on the left.
Palmer, who made millions as the owner of several coal and nickel interests, agreed to the repeal after securing the government’s support for several family-based initiatives. He also received a promise to freeze government contributions to Australia’s superannuation plan for nine years, forcing Abbott to rescind a campaign pledge, thereby halting a planned rise from 9% to 12% — employer contributions are now capped at 9.5%.
Under a policy introduced by former prime minister Paul Keating in the 1990s, agreed with business and labor unions, employers are required to make annual contributions to each employee’s ‘superannuation’ fund. The contribution level began at 3%, rose to 9.5% and was set to climb to 12% before the Abbott government’s latest decision, which would freeze contributions at 9.5% through 2025. That, in turn, has caused Keating and other Labor leaders to denounce the mining tax deal, arguing that it could derail the full potential of the superannuation program, which itself was designed to meet the rise of retirement-age Australians set to expand in the current decade and beyond.
Nevertheless, the deal leaves Labor in somewhat of a quandary under the leadership of former education minister Bill Shorten.
Australian voters aren’t exactly keen on Abbott’s government, which hasn’t had an incredibly easy first year in office — it’s been captive to small parties like Palmer’s in the Australian Senate and Abbott was also forced to shelve his plan to expand paid parental leave, one of his top campaign pledges last summer.
But it makes the drama of the last Labor government even more pointless. It now seems less relevant than ever if Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard was prime minister in 2010, because Abbott has, in about one month’s time, dismantled Labor’s two policy cornerstones. To have spent his first months as opposition leader railing impotently on the sidelines doesn’t make Shorten look like a prime minister in waiting, even as Abbott’s government suffers from its decisions on superannuation and paid parental leave.
In the end, Australian prime minister Tony Abbott didn’t have to call a special, massive ‘double dissolution’ election to roll back Australia’s carbon pricing scheme, the signature policy accomplishment of the six-year Labor government that preceded him.
All it took was some deft maneuvering to cobble together a working majority in the 76-member Senate, where Abbott’s Liberal/National Party holds 33 seats, just short of a majority.
Nevertheless, Abbott (pictured above) won a narrow 39 to 32 victory last month in the upper house of Australia’s parliament, on the strength of six additional non-Coalition votes to repeal the carbon trading market. Having been one of the first countries to adopt a carbon trading market, Australia on July 17 became the first country to repeal a carbon trading market.
That included the support of a mercurial former mining magnate named Clive Palmer (pictured above), whose maverick conservative Palmer United Party (PUP) became the swing vote in determining whether Abbott’s repeal push would succeed or fail.
The Labor Party’s new leader, Bill Shorten, led an unsuccessful push in alliance with the Australian Green Party, to oppose the repeal. Labor holds 25 seats in the Senate, while the Greens hold another 10.
Abbott’s resulting victory is primarily a triumphant tactical and policy victory for the Australian right, giving Abbott an easy talking point on reducing the price of electricity for the average Australian voter (though the real long-term impact of the repeal of a carbon scheme that had reduced emissions by less than 10 percent nationally is yet to be determined).
It’s also a narrative about the fragmentation of the country’s two-party system, as far as Australian senatorial elections go, with voters placing increasingly greater power in the hands of independent third-party candidates.
On the global scale, it marks a symbolic victory for opponents of similar climate change legislation worldwide, though the battle over carbon emissions was never going to be won or lost in Australia, a country of less than 23 million. Arguably, China’s decision in June, for the first time, to limit carbon emissions at the national level, will have a much wider impact on global climate change policy.
While British prime minister David Cameron continues to promote a progressive stand on climate change as an issue to pull his Conservative Party to the middle in the United Kingdom, there’s no indication that the UK is set to introduce any major climate change legislation on the scale of Australia’s experiment with carbon pricing beyond the EU’s own carbon trading scheme. Though there was a brief window in 2008 and 2009 when a carbon-based exchange system might have been enacted in the United States with bipartisan support, those days seem long gone. Nevertheless, the administration of US president Barack Obama and the US Environmental Protection Agency, however, introduced executive actions this summer that aim to reduce US carbon emissions by 30% by the year 2030.
Australia’s carbon scheme has its origins as one of the major promises of former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s widely successful 2007 campaign that brought the Labor Party back to government after more than a decade in opposition. It was, in part, Rudd’s decision to back away from climate change legislation that caused his Labor colleagues to dump him in 2010 in favor of then-deputy prime minister Julia Gillard.
After Gillard won a narrow reelection campaign of her own later that year, she enacted a comprehensive climate change bill in 2012, as well as a broader tax on mining profits (that hasn’t raised nearly as much revenue as expected).
The problem, both in Australia and beyond, is that the global financial crisis of 2008-09 left many national electorates wary of climate change legislation that, almost overnight, suddenly seemed much too costly to introduce at a time when so many developed countries were struggling with the highest unemployment and lowest GDP growth in decades.
That made Abbott’s pledge to repeal what’s popularly become known in Australia as the ‘carbon tax’ one of the most popular aspects of his agenda, which won wide support the parliamentary elections last September that brought Abbott’s Coalition into government. His recent victory in winning Senate support to repeal the carbon scheme will almost certainly rank among the chief legislative successes of his first year as prime minister.Continue reading How Tony Abbott killed Australia’s carbon trading scheme→
In the end, all it took for Barry O’Farrell to lose his job as the premier of New South Wales, Australia’s most-populous state, was a $3,000 bottle of wine.
Though he came to power in 2011 in a landslide victory over the Australian Labor Party, O’Farrell resigned last week as premier after just three years in office and seven years leading the NSW division of Australia’s center-right Liberal Party.
O’Farrell, who appeared before the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), denied having received a gift bottle of 1959 Grange Meritage from from an executive at Australian Water Holdings. Unfortunately for him, the commission had found a handwritten thank-you note to AWH’s CEO Nick Di Girolamo, which read:
Dear Nick & Jodie, We wanted to thank you for your kind note & the wonderful wine. 1959 was a very good year, even if it is getting even further away! Thanks for all your support. Kind regards, Baz & Rosemary.
A day after the thank-you note came to light, O’Farrell (pictured above) claimed that, in a ‘massive memory fail,’ he had no recollection of the gift, but nevertheless announced his resignation. He stepped down officially on Thursday, and the New South Wales treasurer Mike Baird became the state’s new premier the same day.
It’s a fairly well-trodden path for a politician caught in a bind like this — if you believe your position untenable, better to resign as early as possible, take credit for ‘falling on your own sword,’ and hope for future rehabilitation via the private sector or, in time, a political sinecure. Sure enough, at the end of the week, Liberal prime minister Tony Abbott was praising O’Farrell for having ‘taken the honorable step’ of resigning.
O’Farrell’s resignation came so fast that some commentators wondered whether he did so because he realized more revelations would come out through the commission’s investigation.
After today’s state elections in two Australian states, the center-left Australian Labor Party has lost power after 16 years in Tasmania and it may yet still lose power in South Australia, where the race remains too close to call.
If Labor hangs onto government in South Australia under premier Jay Weatherill, he’ll be the last Labor premier left standing in any Australian state, capping a catastrophic electoral run — just six years ago, Labor controlled the government in every Australian state. If the center-right Liberal Party emerges victorious in South Australia, Labor will control no state governments (though it remains in power in the Australian Capital Territory of Canberra).
In Tasmania, where Labor was believed to have had a better chance of hanging onto power, premier Lara Giddings lost her bid to win a fifth consecutive Labor government. With around 80% of the vote counted, Labor had won just 27% of the vote and six of the Tasmanian House of Representative’s 25 seats. The Liberal Party, under the leadership of Will Hodgman, who is set to become Tasmania’s new premier, will win at least 14 seats.
In South Australia, however, Weatherill could still remain premier, given the tight margin. Labor has lost ground, but not nearly as much as expected, and it’s been to the benefit of not only the Liberals, but also the South Australian Green Party. Going into today’s election, Labor controlled 26 seats in the 47-member House of Representatives (the lower house of the South Australian parliament), the Liberals controlled 18 and independents controlled three. As the final votes are counted, Labor now has 23 seats, Liberals hold 22 seats, and two independents seem increasingly likely to determine who will form the next government.
A conservative Liberal/National Coalition government under prime minister Tony Abbott swept into power last September at the national level, ending six years of rocky Labor government marked by infighting between supporters of prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. Rudd initially brought Labor to power in 2007, but his Labor caucus pushed him out of office in favor of Gillard in 2010. Shortly before last year’s election and facing a landslide defeat under Gillard, the Labor caucus turned back to Rudd, who served as prime minister again for the final three months of Labor’s government. Both Rudd and Gillard have retired from politics, and former financial services minister Bill Shorten was elected Labor’s new national leader in October.
Accordingly, here are 14 possible game-changers — they’re not predictions per se, but neither are they as far-fetched as they might seem. No one can say with certainty that they will come to pass in 2014. Instead, consider these something between rote predictions (e.g., that violence in Iraq is getting worse) and outrageous fat-tail risks (e.g., the impending breakup of the United States).
There’s an old album of small pieces conducted by the late English conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, a delightfully playful album entitled Lollipops that contains some of the old master’s favorite, most lively short pieces.
Think of these as Suffragio‘s 14 world politics lollipops to watch in 2014.