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.
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.
The hand-wringing about Turkish democracy turned out to be overwrought — electoral churn is alive and well, despite the efforts of its president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to consolidate the power of his ruling party, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party).
For the first time since the AKP came to power in 2002, Erdoğan wasn’t technically leading the party after winning the presidency last year. Nevertheless, his presence was clear enough in the weeks leading up to the vote, threatening journalists and campaigning openly in defiance of the traditional independence of the office of the presidency, which Erdoğan hoped to strengthen significantly by changing Turkey’s constitution.
Erdoğan hoped to win the 330 seats necessary to initiate constitutional changes to shift power permanently to the presidency and away from the assembly. Instead, the AKP fell to just 256 seats, 20 short of a majority. While that’s enough for the AKP to remain the largest party, by far, in the Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi (Grand National Assembly), voters rewarded Erdoğan’s overreach by forcing the AKP to seek a coalition partner, a novelty after nearly a decade and a half of one-party rule.
Accordingly, the results bring more questions than answers. Though the election is probably good for the long-term stability of Turkish democracy, the result could mean a considerable amount of short-term instability, a prospect that’s already spooked Turkish markets this morning.
For the first time in Turkish history, an explicitly Kurdish party will hold seats (as a party) in the Turkish parliament. It’s a great opportunity for political pluralism, but it also brings risks. If Erdoğan turns too sharply against his Kurdish rivals, he could tragically damage the strengthening trust that he’s built over the past decade between the Kurdish minority and the Turkish government.
Prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Erdoğan’s former foreign minister, had pledged to resign in the event that the AKP failed to win enough seats to form a government, so his future is very much in question. If he goes, Erdoğan will be hard-pressed to find a reliable ally who satisfies both wings of the AKP and who will also govern in deference to Erdoğan’s wishes.
Moreover, shifting to coalition politics will prove difficult for the AKP, most especially Erdoğan. Even if he manages to find a junior coalition partner, Erdoğan might be anxious to hold new elections to restore the party’s majority. As much as the June 7 elections affirmed the resilience of Turkish democracy, snap elections might prove an even more serious test if Erdoğan is willing to resort to extralegal steps — especially after he flouted presidential impartiality and the AKP devoted significant state resources to its election victory.
Erdoğan, over the years, has gradually consolidated authority into a narrowing group of advisers, to the point that he’s sidelined senior AKP figures, including co-founders like deputy prime minister Bülent Arınç and former president Abdullah Gül, who might otherwise challenge his authority. Increasingly, Erdoğan gradually shifted away from democratic best practices that emphasize liberal freedoms and consensus-building. Turkish voters are also becoming impatient with a slowing economy after years of booming expansion. Continue reading Coalition politics returns to Turkey after AKP loses majority→
At nearly the last hour, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu finalized the smallest possible coalition possible.
After Netanyahu’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned on Monday and announced that his Russian-interest, secular nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu (ישראל ביתנו, ‘Israel is Our Home’) would head into opposition, it left the prime minister scrambling to build a government with a Wednesday night deadline looming.
Having secured agreements with Moshe Kahlon’s center-right Kulanu (כולנו, ‘All of Us’) and with two ultraorthodox parties, it left Netanyahu and his center-right Likud (הַלִּכּוּד) dependent on the final right-wing party, Bayit Yehudi (הבית היהודי, ‘The Jewish Home’) to form a working coalition. Kahlon, a former Likud communications minister, will serve as the government’s finance minister, is particularly concerned with policies to reduce inequality and rising domestic prices.
With just eight seats (four fewer than in the previous Knesset) and hard feelings between Netanyahu and the Bayit Yehudi leader, Naftali Bennett, Lieberman’s decision suddenly gave Bennett much more negotiating power. Without Bennett, Netanyahu would not have a majority; Israel’s president Reuven Rivlin could thereupon turn to the leader of the opposition, Isaac Herzog, to seek an alternative government coalition.
The result was a poisonous 48 hours of negotiation between the Netanyahu and Bennett camps, with Bennett angling to win the all-important justice ministry for Ayelet Shaked and, perhaps, improving his own ministerial portfolio from education to the foreign ministry. With Likud’s ranks already grumbling about handing over the education ministry to Bennett, Netanyahu’s allies were downright furious — and embarrassed — to cave to Bennett on the justice ministry. It’s an important post because it will allow Bayit Yehudi to demand changes to the Israeli supreme court and it will give Bayit Yehudi the power to shape the appointment of Israel’s next attorney general.
Bennett, who served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff briefly in the 2000s, headed a pro-settler organization in the West Bank before assuming Bayit Yehudi’s leadership in 2013. The religious, right-wing Zionist party is in favor of greater settlements, and Netanyahu’s lurch rightward during the election campaign was designed to steal its voters to Likud’s ranks — a gambit that seemed to work.
In Netanyahu’s previous government, Bennett served as economy minister, though he enhanced his profile during the Israeli offensive in the Gaza strip in the summer of 2014, criticizing Netanyahu for not taking even stronger action to thwart Hamas.
The deal salvages Netanyahu’s third term as prime minister, but it comes at a huge cost. With just 61 MKs, Netanyahu can be held hostage in the future over any piece of legislation or government action by a single member of his own coalition. Just a couple of rebels could conceivably bring the government down, which could force a new government or fresh elections. After such contentious negotiations, moreover, trust between Netanyahu and Bennett, never strong, is at a nadir. Likud officials are already telling the Israeli media that they’ll seek ‘revenge’ for Bennett’s ‘extortions.’
To make matters worse, Bayit Yehudi is not entirely united behind Bennett’s leadership, and members of the even-harder-right ‘Tekuma’ faction were demanding that their leader, Uri Ariel, be given the justice portfolio instead of Shaked. For now, however, Ariel seems to be happy with the agricultural ministry.
Netanyahu still has another week to win a formal vote of confidence from the 120-member Knesset. But Netanyahu’s first task will start immediately — to build out his existing coalition on an ASAP basis so as to reduce the possibility of political blackmail or even to push Bayit Yehudi out of government altogether.
The most tantalizing option would be for Netanyahu to convince Herzog to form a ‘national unity’ government with the Zionist Union (המחנה הציוני), a coalition between the center-left Labor Party (מפלגת העבודה הישראלית) and a bloc of moderates led by former justice minister Tzipi Livni.
For now, Herzog has been adamant that he will not join any government headed by Netanyahu, and he was quick to criticize the instability of Netanyahu’s latest coalition:
Herzog criticized Netanyahu’s newly formed government shortly after it was announced Wednesday night, saying in a statement that the 61-seat coalition “lacks responsibility, stability and governance.” He called it a “national disaster of a government. A weak and narrow government, susceptible to blackmail, that will advance nothing and will quickly be replaced by a responsible and hopeful alternative.”
Netanyahu purposefully held open the foreign ministry position with an eye to convincing Herzog to join a national unity government.
But if Herzog cannot be convinced to do so within the months ahead, Netanyahu might try to split off a handful of Labor hawks or the faction loyal to Livni, who most recently served as Netanyahu’s justice minister between 2013 and 2015.
Netanyahu’s former finance minister, Yair Lapid, is adamant that he will not return to an alliance with Likud, especially after Netanyahu agreed to the ultraorthodox parties’ request to revisit the crackdown on exemptions from military service for religious students. But that doesn’t mean Netanyahu can’t try to poach several members of Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid (יש עתיד, ‘There is a Future’).
His final option, and perhaps the easiest of all, is to find a way to soothe his onetime ally Lieberman’s concerns and bring Yisrael Beitenu back into government.
Foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman was once so close to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the two political leaders joined forces to fight the 2013 elections on a joint ticket. When Lieberman stepped down as foreign minister in 2012 pending resolution of charges of fraud and breach of public trust, Netanyahu held the foreign affairs portfolio himself, with every intention of re-appointing Lieberman to the position when Lieberman was subsequently cleared of the corruption-related charges.
That makes it all the more spectacular that Lieberman announced Monday that he was resigning his office and that his party, the secular nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu (ישראל ביתנו, ‘Israel is Our Home’), would not be joining Netanyahu’s next governing coalition, throwing the prime minister’s plans for a third consecutive term into disarray.
With 48 hours to go before Netanyahu has to assemble a government, he now has to deal with the loss of six seats that have reduced his expected coalition to a bare majority of 61 of the Knesset’s 120 seats — not to mention a sudden fight to replace Lieberman as foreign minister. Netanyahu’s decision, rushed though it may be, will set the tone for Israel’s troubled relations with the United States and with Europe. Moreover, without Yisrael Beitenu, Netanyahu’s government could collapse on the whim of a single MK, including hard-line allies on the Israeli right.
That’s renewed the growing speculation that Netanyahu might be forced, either now or in coming months, to seek a national unity government with the largest opposition party, the Zionist Union (המחנה הציוני), a coalition between the center-left Labor Party (מפלגת העבודה הישראלית) and a bloc of moderates led by former justice minister Tzipi Livni. The Zionist Union’s leader Isaac Herzog reiterated his refusal, however, to join a Netanyahu coalition. Though Netanyahu won a two-week extension to form a government from Israeli president Reuven Rivlin in late April, Herzog will likely have his chance to form a government if Netanyahu fails to do so before the May 7 deadline.
Lieberman, for what it’s worth, blamed Netanyahu’s concessions to the haredi parties that seek the repeal of laws passed by secular lawmakers in the prior government to reduce military exemptions for ultraorthodox students and liberalize marriage laws, which made official Jewish weddings much easier for Russian immigrants who vote for Yisrael Beitenu. Lieberman also challenged Netanyahu’s toughness on Gaza, and he bemoaned the way that Netanyahu and allies abandoned a controversial bill to proclaim Israel a ‘Jewish state.’ Many commentators in Israel were quick to ascribe more cynical motives to Lieberman, who had once harbored dreams of succeeding Netanyahu as prime minister, and Likud officials vented their fury with Lieberman. Continue reading Lieberman resignation rocks Israeli coalition talks→
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→
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.
Though Geert Wilders and his anti-Moroccan comments dominated headlines following last month’s municipal elections throughout The Netherlands, the clear winner was the Democraten 66 (D66, Democrats 66) and its leader Alexander Pechtold (pictured above).
Nearly a year and a half after the last Dutch general election, D66 is emerging in polls as the strongest party in The Netherlands today, in light of the government’s increasing unpopularity under the strain of budget cuts and a continued sluggish economy.
Notably, D66 became the largest party in both Amsterdam and Utrecht. That’s a big deal because Amsterdam since 1946 has been the stronghold of the Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, Labour Party), the junior partner in the current Dutch government. It’s a sign of just how unpopular the government has become, and how specifically unpopular the Labour Party has become.
Nationally, the Christen-Democratisch Appèl (CDA, Christian Democratic Appeal) won the highest share of the vote with 17.7%, largely on the strength of rural voters.
The center-right, liberal Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), the leading partner of the national government placed second with 12.7%, a significant decrease.
But D66 placed third with 9.6% of the vote and, in light of the advances in Amsterdam and Utrecht, emerged from the March 19 elections as the party with the most momentum in Dutch politics today.
It’s somewhat of an odd party.
Founded in (you guessed it!) 1966 by journalist Hans van Mierlo, its original goal was to make The Netherlands a more democratic country, with a two-party presidential republic and greater direct participation through referenda.
Today, it doesn’t necessarily want to enact a presidential republic, but it’s still split between an older radical wing and a newer liberal wing, and it has essentially become a just-left-of-center party that’s both socially liberal and economically liberal, with chiefly urban appeal limited to The Netherlands’s large cities and progressive university towns.
An art historian by training, Pechtold was the mayor of Wageningen before making the leap into national politics. He briefly served in the second government of Jan Pieter Balkenende between 2005 and 2006 as minister for government reform and kingdom relations. Continue reading Who is Alexander Pechtold?→
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.