Voters have punished the ruling Labour Party not so much for its policies as for its turbulent governance. Labour rule was marked by bitter infighting among its leaders. Many believed that the ouster of the highly unpopular Julia Gillard by a less unpopular Kevin Rudd would serve to improve Labour’s chances at the election. Indeed, Rudd’s return to power did see a short-lived spurt in public support for the party, prompting him to call for early elections.
However, his gamble did not pay off. Labour has only itself to blame for its defeat. Indeed, this was an election that was lost by Labour rather than won by the Liberal-National coalition. Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott is known to be a pugnacious and polarising politician. He will need to adopt a consultative leadership style if he is keen to serve a full term as Australia’s prime minister.
In his victory speech, Abbott has said that scrapping the carbon tax and turning back the ‘boat people’ are top-most on his agenda. His position on both issues will be of concern to the international community. While Australian business will celebrate his promise to lift the carbon tax – he says he will offer businesses subsidies to reduce emissions, environmentalists and climate change activists worldwide see his approach as appeasement of polluters.
There is valid concern that the new government in Australia will downplay the seriousness of the global warming issue. As for the ‘boat people’ heading to Australia, their fate will hit stormy waters if Abbott persists with his plans for them. While Rudd finalised a deal with Papua New Guinea under which all asylum seekers heading to Australia would be sent off there, rather than provided a home in Australia, Abbott’s approach is even more unwelcoming and aggressive.
Abbott plans to use the Australian Navy not just to prevent asylum seekers from landing in Australia or entering its waters but to prevent them from leaving Indonesian waters. This is an inhumane approach. The future of refugees already in Australia is also uncertain, with Abbott opposed to giving them permanent visas to live in the country.
His policies may win him applause from Australian big business, as well as racist and exclusionist sections in the country. But it will put him on a collision course with the rest of the world.