Throw Another Government on the Barbie

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David Gray / Reuters

Conservative leader Tony Abbott walks to the stage to claim victory in Australia's federal elections in Sydney on Sept. 7, 2013

Of all the laws that govern Australia, few feel as good as compulsory voting. At my polling booth in Bondi Public School in Sydney on Saturday’s general elections, voters formed an orderly line as volunteers handed out how-to-vote cards pointing to the major parties and a plethora of minors like the Sex Party and Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks Party. The nostalgic aroma of fried sausages wafted from a barbecue manned by members of the parents-teachers association, while schoolgirls sold cupcakes from a stall nearby. Standing in the queue ahead of me was an old lady from Russia living in Australia for 10 years who candidly asked me who I was voting for. When I answered, she said she didn’t like their policies but nevertheless wished me a nice day. “The things that unite us are more powerful than the things that divide us,” said outgoing Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. “[This] is why the world marvels at Australia, this country that can manage its political differences peacefully.”

Rudd’s usurper is Tony Abbott, a 55-year-old British-born conservative with a colorful background. After migrating to Australia with his parents as a toddler, Abbott returned to the U.K. as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University where he enjoyed a brief and undefeated stint as a heavyweight boxer. Following a trip to Africa that had a profound impact on his psyche, Abbott joined a Catholic seminary in Sydney. But after three years as a trainee priest, he gave up the frock for a career in journalism until he won a seat in Parliament in 1994. In between teaching at remote Aboriginal communities and working as a volunteer firefighter, Abbott has built a political career defined by determination and a candor that struck a chord with the average Australian. (When asked about burqas in the final leg of the campaign, he said, “Frankly, it’s not the sort of attire I would like to see widespread in our streets.”) Now Abbott reached his political peak, delivering the center-right Liberal-National coalition its largest parliamentary majority since the Great Depression.

(MORE: Rudd Redux: The High Electoral Stakes Behind Australia’s P.M. Switch)

The landslide at the polls had been widely anticipated, with online bookie Sportsbet declaring it a one-horse race and paying out all bets on Abbott nine days before the elections. The incumbent may have steered Australia through the global financial crisis but was hamstrung by a series of scandals and Game of Thrones–like infighting. Rudd had only been on the job for nine weeks after ousting Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female leader, who had deposed Rudd in 2010 after a series of bungles and backflips that had paralyzed the government. “It was more of an election lost by the government than won by the opposition,” former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke commented on Sky News.

When Rudd first swept to power in 2007, the elections were framed as a referendum to introduce a carbon tax on big polluters. Australia produces around 20 metric tons of carbon dioxide per person every year, more per capita than the U.S. and almost any other nation.

But Saturday’s elections represented a total about-face. With the price of electricity doubling under Rudd’s and Gillard’s tenures and the manufacturing sector shrinking 5% per year, Abbott’s promise to scrap the carbon tax proved irresistible to voters — even though carbon pricing is likely to resurface. Australia just suffered its hottest summer on record, with the thermometer at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport hitting 32.4°C on election day in early spring.

(MORE: Changing Demographics, Growing Closeness With Asia and What That Means for Australia)

Other winning elements of Abbott’s campaign included a promise to use the navy to forcefully turn back asylum seekers arriving “illegally” by boat and slash Australia’s humanitarian intake by half, to 13,750 people a year. Combined with plans to cut forward spending on foreign aid by $4.1 billion, the election result paints the picture of a more selfish and self-insulating Australia. Critics also think it will undermine the country’s reputation on the world stage in light of it taking over the presidency of the U.N. Security Council. “[Australia is] so wealthy and yet so impoverished in spirit and global leadership,” mulled the Australian-born First Lady of East Timor, Kirsty Sword Gusmão, on Facebook upon hearing East Timorese women and children will be worse off after the Australia elections.

But the reality of governing a nation in a global community and the inevitable need to strike cross-bench deals with parliamentary members who campaigned for more humanitarian treatment of asylum seekers will likely see Abbott’s most-radical election promises on refugees and foreign aid watered down.

“Some of the things he’s said are cause for concern. But a lot of that was rhetoric for the election, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him moderate his position,” Greg Barton, a professor at Monash University’s School of Political and Social Inquiry, tells TIME. “Tony Abbott is a cautious realist and in many respects a centrist.”

The floor is now open for Abbott to create a legacy of prosperity and social justice for Australia in the image of his mentor, former Prime Minister John Howard. Trounced by Rudd at the polls six years ago, Howard fought back the tears as his protégé took to the stage at a hotel in Sydney on Saturday and declared Australia was “under new management and is once more open for business.”

MORE: Australia Is the World’s Happiest Country — Again

14 comments
sbha
sbha

another uninformed idiot who confuses compassion with stupidity. These refugees whose cause you are trying to champion? Many of them are not genuine refugees. They are either economic bludgers looking for a handout or criminals trying to run away from their crimes overseas. Now obviously some of them are also genuine refugees and those ones tend to be good people so we should help them and they are welcome to stay. But we don't want more criminals and dole bludgers. Kevin Rudd's stupidity opened the way for the bludgers and the criminals, which made it harder and more time consuming to identify the genuine refugees simply due to pure volume.

As a refugee who was taken in by Australia a long while back, I can tell you that many of these people have already shown the signs of being a fake refugee and they should all be deported back where they came from. Here are some obvious signs:

1. Complaining about the lack of entertainment/things to do in the detention center. I was stuck in a detention center myself for more than a year and you know what? I was happy there. Because in the place that I ran away from, I would have been dead or worse. My sisters and my mother would have been raped or worse and my dad likely would have been tortured and killed. Is it boring in the detention center? Sometimes. But knowing that I am alive and I can wake up the next day and have food to eat is a blessing. NOBODY whose life was actually in danger where they came from would have complained about being bored to the media in an attempt to gain sympathy from idiots. If you're bored, do some cleaning, do some exercise, try and learn a new skill. Stop complaining and stop wallowing in self pity.

2. Participating in violent protests and damaging the facilities. Those of us who genuinely fled from danger know the terror of being on the receiving end of violence perpetrated by mobs or organised groups. True, some people have a shorter temper than others, but we will NEVER intentionally use violent methods to try and get our way. We also know the pain of losing our homes, and we would never intentionally damage the facilities.

3. Complaining about the quality of the facilities. I'll be blunt here, where I originally came from my family was reasonably well off, we weren't in the upper class but we were solidly middle class and we had servants and drivers. In terms of standard of living, the detention center was a HUGE step down for me and my family. We had to learn to clean up after ourselves and we had to learn to do a lot of things ourselves where we normally relied on our servants. But you know what? Like I said in my first point, when you've been through a life threatening experience you're just glad to be alive. I saw the videos where those people complained to the media about some dirt on the wall or some trash on the floor. Trash on the floor = trash you put there. Dirt on the wall = dirt you brought in yourself and then deliberately or accidentally rubbed on the wall. Clean up after yourself. You're not in a hotel and you're getting a place to sleep and food to eat for free. Stop being ungrateful.

I am now an Australian Citizen. I went to one of the events that Tony Abbott showed up at. I saw how he interacted with people, even shook his hand as part of the mob. Nobody is perfect and there are some things that I think he is wrong about, but he's a good guy and he is trying to do the right thing for Australia. He's been slandered by Labor on a consistent basis and unfortunately a lot of idiots believed the slander. Luckily for Australia, humans learn from their past mistakes and it looks like more and more voters have realized that. That's why the coalition won.

AnotherOne
AnotherOne

Africa for Africans, Asia for Asians, White countries for EVERYONE!!! It is said there is a racism problem. It is said that this racism problem will be solved when the third world pours into ALL White countries and ONLY into White countries. And that the Whites have to interbreed with all the Non-whites. According to the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, this is genocide. Stop White Genocide. Anti-racist is a codeword for Anti-white.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKDeyuM0-Og

azumaguy
azumaguy

Wow, i wish he was our President!

tweetymike
tweetymike

@frank_meehan is the place as screwed as I think it is? China not buying coal, overpriced houses, no savings, lotsa expensive toys?

cageydog
cageydog

Another lefty expressing strong opinions without taking the time to learn whether what he believes to be true is actually true. 

shadowmane20
shadowmane20

Carbon?  You mean as in Carbon Dioxide? What we breath out?  Or would you be meaning Carbon Monoxide, the exhaust gas from burning fuel?  Please don't use the word "carbon".  Its what a great majority of life on this planet is made out of.

eaglemaxie5
eaglemaxie5

The term "barbie" was coined by the Australian Tourism Commission's advertisement, starring Paul Hogan (1984 through to 1990). Paul Hogan say's  "I'll slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for you." The actual slogan in the ad was "Come and say G'day"

frank_meehan
frank_meehan

@tweetymike good question mate, I'm not sure - lots of people in Oz have had a great ride that is for sure