Labor goes; what next Down Under?

Labor goes; what next Down Under?

Like Australian cricket, Australian politics is in some turmoil. Beaten 3-0 in the first half of the ‘Ashes’ series in England, Michael Clarke’s men do not seem to have much of a chance in the next series from November in Australia. At least that much is certain. The political scene is murkier.

Like Australian cricket, Australian politics is in some turmoil. Beaten 3-0 in the first half of the ‘Ashes’ series in England, Michael Clarke’s men do not seem to have much of a chance in the next series from November in Australia. At least that much is certain. The political scene is murkier.

The ruling Labor Party, as expected, lost the general elections held on September 7 but there was no jubilation in the nation which seemed to have an equally low impact on the winning Conservative Coalition led by Tony Abbot. Never in the history of Australia had a change of government been greeted with such lack of enthusiasm. In the 150-seat House of Representatives, Abbot and his followers bagged 88 seats, the Labor 57. For the 76-seat Senate the full results are awaited. It was expected that the Conservative group would scrape through. But political analysts are disappointed at the lukewarm reception to the election results. According to them, this did not augur well for the future of democracy in Australia.

Australians, it was argued, did not bother too much about politics provided the men had enough beer to drink and the country did well in sports, particularly cricket. The national economy was not beset with many problems but the country was being pulled back due to poor political leadership. The Labor has to blame itself for its rout. For 22 years the country had escaped economic crisis and had also avoided the global crash. What brought down the party was the bitter infighting among its top leaders which included two former Prime Ministers. When such rot set in at the top, it is not surprising that the edifice collapsed.

The political musical chairs began in 2010 when the then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, was ousted in a palace coup by his deputy Julia Gillard. Rudd, no doubt, was dour and unimaginative but was astute enough to launch a counter coup which threw out Gillard some weeks back and made her wisely announce a ‘temporary’ retirement from national politics and kept away from the election scene. While Gillard enjoyed more support from Parliament colleagues the reverse was true in her support from the people. Her government’s introduction of the Mining and Carbon taxes proved to be a political disaster though the former PM had to do this to gain the support of the Greens Party which was vital for her government. Appeasement of the rightist and leftist forces led nowhere and the decision to ban all the ‘boat refugees’ from the neighbouring nations to set foot on Australian soil also boomeranged badly on her political future.
Plagued by such internal dissent, the Labor was poorly equipped to fight a national election. Further, Australian politics was regarded as some sort of a joke and the polls attracted very little attention outside. Abbot exploited this opportunity well and was well backed by Rupert Murdoch’s powerful right-wing media group which readily grasped the opportunity to topple yet another left-leaning government in the region. There were dark shadows of the John Howard governments as the right-wing media practiced crude sexism targeting Julia Gillard. This was the strategy to attract the lowest categories of voters and it had worked well in the past.
But the Abbot government would not find things easy. The Prime Minister is likely to abolish the Carbon Tax though it is doubtful it would bring much economic relief to the government. But austerity measures, which are sure to bite into the pockets of the common man, could not be avoided. They would be directed more towards the poor, women and even the physically impaired. The Kevin government had won international acclaim by its decision to apologize and build bridges with the Aborigines who had been shamefully exploited in the past. This had been a deep, dark stain in Australian history.
The Aborigine children were separated from their parents and brought up at ‘government camps’ which were supposed to indoctrinate them into true Australian life. But this did not go as planned. The separation agonized both parents and children and the indoctrination was often compared to the tactics of the Gestapo while running concentration camps during World War II. White Australia in the past never bothered about this cruel divide. Rudd showed extraordinary guts in his public apology for this shameful past.
Though Abbot would not reintroduce the old practices, it is certain that the Aborigines would be deprived of most of the benefits they enjoyed during the Labor rule. Abbot is bound to interfere with personal issues and decide against supporting same sex marriages which found increasing acceptance in most nations. Ultimately, the new government is bound to realize that most people would react adversely against austerity measures. But the anti-immigrants plans may be acceptable to right-wing stalwarts of his party and the Murdoch media moguls.
Normally, both the people and political parties in Australia seldom make foreign policy a major issue. The exception was the reign of John Howard whose total support to the US to the extent of sending Australian troops to fight in Iraq was denounced throughout the country. Howard also earned the reputation of being ‘racist’ who tried to build a White Australia. But his rout in the 2008 election was so complete that it almost eclipsed his political career.
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