Australia before the election: two men and a lot of problems – politics

On May 21, an entire continent must elect a new parliament. No, not Europe. 17 million Australians are asked to vote. The key issues of debate – migration, climate protection and relations with China – are similar to ours – but the views are often quite different.

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Among men: The candidates
Two men are vying for the post of head of government. Prime Minister Scott Morrison (54) of the Liberal Party, which belongs to the conservative spectrum in Australia. It traditionally forms a coalition with the National Party. The Alliance has ruled since 2013, under Morrison’s leadership since 2018. In Australia, the party leader of the largest parliamentary group is automatically prime minister. But that means internal party conflicts could grow into a nationwide government crisis.

His challenger is the Social Democrat Anthony Albanese (59). The former bank employee has been a Member of Parliament for a quarter of a century and has been Minister of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and in local authorities. Yet Albanese hold fast to the image of the permanent official. His party is currently leading the polls.

Mighty Rival: The Conflict with China

It is quiet. And it is already a higher level of escalation in the world of diplomacy. China and Australia have no more to say to each other. There is currently no exchange at government level. For decades, Australia saw itself as the dominant power in the Indo-Pacific. From an Australian point of view, however, Beijing has behaved more and more ruthlessly in the region for a number of years. Chinese investors bought the port in the city of Darwin, and both countries accuse each other of espionage.

Human rights violations in China, the situation in Tibet and the Beijing Olympics are just a few of the problems that plague relations between the two countries.  Photo: Bianca de Marchi / image

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Human rights violations in China, the situation in Tibet and the Beijing Olympics are just a few of the problems that plague relations between the two countries.
© Bianca de Marchi / image

As recently as March, China forged a security alliance with the Solomon Islands, allowing Beijing to set up military bases on the islands northeast of Australia. In addition, over the years, there have been conflicts over the human rights situation in China, the democracy movement in Hong Kong, and studies of the origin of the new corona virus required by Australia. A Chinese embassy official is said to have described the situation to journalists: “China is angry. If you make China your enemy, China will be your enemy too.” In short: Down Under, people feel threatened.

Security Pact with the United Kingdom and the United States

This is also changing Australian security and foreign policy. Even before he became Prime Minister, when Morrison was Minister of Border Protection and Migration, he supported a policy of confrontation against China in the Security Cabinet. He is now trying to intensify this – and catch up on what he has reportedly missed. For a long time, Australia behaved in the region as if it were the only logical partner for its neighbors. Alliances and cooperation are now being courted. In 2019, for example, an economic cooperation agreement was concluded with Indonesia and in 2021 also with Malaysia, South Korea and the Association of Southeast Asian States ASEAN.

At the same time, Morrison is arming his country. For the fiscal year 2022/2023, military spending increased by 7.4 percent to the equivalent of 31 billion euros. Australia is one of the largest importing nations for arms. Morrison achieved perhaps the most important foreign policy success in September 2021. Australia joined forces with the United States and Britain to form the Aukus Security Pact. The military alliance is also seen as a signal to China.

At the border: migration
For many people, Australia is one of the dream destinations when it comes to emigration. Good weather, beautiful beaches, modern cities. The country is an immigration society that is open about it. However, Australia is taking special steps against illegal immigration.

A demonstration in Brisbane against the detention centers for asylum seekers.  Australia is an open immigration society.  But the state is taking tough action against illegal immigrants.  Photo: Joshua Prieto / image images / ZUMA Wire

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A demonstration in Brisbane against the detention centers for asylum seekers. Australia is an open immigration society. But the state is taking tough action against illegal immigrants.
© Joshua Prieto / imago images / ZUMA Wire

Scott Morrison has played a special role in this regard in recent years. As Minister of Border Protection and Migration, he was mainly responsible for Operation Sovereign Borders from 2013.

The starting point was an increasing number of refugees trying to reach Australia by boat, mostly from Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea or Indonesia. In 2013, according to official figures, there were 20,587 people.

Bounces from boat people are controversial

The most important part of Morrison’s strategy was so-called turnbacks. Any person taken in an attempt to sail to Australia without a visa was taken back to Indonesia or Sri Lanka by the Navy.

Or get into one of the holding tanks built on small islands in the middle of the ocean. There, the refugees often had to live in inhumane conditions for years before a decision was made on their asylum application.

From a political standpoint, the program was successful: The number of boaters dropped to zero after 2013. According to a poll at the time, 71 per cent of Australians supported the decline. International organizations have criticized the strategy.

Anthony Albanese initially also criticized the government’s return policy, but later praised its success. This policy would not change itself under the Social Democrats.

All coal: climate and environmental protection

A dying Great Barrier Reef, record-breaking annual storms and devastating forest fires – the effects of climate change are particularly dramatic in Australia. The climate protection index, which is also used by the UN, places Australia in 56th place out of 61 countries. Germany is in 19th place there. At the same time, according to surveys, 70 per cent of Australians would like their country to do more to combat global climate change.

Just like here in 2020, there are always serious bushfire fires that put people and animals in danger.  So far, the government is doing little to counter climate change.  Photo: Saeed Khan / AFP

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Just like here in 2020, there are always serious bushfire fires that put people and animals in danger. So far, the government is doing little to counter climate change.
© Saeed Khan / AFP

For Scott Morrison, however, climate protection is always an economic issue. In his view, Australia simply cannot afford to restructure its economy and society.

Down Under gets 40 percent of its energy from coal, 34 percent from gas, 22 percent from oil. A large part is extracted and extracted in our own country. In addition, there is the environmentally harmful uranium extraction. 46 percent of the world’s deposits are found on the continent.

Morrison wants to continue or even increase the reduction of fossil fuels. A speech he gave in front of parliament in 2017 is famous.

With a lump of coal in the Folketing

Morrison stood in front of the MPs with a lump of coal in his hand and shouted: “It’s coal! Don’t worry, do not be afraid. It will not hurt you.” He accused critics of coal mining of wanting to send hundreds of thousands of Australians into unemployment.

Morrison has also denied a link between increasingly extreme fires and climate change. There have always been fires. In addition, funding for environmental protection measures was cut and existing protected areas were abolished.

Only in recent months has the government been able to get itself to make concessions. In addition to billions in aid to the Great Barrier Reef, Australia must become climate neutral by 2050.

But here, too, Morrison slows down: “This is an energy, trade and economic plan, not just an environmental plan. This is not a revolution, but a cautious development to take advantage of the changes for our market. ”

Morrison’s challenger Anthony Albanese seems more ambitious when it comes to climate protection, but he’s not a pioneer in international comparison. He also wants to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. The goal is to reduce environmentally harmful emissions by 43 percent by 2030. “Then we can finally appear at international conferences again without being one of the bad kids in a corner with Brazil and Saudi Arabia . “

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