Australian political events are seen differently here in France.

Is this a crisis or not? Le Figaro noted that Australia electing a minority government is merely following Great Britain. Fashionable rather than fearful. The Metro, in contrast, warned of political instability: “The country is confronted with the risks of institutional paralysis, with both parties lacking a majority.”

Several journals seem fascinated by the key characters. Le Nouvel Observateur highlighted le duel entre deux personnalités — a fight between two opposite personalities: “Julia Gillard, 48, feminist and atheist, and Tony Abbott, 52, former seminarian, journalist and minister in the conservative government of John Howard, practicing Catholic, sportsman, called ‘the mad monk’ — le moine fou — because of his past and his reputation as a political extremist.”

Others focused on the policies. According to Le Monde three issues dominated: tax on the mining sector, the broadband network and the carbon trading scheme.

Commentary in France reflects puzzlement in five areas. First, that a government could lose support while its economic management is being hailed around the world. An analysis by Pierre Prier in Le Figaro was headed ‘Incertitude politique dans le ‘paradis’ australien’ (Political uncertainty in Australia’s ‘paradise’).

Prier claimed that “economic indicators are in good shape … It is the only developed country not to have suffered from the economic crisis, posting a growth rate of 2.7% in 2009. Unemployment is marginal at 5.3%. The future is assured thanks to natural resources, mainly iron and coal, of which Australia is the largest exporter. The 22.3 million inhabitants enjoy one of best qualities of life in the world.” He expressed bemusement at Abbott’s attempts to blame the government for the nation’s debt, “which accounts for only 6% of the GNP”. In many countries it is now about 100%.

Second, that Australia has been thought to have abandoned its pro-US isolation in 2007 and re-entered the global community. Why reverse this?

Le Figaro claimed Gillard’s predecessor, ‘le brillant mais autocratique et cassant Kevin Rudd’ — brilliant but autocratic and fragile — had been lauded at home and abroad. “Very popular at the beginning of his mandate, he had opened Australia to the outside by signing the Kyoto protocol and promising a carbon tax. He had also reconciled Australians with their past by saying sorry to the Aborigines for discrimination.” But it continued that Rudd had given up the tax carbon, disappointing his supporters, and had alienated the powerful mining lobby by announcing a 40% mining tax — sans négociation.

France Soir highlighted the continuing shift away from the racism of the Howard years. Its lead was headed ‘An Aboriginal and a Moslem for the first time in the Australian Parliament’.

Australia electing Ken Wyatt and Ed Husic resonates strongly here (although Wyatt is the first indigenous member of the lower house only). “Mr Wyatt indicated he would pay homage in his first speech to members of the Labor Party and former leader, Kevin Rudd,” France Soir reported. “Mr Rudd had presented in Parliament in 2008 an apology to Aboriginals for the injustices over two centuries.”

Third, that an incumbent party would admit failure by changing leaders in an election year. Metro described la façon muscle — the muscular way — in which “Ms Gillard, then deputy Prime Minister ousted Mr Rudd who had seized power from the conservatives three years ago”. It then quoted defeated ALP member Maxine McKew: “One cannot unload a Prime Minister and two months later have an election and expect to win.”

Fourth, that a new leader would go to the polls early while her popularity was in decline. Le Nouvel Observateur said: “Although charismatic, Julia Gillard faced resentment from certain Labor voters after having pushed out Kevin Rudd.”

L’Express quoted a July opinion poll which gave Labor 55% support. “But a series of volte-faces and unpopular decisions on sensitive topics like immigration, the carbon tax and the mining super-profits tax alienated part of the electorate,” it wrote.

Fifth, why is Australia still a monarchy? Le Figaro’s Pierre Prier raised this, as do Europeans frequently, when he reported that the election campaign last week “remains dismal”. “Gillard attempted to reignite it by wishing that Australia becomes a republic, but only after the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, still the symbolic head of state,” Prier wrote. “The subject,” he concluded ruefully, “did not fascinate the voters.”

Australia will continue to fascinate Europe. Whatever happens next, the world is watching.