How will Scott Morrison and his government meet the rush of new (and newly returned old) world leaders?
For months, Australians have been all but consumed by the federal election. But let’s see where the rest of the world is right now, and how shifting electoral sands could affect Australia’s interests.
Papua New Guinea
After weeks of political defections and escalating tensions, Australia’s closest neighbour has ultimately had an peaceful transition after former prime minister Peter O’Neill officially lost his parliamentary majority and stepped down this week. O’Neill’s former finance minister and key defector James Marape was sworn in as PM yesterday. In the wake of anti-O’Neill sentiments over resource distribution — and concern from ExxonMobil and Total LNG over gas production — Marape has at least tentatively promised more government control over resource projects.
Australia’s interest: Strategic, mostly. China’s growing presence in PNG has clearly rattled people in government, with Scott Morrison both playing up foreign aid (after it was slashed under Abbott) at APEC in November and personally congratulating Marape as of this morning (who, as luck would have it, isn’t exactly a fan of Beijing). However, there’s also Australia’s deliberate role in creating the human rights catastrophe on Manus Island. After six years, some PNG politicians have had enough. Marape has announced he would take a consensus approach from parliament on what to do about Manus.
Much like last time, incumbent President Joko Widodo won an emphatic victory at the April 17 Indonesian election, taking 55.5% of the vote in what was the world’s largest ever single-day election. Also like last time, challenger and former lieutenant general Prabowo Subianto has rejected the result and declared himself winner. Subianto has since filed a legal challenge with the Constitutional Court alleging “structured, systematic, and massive” fraud, after earlier alleging (disputed) claims 17.5 million voter names were duplicated.
Finally, while the election itself was peaceful, 300 vote counters died of exhaustion-related stress (again, largest ever single-day election) and post-election rioting last week claimed the lives of at least eight people. And while Widodo is largely seen as the lesser of two “strongmen” politicians, his first term doesn’t exactly inspire faith for anyone concerned about the rise in Islamist nationalism, military rule and/or LGBTIQ rights.
Australia’s interest: Trade, baby! Australia and Indonesia finally signed a free trade agreement in February that’s set to benefit Australian grain growers, and live cattle and education industries, while creating greater access for Indonesians to work in Australia’s crude palm oil industry. The deal was actually meant to be signed off before the end of last year, but was jeopardised by Morrison’s captain call on moving the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. Speaking of…
After Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to take a fifth term in April, Israel, for the first time ever, is headed to their version of a double-dissolution election in September after failing to come to a compromise between Avigdor Lieberman’s secular right-wing party, Yisrael Beiteinu, and ultra-Orthodox parties over a conscription draft law. Rather than allow a rival bloc to form government, Netanyahu voted to dissolve parliament this week and Israel faces another “right v right” election.
Australia’s interest: Ideology, plus a bit of trade. Israel’s occupation of Palestine, and the Gaza massacres last year, have been all but ignored in Australia, which was alone with the US in spurning the subsequent UN inquiry. Like the US, Australian politics likes to confuse anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. See, for example, Morrison’s pointless embassy announcement ahead of the Wentworth byelection, and Labor’s silence on the whole massacre issue.
India has just overwhelmingly voted to return Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, a win that has already emboldened racial violence against the country’s Muslim and Christian Indians. His victory follows a similar wave of religious nationalism across the region, from Pakistan to Sri Lanka to China .
Australia’s interest: Economic, if the India Economic Strategy is anything to go by — and that’s even before you touch on the national headache that is Adani. As Michael Sainsbury writes today for Crikey, nobody flying the religious freedom banner in Australian politics is particularly worried about the crackdown on Muslim rights.
Austria, overnight, has sworn in their first female chancellor, Brigitte Bierlein, as an interim leader ahead of a snap election set for September. She replaces Sebastian Kurz, whose government lost a confidence vote this week following the release of a 2017 video of Kurz’s coalition ally, the far-right Heinz-Christian Strache, offering public contracts to a journalist posing as the niece of a fictional Russian oligarch.
Australia’s interest: Not much, really. Our names are almost spelled the same, and Kurz’s sting is almost exactly what happened with One Nation’s NRA romp, but that’s about it.
What will Australian diplomacy look like under the new Morrison government? Let us know your thoughts at [email protected]. Please include your full name if you would like to be considered for publication.