How The World Sees Australia’s Election
The federal election has dominated Australian media for the past eight weeks but does the rest of the world care? Experts in the United States, India, Indonesia and New Zealand explain how the battle is playing out abroad and what’s at stake for our neighbours and allies if the Coalition is returned or a Labor government elected.
Who would manage the US relationship better with president Trump?
A victory for either the current Australian government or the opposition would be welcome in the United States. But that welcome comes with a caveat—given the growing instability in East Asia, the US would like whoever wins to stay in power for more than a couple of years. Beyond that, the major Australian parties’ commitment to the US alliance is both acknowledged and appreciated. The issues of greatest bilateral importance are the South China Sea, the fight against Islamic State (IS), and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Probably the most troublesome issue concerns the South China Sea. Australia’s recent defence white paper’s sound commitment to a rules-based international order resonates in the US. One could easily imagine a Labor government coming up with precisely the same white paper. US policymakers might express a slight preference for seeing the Coalition returned, but this would only be for the sake of not having a transition period in the midst of Chinese assertiveness.
Australian support for the long-term campaign against IS is welcomed in the US. How that support morphs over time is an open question, but from the US’s viewpoint any support in the campaign against IS is money in the bank.
Many in Washington have been pleased with the Australian support of the TPP. The trouble with the TPP is not in foreign capitals, but in Washington. For supporters of the TPP Australia has proven itself a valuable ally in the American domestic debate. When Kim Beazley was in Washington he was among the most outspoken supporters of the TPP.
Where Washington has the greatest concern is the growing perception of Australian political leadership instability. In past years, Washington fretted over the election of left-of-centre governments. Today’s concern is more over the staying power of Australian leaders. It is a worry that goes beyond this year’s election, and is probably shared by a fair few Australians.
The one difference between Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull that has yet to be tested concerns who would best manage the alliance should Donald Trump win in November. Shorten has called Trump “barking mad” and Turnbull thinks it but keeps mum. It is a test that probably neither wants to face.
Indian concerns about nuclear trade deal
Australia is becoming increasingly important to India, with Indians now Australia’s fourth-largest migrant group. Compared with the hype and sensation created by the US elections, Indians are not very well aware of what’s happening in the lead-up to the Australian federal election. News from the Australian front is generally minimal in India. However, 2014 was a special year, with Indian and Australian prime ministers travelling to each other’s countries and signing an important agreement to allow Australia to export uranium to India.
The Indian government would be worried if Labor came to power because of its past commitment to nuclear disarmament. Tony Abbott, the prime minister in 2014, had reversed the restrictions against India for not having signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and said Australia had implicit trust in India to use nuclear power for peaceful reasons. A Labor government could reverse the nuclear trade yet again.
On the other hand, immigrants in Australia feel Labor would introduce softer immigration policies and it would be easier for more skilled professionals and students to migrate. Conservative governments across the world have been making deprecating gestures towards immigrants. This is the great paradox of our time: the desire for globalisation of capital flows and goods, and yet a distaste for migrants.
Another area of growing concern is the doctors who migrate to Australia. In 2011, 12 per cent of Australia’s GPs and specialists were Indian, up from 7 per cent in 2001. However, after Gold Coast doctor Mohammad Haneef (an Indian citizen) was wrongfully arrested for having a hand in the London bombings, the number of applications has dropped dramatically.
There is also a 10-year moratorium on immigrant doctors—they must practise their profession in rural and semi-urban areas before they can move to big cities. The question is why this moratorium does not apply to Australian citizens.
Indonesians need to rethink party steroptypes
Indonesians want to know how Australia’s election result will contribute to more positive relations with Indonesia. Over the years, Indonesians have developed some interesting stereotypes toward political parties in Australia. Labor is perceived as somewhat Indonesia-friendly, as seen from its regional engagement agenda. Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard successfully shaped a positive image of Australia in the minds of Indonesians.
In contrast, the Liberal Party is viewed as Anglophile in its approach to foreign affairs. This somewhat restricts its ability to be a “good neighbour” to Indonesia. Australia’s intervention in East Timor during the Howard era exacerbated this image and strengthened the idea that the Liberals’ top priority is being America’s ally in the region.
However, Indonesians have recently realised that these stereotypes are not entirely correct. Labor is not as friendly as expected and had been giving false hope for stronger relations between Indonesia and Australia. The 2013 spying scandal reshaped Labor’s image. Its leader, Bill Shorten, declined to criticise Tony Abbott’s refusal to apologise to the Indonesian government. Similarly, Indonesians have found the Liberals not as hostile as once thought. The growing number of Australians studying in Indonesia under the New Colombo Plan has somewhat reconstructed the viewpoint of Indonesians towards the Liberal government.
Under such circumstances, assessing the impact of the upcoming election to Indonesia is not an easy task. It may also lead to false hope, as the two major parties have shared bipartisan views on Australia’s relations with Indonesia.Whichever party wins the election will need a more comprehensive approach to strengthen Australia-Indonesia relations. The strategic partnership between the two countries should go beyond asylum-seeker and cattle-export policies.
Australia should embrace Indonesia’s future opportunities as one of the world’s emerging economies; Indonesia should build a better understanding towards Australia by creating stronger awareness of its policies and parties.
New Zealanders ought to pay closer attention
Kiwis are simply not following Australia’s federal election. Many are not even aware that it’s approaching. The US presidential primaries are in the limelight for obvious reasons, but Australia’s election is getting very little attention across the ditch.
It’s hard to tell whether this lack of interest in Australia is because the media and political reporters are not doing their job well, or because the political parties and candidates are keeping this lengthy campaign tightly constrained and stage-managed—and downright boring.
New Zealanders should perhaps pay closer attention, though. Offshore processing of asylum seekers looms as a divisive issue. But even some Kiwis are getting the bum’s rush. A number of them on the immigration minister’s “undesirables” list were offshored to the Christmas Island detention centre and then deported to New Zealand. Even the more desirable Kiwis are taking their bat and ball and going home—voluntarily in their case, but in record numbers.
Cross-Tasman political relations are normally very good, but currently are not as good as they should be. Ever since 2001, when Australia unilaterally pulled the plug on the social rights that supported the free movement of labour between the two countries, the disenfranchisement of expatriate Kiwis has been controversial. In spite of Malcolm Turnbull’s concessions around gaining citizenship, these problems will persist no matter who is in office in Canberra.
One Kiwi who will be following this election closely is the prime minister, John Key. He’ll be hoping to see Turnbull back in office. Ever since Turnbull described Key as “a real role model”, the “Turnkey” bromance has blossomed. New Zealand’s governing National Party continues to ride high in opinion polls but the gap is closing. Key won’t welcome a victory for Labor as that could inspire Kiwi voters to follow suit in their election scheduled for 2017.
Dr Alan C. Tidwell is the director of the Center for Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Studies at the Georgetown University in the US. Dr Amit Ranjan is a Fulbright scholar for 2015-16 at Florida International University in the US. Dr Grant Duncan is an associate professor for the School of People, Environment and Planning at Massey University, New Zealand. Hangga Fathana is lecturer at the Department of International Relations at the Universitas Islam Indonesia. This article originally appeared on The Conversation on 23 June. It is republished with permission.
Published June 30, 2016