After years of anti-climate policies, Australia voted out Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative government and brought the Social Democrats back to power. Media Down Under spoke of a “bloodbath” for Morrison’s coalition on Sunday.
The vote had become a referendum on the unloved head of government, who was notorious for being a “bulldozer”, wrote the Australian “Sunday Telegraph”. All eyes now turn to Morrison’s designated successor, Anthony Albanese. The 59-year-old Labor boss, who made the fight against climate change a central theme of his election campaign, is to be sworn in as early as Monday.
However, the new Prime Minister, popularly known as “Albo”, is not the overwhelming winner of the vote: both major camps were punished by the approximately 17 million voters. Instead, for the first time independent candidates – and especially female candidates – and the Australian Greens got enormous support. The media commented that change in the new parliament would be led by women. It is still unclear whether the Albanian Social Democrats will have their own majority in the lower house or whether they will be dependent on the votes of other parties.
While major domestic and foreign policy challenges await the new prime minister, the “Aussies” returned to everyday life the day after the vote. Elections are a rather quiet event on the fifth continent – and if there were no compulsory voting, the turnout would probably be low given the widespread disenchantment with politics.
On Sunday morning, many families sat in the cafés as usual with scrambled eggs with bacon and avocado toast, others strolled along Sydney’s Circular Quay or rode the Ferris wheel in Darling Harbour. Political discussions were nowhere to be heard. The electorate is basically fed up with both major parties, say experts.
On the east coast, many people are currently facing the ruins of their existence after flooding of unprecedented proportions recently occurred in the states of Queensland and New South Wales. Flood warnings were again issued for some regions on election day. When it doesn’t rain, Australia suffers from drought and bushfires. The natural wonder of the Great Barrier Reef is suffering its fourth coral bleaching since 2016, and a study recently came to the alarming conclusion that tree mortality in Australian rainforests has doubled since the 1980s.
The fact that some of Morrison’s party friends continue to deny climate change in the face of this disastrous situation causes many Australians to shake their heads in anger. They now place their hopes in Albanese and his campaign promises. As a reminder, Australia currently has one of the highest CO2 emissions per capita and is one of the largest coal exporters in the world.
In his victory speech, Albanese showed where the journey could go: “Together we can end the climate wars,” he called out to his cheering supporters. “Together we can seize the opportunity to make Australia a superpower for renewable energies.” He had already promised large investments in “green energy” during the election campaign. “Yes, but how does he want to pay for all this?” Asked the renowned “Sydney Morning Herald” on Sunday. Because Albanese not only inherited a large budget deficit from Morrison, but also a massive national debt.
Added to this are foreign policy tightrope walks. The relationship with China has been tense since Australia called for an international investigation into the origin of the corona virus and Beijing’s handling of the outbreak. Since then, China has imposed punitive tariffs on Australian wine and other exports. The tone between Morrison and China’s head of state Xi Jinping has recently been – to put it mildly – rough. In order to counteract China’s striving for power in the Indo-Pacific, Australia concluded the Aukus security pact with the USA and Great Britain last year. The agreement stipulates that Washington and London should help their partner build nuclear submarines.
Political experts expect Albanese to take a less aggressive stance towards Beijing – but at the same time does not want to jeopardize its close relationship with the United States. What plans Australia’s new strong man has in store will become apparent on Tuesday when Albanese takes part in the so-called Quad Summit in Tokyo with US President Joe Biden and the heads of government from Japan and India – with China as one of the central talking points.