Chasing stability: on Australian elections

Climate change and energy policies are top of the agenda in Australia’s elections

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison may have, in a manner of speaking, already scored a political victory ahead of the May 18 election. Few had expected the socially conservative politician to last out the remainder of Parliament’s term when he took over as Prime Minister in August following a coup within the ruling Liberal party. In the past, the country has seen many heads of government toppled. That said, Saturday’s election may not prove an easy ride for the former marketing executive. The polls may not signal an end to the political instability that has dogged Australian politics of late. From combating climate change to shaping energy policy, Mr. Morrison’s Liberal party is a divided house between moderates and conservatives. These differences were manifest in the ousting of Malcolm Turnbull last year and continue to elude a resolution. The world’s driest inhabited continent is confronting its own vulnerability to the effects of global warming. Australia, among the world’s largest wheat exporters, has been forced to take recourse to bulk imports of the grain, consequent to severe droughts in its eastern states over two years. Mr. Morrison, a supporter of coal-generated power, may also find his hardline stance on immigration difficult to defend in the wake of the terrorist attacks in neighbouring New Zealand.The opposition Labor party seems to enjoy an edge over the governing centre-right Liberal-National coalition, according to opinion polls. Its leader, Bill Shorten, has rallied the party during its time in the opposition in the last six years. Labor’s advantage stems from its promise of a living wage, tighter regulation and ambitious targets on carbon emissions. A 45% reduction in carbon emissions on 2005 levels by 2030 is part of its manifesto, aimed at appealing to Australia’s growing number of green voters. Conversely, the pro-business credentials of Mr. Morrison’s Liberal-National coalition are said to have been steadily eroded as the government has reneged on its promise of corporate tax cuts. The package of measures unveiled in the pre-election budget in April may only have a moderate impact. As with several industrialised democracies, voter disillusionment with the principal parties is yielding a fragmented polity, and smaller parties and independents could potentially tilt the balance of power in the Senate, which is crucial for the passage of legislation. With consistent economic growth and modest levels of unemployment, Australia has had a remarkable track record in recent decades. This scenario is in stark contrast to the incessant political swings that impede the legislative agenda. What is without doubt is that the turnout will be high at the polls, as voting is compulsory for registered voters.