Will Australia Choose a Leader?

By Ernie Bower

The Labor, Liberal, and Greens parties are the most prominent heading into the Australian election.  Sources: AS 1979 & fafou's flickr photostreams, joined under creative commons licenses.

The Labor, Greens, Liberal, and National parties are the most prominent heading into the Australian election. Sources: AS 1979 & fafou’s flickr photostreams, used under creative commons licenses.

On September 7, Australians will go to the polls and elect a government and prime minister. The race pits the Tony Abbott-led conservatives, ironically called the Liberal Party, and their allies in the opposition Coalition, against the incumbent Labor Party led by a resurgent Kevin Rudd. From a U.S. perspective, the best outcome would be a clear victory for one or the other candidate.

Both men, along with the other leaders of their parties, are strongly committed to building on the foundation of the alliance with the United States. But an inconclusive victory could lead to another structurally weak minority government, or one without a mandate. Such a government may find it harder to conclude and pass a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, chart a path to economic competitiveness less dependent on resource exports, and return the country to responsible levels of spending on security and national defense.

The overwhelming consensus among political experts and observers is that the race is Abbott’s to lose. The Labor Party has replaced its leader twice in the last three years in a series of internal power shifts. Julia Gillard ousted Rudd in 2010. Three weeks ago, Rudd had his revenge when party members, facing almost certain devastation at the polls if no change was made, voted overwhelmingly to put him forward to face Abbott and the Coalition.

Voters across the country are in shock at the Shakespearean levels of intrigue and infighting their politicians have conjured to position for power and prepare to compete. Like many Americans, Australians yearn for less partisanship and more focus on national interests, especially on improving the economy.

For most of the next four weeks, citizens will be inundated with political pitches and partisanship, but Australian and U.S. interests are fully aligned in hoping that one of the candidates can win a clear mandate and govern decisively.

An economically prosperous Australia that can punch at or above its weight as a partner for the United States and other countries across the Indo-Pacific is an important factor in regional peace and stability. Australians have always stepped up when called on or needed, during peacetime or war. To continue to play that role, a clear-voiced leader will need to balance accounts, begin to marry allocation of funding and economic planning to enhance competitiveness, and resume investing in Australia’s long term security and defense.

Mr. Ernest Z. Bower is senior adviser, codirector of the Pacific Partners Initiative, and the Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies at CSIS. You can follow him on twitter @BowerCSIS.

Ernest Z. Bower

Ernest Z. Bower

Ernest Bower is Chair of the Southeast Asia Advisory Board at CSIS.


1 comment for “Will Australia Choose a Leader?

  1. August 16, 2013 at 07:14

    The article states that it would be in the US interest for one (ie: either) party to win a clear victory, given that both parties have pro-US alliance platforms, but later argues that a strong and prosperous Australia can “punch above its weight”. Unfortunately, you cannot have it both ways. If Labor wins, it will continue the slide away from prosperity; it has already reversed Australia’s strong governmental surpluses (which it inherited from the Liberal-National Coalition), and plunged the country into massive debt. If Labor wins, Australia will be less able to be a strong ally to the US. There is no ambiguity about that. The numbers do not lie. And Labor is presiding over a steep decline in Australian military capability as a result. Equally, there is nothing ironic about the fact that Australia’s Liberal Party is conservative. The original and true meaning of “liberal” is the opposite of the current useage in American/Western terms: it means a liberality of thought; an openness to ideas. The current distortion of “liberal” is to make the word mean a very narrowly defined bigotry of leftism, political correctness, and intolerance, which is the opposite of liberality.

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