Tuesday, September 15, 2015

There is a new leader in Australia. Will there be a shift in policies on climate, domestic violence, and indigenous affairs?

Full disclosure: I think Australia is absolutely captivating.

For those who do not keep a close eye on Australian politics, there has been a sea change in the Australian government from Monday.  The Liberal (the Liberal Party is the right wing of Australia politics, Labour is the left wing) Party won the General Election in 2013 under the leadership of conservative Catholic Tony Abbott.  In recent months, Abbott's poll numbers have plummeted over his handling of critical issues, including asylum seekers and offshore detention, reducing climate change policies, cutting spending to indigenous communities, and gay marriage.  Basically, all of the things you expect a conservative politician to do.

On Monday, there was a coup in the Liberal Party, and after a vote of 54-44, Abbott was booted out of the premiership and replaced by Malcolm Turnbull.  Malcolm Turnbull is something of a meteor in Australian politics, and definitely on the left of the centre-right Liberals.  You can read all about his career here (its fascinating, but not particularly pertinent).  

There are, however, a series of policy issues affecting the rural Australian community that I will tackle over the next several weeks as Turnbull's premiership gets its feet.  In this post, I would like the lay the stage for the three major policy issues affecting rural Australians. 

Climate & Environmental Laws

Climate policy is a global issue and it has acute impacts on rural communities.  Rural Australians face similar issues to rural Californians: water shortages and single-industry communities.  In Australia, one massive industry driving many rural economies is mining.  The Carmichael coal mine in Queensland has come under enormous challenges lately. A federal court recently overturned the environmental minister (and one of the few Abbott ministers keeping the same brief) Greg Hunt's approval of the mine went against internal ministry advice on impacts to two threatened species.  As a response to these challenges, the Federal government has proposed changes to environmental laws that prevent "'environmental saboteurs' using courts to delay big projects...."  Caught up in these changes is the other stalwart industry of rural Australia: agriculture.  

The tensions between mining and farming in rural Australian are pronounced.  Throw traditional green advocacy groups into the mix, and there is a contentious  as well as the combined tensions between industry groups and traditional green interests.  I will focus on this tension and the challenges and impacts of coal mines and water buyback legislation in my future post on environmental concerns in rural Australia.

For a past post on the broader food v. energy debate in Australia, read this. For more about agriculture in rural Australia, read this or this.

In the meantime, Turnbull will put together a new cabinet and shift the Liberal Party's policies (hopefully) away from the far-right tack taken by Abbott government.  Climate & environmental policies will likely be a bellwether for the government's direction--of shifting towards the center or remaining on the far-right path set by Abbott. 

Domestic Violence

Australia is tackling an epidemic of domestic violence.  A report released in February 2015 detailed recommendations to the Queensland government on how to curb domestic violence.  That report was commissioned after Queensland reported more than 64,000 domestic violence incidents and more than 13,000 breaches of domestic violence orders.  Though not limited to rural areas, policies undertaken by the Abbott government severely impacted the availability of aid to women and children facing domestic violence.  The Abbott government cut federal aid to community legal aid clinics by 30%.  In terms of other federal government expenditures, the amount spent on legal aid is less than Member of Parliament (MP) office retrofits and amounts to 5% of what the Australian federal governments spends on lawyers employed directly by the federal government in a year.

It remains to be seen of the Turnbull government will work to restore funding for the local clinics or what others steps the reinvigorated Liberals will take to tackle domestic violence. My future post will focus on the efforts being instituted across Queensland to address increasing instances of domestic violence in remote communities. 

Indigenous Communities

Australia's indigenous communities have been marginalized since Europeans arrived two centirues ago.  Under the Abbott government, federal spending was drastically cut.  These cuts included significant reductions to aboriginal health and domestic violence programs.  As the Turnbull government re-evaluates policy, indigenous advocacy groups are urging restored funding to reduce the gap between white Australia and indigenous populations, with an increased focus on indigenous women's health. 

My future post will focus on this gap and efforts by the Australian government to tackle indigenous health and community violence issues. 

What Comes Next For Australia

Turnbull has said he will not call a snap election after deposing Abbott, despite hopes from the Labour Party.  This gives the Liberal party at least 10 months to reverse the Abbott agenda, or at least curtail Abbott's dramatic policies that damage Australia's rural communities.  Future posts in this series will go into much greater depth on three of the issues facing these communities: changes to environmental laws and further mineral development, efforts to curb domestic violence, and the sorry state of indigenous services.    

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