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Views from abroad: how is the world seeing Australia’s election?

Does the rest of the world care about Australia’s election? EPA/Mast Irham

Views from abroad: how is the world seeing Australia’s election?

The federal election has dominated Australians’ attention for the past six weeks but does the rest of the world care? The Conversation’s experts in the United Kingdom, 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 we return the Coalition or elect a Labor government.


Implications of a possible UK Brexit

Andrew Mycock, Reader in Politics, University of Huddersfield

Few people in the United Kingdom are taking much interest in Australia’s forthcoming federal election. The seismic implications of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union has ensured British politicians and media have remained fixated on domestic politics.

This oversight is unfortunate, as British engagement with Australian federal elections generally offers a political lens (or maybe mirror) to assess the state of party politics in both countries.

There are a number of common challenges for the two main parties in each country: Labour/Labor and the Conservatives/Liberals.

First, each party has a leader who is unpopular with sizeable elements of its own MPs and membership. It is likely that David Cameron and Malcolm Turnbull would not survive as party leaders if they fail to win their respective ballots.

And although some see Bill Shorten’s leadership as lacking the democratic mandate of his British counterpart, Jeremy Corbyn, neither have stable party bases to maintain their position in the long term if they fail to improve their popularity.

Second, both Labour/Labor and the Conservatives/Liberals are riven with deep ideological differences which emerged when each party has lost power.

For Labour/Labor, the schisms are – in part – reflective of a global crisis of social democracy. The end of the Blair/Brown and Rudd/Gillard eras have been defined by a lack of surety about the extent to which Labour/Labor should design policies to appeal to the political centre or adopt a more radical left-wing agenda.

Although the two parties have chosen different paths, neither has successfully reconciled past perceived shortcomings while in government with a new coherent alternative political vision.

Conversely, Cameron and Turnbull have proven surer about the need to articulate a more compassionate and modern conservatism, thus rejecting some – if not all – of the political and economic certainties of the Thatcher/Howard eras.

They have, however, struggled to bring large sections of their respective parties with them. This has not only left them vulnerable but has divided their traditional electoral bases. In response, they have both sought to return to more traditional messages that have failed to resolve their lack of appeal within their own parties or the electorate.

Some Brexit Conservatives have lauded the potential for a resurgent post-EU community of “English-speaking peoples” – the Anglosphere.

However, there is little support for the Anglosphere among conservatives in Australia. Indeed, some Conservative MPs have criticised Turnbull’s “ridiculous” support of the UK’s continued membership of the EU, with one leading MP noting:

Australia would never countenance signing away permanent legal power over its rules, its laws, its traditions to other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

The impact of the UK vote has the potential to realign British party politics in profound ways which could complicate relations between Labour/Labor and the Conservatives/Liberals, particularly if there is a vote for Brexit.

There are a number of common challenges for the two main parties in both Australia and the UK. AAP/Lukas Coch

Who would manage the US relationship better with president Trump?

Alan Tidwell, Director, Center for Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Studies, Georgetown University

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 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.

Washington’s greatest concern with Australia is the growing perception of political leadership instability. EPA/Michael Reynolds

Indian concerns about nuclear trade deal

Amit Ranjan, Fulbright Scholar, Florida University

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% of Australia’s GPs and specialists were Indian, up from 7% 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 have dropped dramatically.

There is also a ten-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.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed Australia’s parliament in 2014. AAP/Alan Porritt

Indonesians need to rethink party stereotypes

Hangga Fathana, Lecturer in International Relations, Universitas Islam Indonesia

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 were 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. And Indonesia should build a better understanding towards Australia by creating stronger awareness of its policies and parties.

The two major parties have shared bipartisan views on Australia’s relations with Indonesia. EPA/Darren Whiteside

New Zealanders ought to pay closer attention

Grant Duncan, Associate Professor for the School of People, Environment and Planning, Massey University

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.

Cross-Tasman political relations are normally very good, but currently are not as good as they should be. AAP/Hannah Peters

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.