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The Interpreter's best of 2016: The Australian election

Australia had a federal election on 2 July, and as usual The Interpreter covered every international policy angle.

The Interpreter's best of 2016: The Australian election
Published 3 Jan 2017 

Australia had a federal election on 2 July, and as usual The Interpreter covered every international-policy angle. Some highlights, beginning with the BBC's Nick Bryant:

Often lost in the intrigue and palace gossip of Canberra’s coup culture is how it looks internationally. That much-vaunted Aussie punch has been weakened by the unpredictability surrounding which prime minister will deliver it. Longevity brings clout, but Turnbull is the fourth Australian prime minister in the space of three years.

International summitry and the personal diplomatic chemistry it nurtures has seldom been so important, but new faces continually emerge from that RAAF VIP plane. Foreign leaders could be forgiven for not investing hugely in forging partnerships with modern-day Australian prime ministers. Who knows how long they will survive?

Here's Susan Harris-Rimmer's profile of 'globalised homebody' Bill Shorten, the leader of the Labor Party:

When thinking about the worldview of the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, it is tempting to use US analogies, partly because the US electoral race is so much more intriguing than our own. Shorten is far more like Bernie Sanders than Hillary Clinton; embedded in a domestic agenda stressing fairness and redress for economic and social inequality. Like Sanders, Shorten makes no apologies for this domestic focus. While this may seem like a failing in a potential ‘leader of the free world’, it is a lesser vice in a potential leader of Australia.

I wrote a profile of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull:

Since Turnbull had made the enthusiastic acceptance of globalisation part of his personal brand and election pitch, he had no choice but to double down when the Brexit vote threatened to undermine his rosy 'never been a more exciting time to be an Australian' view of the future. Yet 'embracing volatility' doesn't sound like a lot of fun. In fact, it sounds rather pitiless, a vision of the future in which, if we relax for even a moment, the nation slips and is crushed underfoot as others clamber up. The opposite of 'relaxed and comfortable', you might say.

The Interpreter was proud to add journalist Geoff Kitney to its election coverage, who looked at China policy if the Turnbull Government was returned to office:

A recently published article in the conservative magazine Quadrant warned of a post-election 'pivot towards China'. It accused Turnbull of 'Sinophilia' and of being 'poorly informed...on China's security and defence developments'. But the Quadrant take on where Australian policy should be towards China appears to be well to the right of the Australian mainstream. A recently published survey of Australian public attitudes to the strategic relationship with the US and economic relationship with China found that the Australian public is surprisingly relaxed about the rising power of China vis-à-vis the US.

Stephen Grenville looked at the trade debate, or lack of it:

The current bipartisan support for free trade reflects the consensual resolution of a century–old debate. Free–trade versus protection was one of the fundamental issues in the Australian Federation (the Lowy Institute’s usual home is in the building of the now-defunct New South Wales Club, established to support free trade). Until 1973 widespread industry protection (‘protection all round’) was the norm.  This was a key element in the ‘Australian settlement’, Paul Kelly’s interpretation of the first 70 years of Federation. By the late 1960s, however, both main political parties had come to recognise that Australia, as a medium-sized country, would be hugely disadvantaged if it cut itself off from the global economy through protection.

There was a powerful article from Jenny Hayward-Jones about the status of Australia's detention facility on Manus Island, PNG:

Both major parties in Australia need to start being frank with voters about the future of the asylum seekers on Manus. The PNG government will close the detention centre and refuse to resettle refugees. Manus can no longer be the deterrent Australia wants it to be and it will be incumbent on the Australian government to relocate the detainees to another country. A responsible government in Canberra cannot willfully breach PNG's constitution, snub the Supreme Court, or ask the PNG government to prioritise resettling refugees when its budget for essential services is already under huge strain.

Photo by Flickr user Alex Guibord.

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