Australia's poll contains message for Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 September, 2013, 2:47am

After three years of minority rule by a centre-left Labor government marked by infighting, Australians have elected a conservative Liberal-National party coalition led by Tony Abbott by a big majority in the House of Representatives. Barring political disasters, it seems assured of at least two terms of government, normally six years.

Australians expect to learn soon how Abbott proposes to balance his extravagant and controversial "signature" policy of paid parental leave with pledges to scrap a carbon tax and save billions of dollars to bring down public debt. Asian capitals want to learn more about his foreign policy, especially the crucial relationship with China. He said little about it in the campaign, but it may be a positive sign that his mentor, former prime minister John Howard, promoted a stronger relationship with China, even as he reinforced commitment to the American alliance. Outgoing Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd said the best interests of Australia and the Pacific would be served by a power-sharing arrangement between the superpowers, a view echoed by former conservative prime minister Malcolm Fraser and foreign affairs commentators. Abbott has at least rejected the suggestion that Australia might have to choose between the American alliance and the Chinese commercial relationship.

Both sides of Australian politics have agonised over climate change. Repeal of the carbon tax will be the first test of Abbott's political skills and an issue that has the potential to trigger another, snap election, given that minor parties and independents still prevent him controlling the senate.

Rudd, who only recently reclaimed the job of prime minister in an internal vote from Julia Gillard, after a divided party threw him out three years ago, says he will now quit the leadership. If there is a lesson in this for Hong Kong democrats ahead of consultation on political reform, it is to be found in an outgoing minister's articulation of the truism that disunity is death in politics. If Labor could not manage itself, it could not expect people to vote for it to manage the country.