We kicked off our 2016 Australian election coverage with views from our Lowy Institute experts on the most important issues of the campaign. From Lowy Institute Deputy Director Anthony Bubalo:
Let me indulge a conceit and say that Australia’s policy in the Middle East is the most important issue in the campaign. Clearly it is not, but it certainly should be more important than it is. It is currently our biggest military deployment overseas and one in which we have significant blood and treasure at stake. Moreover, our actions in Iraq and Syria have an impact on the security of Australians at home. Our political leaders should be debating how well the campaign is going, and how long we will stay. But all we get is a great bipartisan silence.
We also had the view from afar with Nick Bryant observing the international focus on the Australian election, in a year dominated by the US presidential election and the Brexit referendum, will zero in on just one question: will the next PM have staying power?
The merry go round of prime ministers not only presents a family photo problem at the end of summits — who will show up? — but also a big picture problem. What is the Australian narrative? What is the long-term national strategy? Where does the country place itself in the region and the world? No recent prime minister has been around long enough to convincingly outline that vision, let alone see it through. It’s a far cry from the certainty of the Howard years, when the prime minister was in place for more than a decade, as were his foreign minister and treasurer.
This was a common theme across international media. In the first of his media summaries on the campaign, Brendan Thomas-Noone quoted the The Wall Street Journal.
As the boom unwound, however, Australian leaders on both sides of the political aisle have struggled to stay on the good side of voters and detractors in their own parties. Between 1975 and 2007, the average tenure of an Australian prime minister was nearly eight years. Lately, it is less than two years—including five prime ministers since 2010.
Other countries in the region have grappled with political instability. In Japan, for example, Shinzo Abe in 2012 became the nation’s 17th prime minister in 25 years. The effect of that instability was corrosive to Japan’s economy, its alliance with the U.S. and to the country’s global standing.
The Philippines voted in a new president this week, Rodrigo Duterte, and Malcolm Cook reflected on the growing number of family political dynasties in that country.
The Duterte family’s two decades-plus control of Davao City will continue with Inday Sara Duterte (Rodrigo Duterte's daughter) winning over 99.5% of votes cast for mayor. While vice president Jejomar Binay faded badly as a presidential candidate, his family’s lock on power in Makati City is unbroken after Abigail Binay replaced her deposed brother as mayor in a close-run affair. Imee Marcos won the governorship of Ilocos Norte by acclamation as did Pia Cayetano, sister of Duterte’s running mate Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, in their bailiwick of Taguig City in Metro Manila. Duterte and Binay are first-generation scions of new urban-based political dynasties. The 'anarchy of families' continues.
Euan Graham was among the first to reveal the US Navy had undertaken another freedom of navigation passage, its third since October, in the South China Sea.
However, the resort to a third freedom of navigation operation in the Spratlys is unlikely to stem internal criticism of the Obama Administration’s approach, including its preference for the least assertive form of surface FONOP.
Helen Clark found the protests over mass fish deaths in Vietnam pose challenges for the new government that go beyond the immediate environmental problem.
In the longer term, the test for the government won't just be how it deals with both its discouraged and angry citizens and with Formosa. It will also have to manage an increasingly active civil society, environmental concerns, and the need to balance foreign investment with local priorities. .
Neil Hamilton looked at the impact of CSIRO's decision to cease key Antarctic science activities.
Australia's Antarctic policy framework is rapidly becoming a victim of shortsighted cost cutting and politically-motivated bureaucratic malaise. The cuts to funding have national sovereignty and security implications well beyond science. In short, we are creating an international relations mess with profound implications.
This prompted a response from Indi Hodgson-Johnston who questioned some of Dr Hamilton's arguments but agreed on the disastrous impact of the cuts on some of the most important scientific encounters of our time.
Australians should be decrying the likely loss of capacity in both the ice core scientific research, and the scientists that have discovered how to extract and measure greenhouse gasses from tiny bubbles in ancient cores, obtained from a desolate place few will ever visit. We should be mourning the loss of a laboratory which created a 1000-year plus record of greenhouse gas increases. Australia’s Antarctic science community has a web of contributors, and the CSIRO cuts will create gaps in our critical knowledge base.
Leon Berkelmans took issue with those who question the power of monetary policy.
Those not at the zero lower bound can still cut interest rates. I’m not sure why people think that the normal channels will not work properly. You often hear the claim that 'an extra 25 basis points (the amount of a usual interest rate cut) won’t have any effect'. Why would it have any less effect than usual? When I’ve looked at market and interest rate reactions to policy rate surprises lately, I haven’t seen any change in the effects of policy.* I don’t understand what evidence people are looking at when they say interest rate cuts don’t work anymore.
This week's coverage of the US presidential campaign included a post from Crispin Rovere who had some words of advice for the Republican Party's foreign policy elite.
Many Republicans say they cannot support Trump because one characteristic or other 'disqualifies' him from the presidency. Reality check: it doesn't. In a democracy, what qualifies a person for elected office is the votes cast in their favour. Each voter makes a personal judgement about a candidate's fitness for office, and elections reflect that collective will. There are no set personal qualities that define, or are pre-requisites for, the presidency. The many eccentric personalities who have occupied the White House over successive generations decisively attest to that point.
I took a look at the Democratic primary race and the role super-delegates will play in deciding the nomination.
While it is unlikely Sanders will emerge triumphant from the Democratic National Convention in late July, it is not impossible. This TestTube News video does a good job of explaining what super-delegates are and why they favour Clinton. However, super-delegates don't actually vote until the Convention. So far all we know is how they intend to vote and the past has shown they can change their minds.
John Fitzgerald considered the ABC's 2014 broadcasting agreement with China in the context of Beijing's long history of diaspora diplomacy.
In relations with China, Australia is largely concerned with trade and security, 'fear and greed' in Tony Abbott's colourful language. Beijing has other priorities, including a long-standing investment in overseas Chinese affairs that is without parallel in Australian policy circles. The Chinese Communist Party cares deeply about its own values and interests when it reaches out to manage and control Chinese communities and Chinese language media overseas.
The slip up from the Queen Elizabeth, whose comments on rude Chinese officials were beamed across the globe, prompted Sam Roggeveen to republish this prescient paragraph from a piece written by Kerry Brown during the visit by Xi Jinping to the UK last year.
The UK has pushed the boat out for this visit. It has a lot to lose, with its allies in particular, if this does not work. If a steady, strong flow of good economic collaboration starts, and Europeans, Americans and Australians see knock-on benefits, then this story has a good ending. But if another dip happens in the next few months or year, it will be proof that the UK and China have profound problems that they have still not managed to overcome.
Wayne McLean examined the causes of the feud between Turkey's President Recip Tayyip Erdogan and the soon-to-be replaced Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and what it reveals about the nature of the government, and Turkey itself.
It is also worth considering that many of the illiberal features of Erdogan's rule can be tied to Turkey's unique vision of itself in international politics. While he has moved away from Kemalism and its militant secularism, many of the core themes that dominated Turkey during the 20th century remain. Under this reading, Turkey views economic and political liberalism as tools to secure the Turkish state, rather than simply an end in itself. Through this lens, ostentatious statements by Erdogan such as 'democracy is like a train, you get off once you have reached your destination' are not meant to be judged as merely dismissals of liberal values, but rather as a Turkish-style realpolitik.
And finally Jennifer O'Sullivan joined the dots between the departure of Saudi Arabia's veteran oil minister after 21 years, the country's much-needed new economic plan, and the growing power of Deputy Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
The Deputy Crown Prince is the son of the current ruler, and together with the Crown Prince, are the first grandsons of Ibn Saud to hold the posts. This is a dramatic but necessary departure from the Kingdom's tradition of agnatic primogeniture whereby succession has proceeded horizontally through male siblings rather than vertically through descendants. The transition to the new generation is nominally based on merit as approved through the royal council. However, given the number of grandsons eligible for the throne, lines of succession are subject to revision. Vision 2030 and new cabinet appointments are useful for building prestige and power consolidation around the current line-up.
Photo: Glenn Hunt Getty Images News