Canberra ramps up Pacific policy as election looms

BOTH government and opposition parties in Australia have outlined a renewed commitment to the Pacific, as voters prepare to go to the polls.

In recent months, the Coalition government led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced more than $3 billion worth of infrastructure and security initiatives in the Pacific. However it’s unlikely that Morrison will get to spend this money. National elections must be held by May, and opinion polls suggest that the opposition Australian Labour Party (ALP) led by Bill Shorten will win a crushing victory.

Despite positive economic data, many workers have seen little wage growth during the period of Coalition government between 2013 and 2018. Relations between the governing Liberal and National parties are tense, as the government stumbles from scandal to scandal. Above all, there are unresolved tensions within the Liberal Party after the dumping of three prime ministers since 2013. Internal faction fighting saw Prime Minister Tony Abbott replaced by Malcolm Turnbull in 2015, who was then replaced in August 2018 by Scott Morrison, after a failed putsch by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton (with six changes of Prime Minister since 2007, Voreqe Bainimarama is pleased that Canberra has replaced Suva as the coup capital of Oceania).

In states like Queensland, small but significant numbers of voters have turned away from the major parties towards Pauline Hanson’s One Nation or other Right-wing forces. These groups call for cuts to overseas aid and restrictions on foreign workers coming to Australia, which sits uneasily with Canberra’s pledge of “stepping up” in the Pacific.

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