he swearing in of Australia’s new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese 23 May represents a watershed moment in Australian politics. He not only becomes the first Labor PM in the past decade, but the election outcome this time around has shown how climate change and its disastrous impact on the planet in general and Australia in particular has played a crucial role in deciding the fortunes of political parties and climate activists in the country. It is a significant coincidence that the new PM had to dash off to Tokyo moments after the swearing-in ceremony to participate in a summit meeting of the Quad group comprising Australia, the US, Japan and India. The four-nation grouping has been formed to act as a counterbalance against China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region. Albanese has been accused by his opponent and immediate predecessor Scott Morrison with being soft on China. He has, however, refuted the accusation and blamed “wrong handling” of the situation by the Morrison government for the strained relationship between Australia and China.
Albanese’s emergence as the new Australian PM has come as music to French ears. This is because France was left high and dry by the Morrison government which abandoned a submarine deal between the two countries in favour of a security pact known as the AUKUS formed by Australia, the US and the UK. The arrangement offers a great challenge to China’s might. In fact, the outgoing French foreign affairs minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, did not conceal his glee when he said the “defeat of Morrison suits me very well.” Morrison’s handling of the deal, according to him, showed “brutality and cynicism, and I would even be tempted to say unequivocal incompetence.” In fact, Albanese himself had accused Morrison of leaking to the media personal text messages from Emmanuel Macron to discredit the French President’s complaint that Australia had given no warning that a French submarine contract would be cancelled. In November last year, French Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault described the leak as a “new low” and a warning to other world leaders that their private communications with the Australian government could be weaponised and used against them.
Even though Albanese has made it clear that the country’s foreign policy of his Labor government would continue as that of the previous government, he has all the same expressed his misgivings about Morrison’s China policy. He has described a new security pact between China and the Solomon Islands as Australia’s worst foreign policy failure in the Pacific since World War II. Significantly, the Prime Minister of Solomon Islands, Manasseh Sogavare, wrote a letter to Albanese offering his “sincere congratulations” on his victory. His prompt response shows he wants to mend his country’s relations with Australia especially because the security deal with China was a major election issue. Sogavare assured Albanese “that Solomon Islands remains Australia’s steadfast friend and development partner of choice.” In a statement, Sogavare expressed hope for “taking Solomon Islands’ relationship with Australia to another level under Albanese’s tenure as the prime minister of Australia.”
The most dramatic turn in this election is the Australian voters’ overwhelming support for immediate action on climate change and strong disapproval of the previous government’s half-hearted action in this regard.
Australians are among the people in the world reeling most under the impact of climate change. In the past three years, record-breaking bushfires and flood events have killed more than 500 people and billions of animals. Droughts, cyclones and freak tides have devastated communities. The twin issues of climate change and the cost of living have converged in this election like never before. Australia is facing an “insurability crisis” with one in 25 homes on track to be effectively uninsurable by 2030, according to a Climate Council report. This means that the insurance for the highest-risk homes will be so prohibitively expensive that the insurance companies will refuse to accept any policy. Climate change is playing out in real time and many Australians now find it impossible to insure their homes and businesses. Nowhere is this a bigger issue than in Queensland. It is home to almost 40 per cent of the 500,000 homes projected to be effectively uninsurable. Queensland has been ravaged by floods in recent months. In February, the state capital Brisbane had more than 70 per cent of its average yearly rainfall in just three days. Insurers say the floods will become Australia’s most expensive natural event ever.
No wonder Australian voters decided to cast their votes in favour of climate activists contesting in the election and the Green Party. They have voted against ruling coalition candidates and decided to give a chance to the Labor party to effectively control climate change with their target to limit carbon emission by 43 per cent by 2030 against the ruling coalition’s promise of 26 per cent. Australia may provide a lesson to the rest of the world in the fight against climate change, if the new government can live up to its promise.