Tag Archives: Australia

Did Climate Change Bring Down the Australian Government?

The ruling Labour Party was handed a stinging defeat in national elections in Australia today, with Kevin Rudd’s center-left party losing soundly to a center-right coalition headed by John Abbott. Interestingly, climate change policy—or more specifically, a carbon tax—was one of the central issues at stake in the election. The ruling Labour Party, which had seem three separate leadership changes as a result of its support for a controversial tax on carbon output, was pummeled in the polls. This video, produced by The Guardian’s Environmental Network, highlights some of the issues.

There are obviously a number of issues at play here, and it’s difficult to pin the election outcome solely on the Labour Party’s climate change policy. But the election outcome does suggest that Australian voters, at least in the present, are not supportive of a carbon tax.

What do you think? Would you support a tax on carbon emissions in an effort to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions? What lessons might American political parties draw from the Australian experience? Does this election make addressing climate change more difficult? Why? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

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The Australian Military Scandal(s) and Feminist IR Theory

Lieutenant General David Morrisson, Chief of the Australian Army

Lieutenant General David Morrisson, Chief of the Australian Army

Blogging at Duck of Minerva, Megan McKenzie raises some very interesting questions this week about the Australian military scandal. In the past couple of weeks, members of the Australian Defense Force have been accused of secretly videotaping sex without permission and streaming it other soldiers and, in a separate indecent, several soldiers were accused of emailing explicit and degrading descriptions of female soldiers. And to make matters still worse, these recent incidents follow on scandals last year that prompted the Australian military command to “rid the force of sexism” following another sandal last year.

The Chief of the Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison issued a public video statement condemning the actions of the soldiers engaged in these activities and telling them to “find something else to do with your life… Those who think that it is OK to behave in a way that demeans or exploits their colleagues have no place in this army. On all operations, female soldiers and officers have proven themselves worthy of the best traditions of the Australian Army. They are vital to us maintaining our capability now and into the future. If that does not suit you then get out. You may find another employer where your attitude and behaviour is acceptable but I doubt it.” The complete video (just over 3 minutes) is available on YouTube.

General Morrison continues, calling on innocent members of the armed forces to “show moral courage” and take a stand against such behavior in their ranks.

But as MacKenzie notes in her blog this week, Morrison’s video marks an important departure from previous efforts that tend to define such activities as the individual behavior of “a few bad apples.” Instead, Morrison contends that the culture and values of the military should be incompatible with such actions, and that individual soldiers should leave if they feel they cannot accept this. In doing so, MacKenzie observes that,

He may not realize it, but Morison also moves to redefine Australian militarised masculinity when he says that he doesn’t believe that toughness can be built on humiliating others and that all members of the force should ‘show moral courage’ and take a stand against such behavior. It may not seem like a big deal, but shifting the way that courage and toughness are defined could mean more than any grand declarations to rid the military of perpetrators. He also talks about the band of brothers AND sisters- making a concerted departure from a particular masculine image of the force.

There is always room for cynicism at a time like this, but here’s hoping that a thoughtful, prompt, and meaningful reaction to activities that have been brushed off for too long as ‘par for the course’ within defense and defence forces around the world may show times are changing.

Writing for the Sydney Morning Heard, Rachel Olding goes slightly further, describing General Morrison as an “unlikely feminist hero” and summarizing similar sentiments expressed by other Australian personalities.

What do you think? Do General Morrison’s comments represent a new, more feminist orientated way to approach the question of professional behavior in the military? Will he be successful in his efforts to shift the culture within the Australian military? And what might we learn from the Australian example? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

Merging Missions: A New Commonwealth Foreign Policy

British Foreign Secretary William Hague

British Foreign Secretary William Hague

The British and Canadian governments yesterday announced plans to launch a network of shared diplomatic missions. This initiative is intended to expand the reach of both countries, to counter the perceived growing influence of the European Union in global diplomacy, and to reduce the costs of maintaining missions around the world. It is hoped that Australia and New Zealand will join the initiate to create a network of “Commonwealth diplomatic missions.”

The current proposal, announced by British Foreign Secretary (and noted Eurosceptic) William Hague on Monday, would see Britain use Canadian diplomatic facilities in locations where there is currently no British mission, and vice versa. Hague hinted yesterday that this could lead to closer cooperation between the two countries moving forward. Canada and Australia already have a similar agreement, known as the Canada-Australia Consular Services Sharing Agreement, under which citizens of one country can receive consular assistance from the diplomatic missions of the other country.

The US Embassy in Brussels

The US Embassy in Brussels

All of this raises the question: What exactly do embassies and foreign missions do, anyway? The Council of American Ambassadors has an interesting list, written by Philip Lader, the US Ambassador to the Court of St. James (Great Britain). Generally, these services fall into three categories.

First, diplomatic missions provide assistance to home country nationals. An American living in Belgium, for example, might visit the US Embassy to register the birth of a child, obtain a social security number, or renew a passport. The diplomatic corps also provides limited assistance to Americans detained for committing a crime while abroad. In crisis situations, the diplomatic mission may also be called upon to evacuate personnel from the country during an emergency.

Second, diplomatic missions provide assistance and information to foreign nationals about the home country. Again, the American mission in Belgium might provide information about immigration to the United States, process requests for visas. Its staff might also perform public outreach (sometimes referred to as public diplomacy) by, for example, meeting with local schoolchildren or hosting events on American holidays.

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, diplomatic mission are expected to represent the interests of the home country in dealings with the host country. The US diplomatic mission in Belgium, for example, would engage in negotiations with the Belgian government across a wide range of issues, including trade, security, or other issues. US diplomatic staff would meet with personnel from the Belgian government to press US interests, and to hear Belgian concerns about US policy. In extreme situations, the US ambassador could be recalled by the US government (or expelled by the host government) to demonstrate dissatisfaction with a policy or decision.

What do you think: Does the proposed linking of British and Canadian diplomatic missions in selected locations sound like a good idea? How do you think it might affect British and Canadian foreign policy, if at all? Should other countries, like Australia and New Zealand, join the initiative? What dangers, if any, do you see in such a proposal? Let us know what you think.

The Continuing Challenge of Coalition Politics

Julia Gillard

Australian Prime Minisiter Julia Gillard

Australia has a new government, two weeks after elections left the future of Australian politics in uncertainty. Two independent members of parliament (MPs) announced they would back Julia Gillard’s minority government, permitting the Labour Party to continue to try to govern the country. But Gillard’s government is fragile. She’s promised the Greens a renewed effort to address climate change in exchange for their support and three rural MPs a high-speed fiber optic cable to connect their rural constituencies with the national broadband network. The deals give Gillaard’s center-left Labour Party coalition a narrow two-seat advantage over the rival Liberal/National coalition. But Gillard’s ability to manage her narrow majority will be tested at nearly every turn, as a single defection from the coalition could trigger a confidence motion in the government.

But the news is less positive in Belgium, where three-month old talks collapsed over the weekend, leaving the country without a national government. Belgium, like its neighbor the Netherlands, has been without a government since elections in June. The defeated pre-election government continues to operate as a caretaker government. But Belgium has, since July 1, also held the rotating presidency of the European Council.

In both the Netherlands and Belgium, the inability of the various political factions to form a new coalition government stems largely from the rise of political parties which lack any real interest in establishing a national government. In Belgium, the longstanding linguistic division and the rise of parties like the Vlaams Belang make it difficult to form alliances between traditional allies across the Flemish-French linguistic divide. Strong anti-immigration platforms in the Netherlands have also undermined coalition possibilities.

But the challenges facing Belgium and the Netherlands (and the crisis narrowly avoided in Australia) demonstrate the challenge of coalition politics. While the proportional representation electoral system [glossary] used in Belgium and the Netherlands affords voters a greater choice of political parties, it also fractures the political spectrum. Twelve separate political parties are represented in the lower house of the Belgian parliament, the largest of which controls just 18 percent of the seats. In such a fragmented political system, it is hardly surprising that a coalition would be difficult to form. Indeed, any realistic coalition would have to (1) transcend the linguistic divide, arguably the most difficult and controversial division in Belgium today; and (2) involve more than five coalition partners.  A tall task indeed!

The Future of the British Commonwealth

Queen Elizabeth on a State Visit to Australia

Queen Elizabeth on a State Visit to Australia

With a close election battle looming in Australia on Saturday, Prime Minister Julia Gillard proposed Australia end its recognition of the British monarchy when the reign of Queen Elizabeth ends. Like sixteen other members of the Commonwealth Realms (the others being Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and the United Kingdom), Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state for Australia. These countries divide the ceremonial post of head of state [glossary] from the formal positions of leadership held by the head of government [glossary], usually the prime minister.

The division of powers between a ceremonial head of state and a head of government with real powers is common. Indeed, there are 44 countries around the world (the majority in Europe) which maintain a monarchy vested with ceremonial authority.

As Joshua Keating notes in his post on the Australian debate, the current generation of monarchs, which includes Queen Elizabeth II as well as King Juan Carlos I of Spain, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, and King Carl Gustav XVI of Sweden), retains a good deal of popularity. But future Kings and Queens will likely face a great deal of public skepticism about their relevance and cost.

Australia rejected a proposal to establish a republic [glossary] in a previous referendum in 1999. But the prospect of King Charles appears to be lending a renewed impetus for reconsidering the previous proposal.

But is there still a need for a ceremonial head of state? In most presidential systems, the elected president performs both the day-to-day functions of the head of government as well as the ceremonial duties of the head of state. For its detractors, though, such a system lacks the stability guaranteed by a (presumably) non-partisan ceremonial head of state. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s current proposal may be nothing more than simple electioneering. But it does raise some interesting questions about the viability of the next generation of European monarchs.