Three challenges for australia in 2014
Sailing close to the wind
After a tumultuous 12 months, which saw three different prime ministers, there should be a degree of political stability in Australia in 2014. But while Tony Abbott is unlikely to face the problems in his own party that both Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd had to deal with, the coming year will be challenging for a controversial and untested prime minister.
With an economy propped up heavily by the country’s mining boom, both Labor and Liberal governments have sought ways to ensure a smooth financial transition when that bubble inevitably bursts. Abbott has been quick to promise lower tax rates and infrastructural spending but the record-low interest rates that encouraged Australians to spend on consumer goods and new homes have led some analysts to worry about a possible credit crunch.
Not shy about proclaiming his scepticism on climate change, Abbott cut funding to many environmental schemes and scrapped the Labor party’s carbon tax. Australia sits beneath a hole in the ozone layer and is regularly hit by droughts, heatwaves, floods and wildfires, so its leaders shouldn’t need convincing that this is a matter requiring their attention – and it will remain a political issue in 2014.
To outsiders, Australia’s attitude to would-be migrants can look heartless (compare Abbott’s view with that of Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt on page 54). Abbott will continue Labor’s “stop the boats” policy, sending them all to Papua New Guinea, which will continue to colour relations with many of Australia’s neighbours.
Track and field
GoldLinQ is Queensland’s first light rail system. The 13km line will link several fast-growing commercial and residential areas in Brisbane and help deal with extra traffic during the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
City to watch
New Zealand [AUCKLAND]
The city’s first electric trains will hit the tracks in March after decades of wrangling. Four years ago, the city finally ordered 57 trains from Spanish firm CAF for NZ$420m (€260m). Built in the Basque Country, they were shipped over and outfitted at specially built yards in the south of the city. Taking into account line upgrades, new stations and redevelopment of centres such as New Lynn – a traditionally poor area right on a main rail line – it’s a billion-dollar project, which will deliver 40 per cent more capacity and faster travel times.
Meanwhile, downtown Auckland is part-way through a massive urban renewal project. Narrow streets have been torn up and replaced with “shared spaces”, where cars give way to pedestrians; new precincts in formerly derelict industrial areas like City Works Depot, North Wharf and Britomart are booming. Further pedestrian-friendly spaces and a NZ$2.4bn (€1.5bn) rail tunnel under the city are also in the works.
Politician to watch
Tonga [KING TUPOU VI]
As the impact of climate change takes hold, vulnerable countries such as Tonga have not left much to chance. Not only has the Pacific island nation set up a ministry for environment and climate change, but King Tupou VI has been busy at home and abroad pushing for climate change mitigation and adaptation. In a UN address, he extended his appeal over targets on the post-2015 UN development agenda. With the UN Climate Summit taking place in 2014, keep an eye out for this advocate for action on global warming.
Elections to watch
Prime minister John Key’s National Party commands a small majority in the House of Representatives with the support of three minor parties. The Labour Party will be hoping their somewhat curious alliance with the populist New Zealand First and the Greens will overhaul him.
Premier Denis Napthine faces Victoria’s people for the first time, having inherited his job after the resignation of his predecessor. His conservative Liberal/National coalition holds one more Legislative Assembly seat than the Labor opposition; polling is almost as close.
Premier Jay Weatherill acquired his job in 2011 in time-honoured Labor party fashion – in a party-room coup. He is now braced for a similar punishment to that visited upon his colleagues in last September’s federal election – polls put opposition leader Steven Marshall comfortably ahead.