Another political tussle in Australia is expected in 2016, with the leading parties racing neck-and-neck into an election year. The new prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who ousted Tony Abbott in a party coup in September, has so far stuck to the policies of his unpopular predecessor. That may change as the election approaches.
Australia has been criticised recently by China and the US for failing to take climate change seriously. Australia’s government looks set for another dressing down at the UN’s climate-change meet in Paris in December and may return with more aggressive carbon-reduction targets. Any shift in policy will certainly make this an election issue.
Australia has come under global scrutiny for its tough treatment of asylum seekers but on home soil its controlled borders have made the population more open to new arrivals. “When the public thinks the borders are under control, public support for immigration is very high,” says Peter Hartcher, political and international editor of the Sydney Morning Herald. New migrants will help counter-balance an ageing population and support Australia’s economic growth. However, for success next year the country must clean up its image regarding the treatment of asylum seekers while embracing a sizeable and varied migrant intake.
Moving beyond the boom
Commodity-rich Australia has been accused of complacency for relying purely on its mining boom to prop up the economy – boom-till-bust practices have typified the country’s economic history. Although a complete collapse is a long way off, the nation is looking to diversify its sources of income. Turnbull’s announcements on this front are highly anticipated. The tourism industry will continue its major transition next year as infrastructure develops around a growing Asian market.
ELECTIONS TO WATCH
This is one of the more stable democracies of the Pacific region and prime minister Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, 69, is one of the nation’s longest-serving leaders. Malielegaoi is looking to secure his fourth term as PM, with his ruling Human Rights Protection Party expected to easily keep hold of its significant majority.
The world’s smallest island nation has just shy of 10,000 citizens and is the third smallest state by landmass in the world, behind Vatican City and Monaco. Infamous for a detention centre that incarcerates Australia’s asylum seekers, Nauru holds low-key yet compulsory elections: all over-20s are required to vote.
Democracy in Vanuatu is defined by its instability. Since 2012, MPs have been plagued by no-confidence motions and allegations of bribery. But 2016 will be a year of reform. Four parties are looking to collaborate, while women again struggle to secure a first seat.
POLITICIAN TO WATCH
Australia [MARISE PAYNE]
Australia is known for its revolving door when it comes to prime ministers but the nation changes defence ministers even more frequently. In the past 50 years, 23 people have held the post. The Australian defence community hopes Senator Marise Payne, who became Australia’s first female defence minister in September, will be one who sticks around.
At 51, Payne doesn’t just bring relative youth to the role; she also has excellent credentials, having chaired the senate committee inquiry into Australia’s counter-terrorism laws in 2003 and 2004. Payne has hit the ground running, overseeing more than au$80bn (€51bn) worth of shipbuilding and crafting a white paper to consolidate defence policy, budget and strategy. But with a massive defence restructure in play and Australian jets deployed in Iraq and Syria, Payne has a big job ahead of her.
CITY TO WATCH
Room for improvement
Papua New Guinea [INVESTMENT]
A consistent entry in lists of “the world’s most unliveable cities”, Papua New Guinea capital Port Moresby is the subject of a major urban-renewal challenge as it gears up to host the 2018 Apec Summit. Crime is rampant in the city and many citizens suffer from poor services. The government is therefore investing in an improvement programme to help showcase the country’s resource-backed economy.
Port Moresby’s international airport is undergoing a major overhaul, road infrastructure is being improved and the nation’s first Hilton is on the way. However, the infrastructure needed to support a global political gathering is still a long way off and the city may host Apec delegates on cruise ships to ensure their safety.