Australian Federal Election and Potential Changes in Its Foreign Policy

Written by: Soniya Afroz Mahi

The victory of Anthony Albanese marks Australia’s first left-wing government in nearly a decade. The center-left Labor Party’s leader, Albanese, was elected as the 31st prime minister alongside a surprising number of teal independent and Green candidates taking seats in the parliament. But the concern is whether these newly elected members can form an effective government.

The new government’s impact on Australian foreign policy could be both good and bad. For example, remaining committed to its alliance with the United States is considered a good influence. Less than 24 hours after being sworn in, the new prime minister flew to Tokyo to attend the Quad meeting, an informal strategic alliance consisting of the US, Japan, India, and Australia.

On the other hand, Australia’s relation with the Middle East is widely considered contradictory. Albanese has long criticised Israel’s actions and has never demonstrated much empathy for the country. Prior to the election, he told the Australian Jews News that Israel is an “oppressor” nation and accused it of united punishment against Palestinians. However, earlier this month, Albanese stated, “Israel will always have Australia’s friendship and support from a Labor government.”

The new government has also considerably changed the relationship with France. Australia has pledged to pay approximately $830m AUD compensation for discarding the non-nuclear French submarine contract. In addition, Albanese has committed to renewing bilateral ties with France after resettling the cancelled contract with Naval Group.

Can Albanese deal with the climate emergency?

Australia has one of the worst records in the world in terms of climate change. Continuous bushfires, scorching heat waves, and the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef are testament to the country’s lack of climate-oriented policies.

As Australia grappled with a horrible bushfire season, former Prime Minister Scott Morrison faced increasing pressure to commit to further climate actions. Protests against him raged in the affected regions, and criticisms drew from both domestic and foreign premises. Whereas, right after taking power, the Labor Party stated that it would accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources. They will deploy solar banks, community batteries and authorise new coal projects if they are economically and environmentally feasible. It will reduce an estimated 8.6% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the Asia-Pacific region and about 4% of global footprints.. 

But experts have warned that it will not be easy to turn a coal-powered nation, fueled by the government to earn billions in export revenues, into a sustainable one. Australia is the world’s third-largest exporter of fossil fuels, following Russia and Saudi Arabia. These exports along with the wildfires have more than doubled its domestic carbon footprint. Under the Paris Agreement, Australia has committed to reduce emissions by 43% within 2030 and reach a net zero by 2050. However, hope for an end to the climate crisis by this newly elected government seems slim. 

Will a change of government change Australia-China relations?

It is assumed that a change in government will not change the relationship between Australia and China. Analysts think Australia’s relationship with China is unlikely to improve under the new left-wing government of Canberra.

According to China, Australia was the first state to restrict Huawei’s development in the country, and it did not seem friendly to many Chinese companies. Moreover, Australia shared a close relationship with the former Trump administration in the U.S. regarding the identification of COVID-19’s origin; both imposed extreme pressure on China.

Australia, on the other hand, has been vocal in criticising China’s activities in Taiwan, Hong Kong, ethnic Uighurs and the disputed South China Sea. At the same time, Albanese’s strong support for Quad and AUKUS —both of which are recognised as “anti-China” groups by Beijing, is creating further rifts.  Moreover, Australia is continuously demanding China to halt the trade sanctions in export sectors.

The South China Sea disputes have entered a dangerous new phase in the last several years. Recently, the Chinese foreign and defence ministry confirmed that a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force fighter jet and an Australian P-8 reconnaissance aircraft were involved in an incident over the disputed sea in May. To which, China has claimed a direct threat to their sovereignty. 

What would be the impact on US-Australia relations?

The United States and Australia have been maintaining a concrete relationship for a long time through shared democratic values, common interests, and cultural affinities. Both countries are strongly interested in preserving the right to overflight, navigate, and engage in other legal maritime activities, particularly in the South China Sea. Additionally, Australia, the United States, Japan, and India are working together in a Quadrilateral security dialogue (Quad) to address the most pressing challenges of the region.

In September 2021, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States declared an enhanced trilateral security partnership (AUKUS) to further solidify security cooperation among the member states. AUKUS will give Australia access to nuclear-powered submarine capabilities in the shortest possible time, while upholding the highest non-proliferation requirement. This collaboration is anticipated to improve the sophisticated military capabilities to support security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

Australia-Bangladesh relation: Will it bring any changes?

Australia and Bangladesh have celebrated 50 years of diplomatic relations this year, and both countries are willing to strengthen their diplomatic and strategic relationship ahead. In 2021, Australia and Bangladesh signed a Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement, which will help develop economic ties and diminish barriers to trade and investment.

However, Australia’s current defence and security engagement with Bangladesh is extremely low. Although Australia was one of the first countries to recognise Bangladesh as an independent country in early 1972, the relationship between Bangladesh and Australia has not developed much. Official military visits are very rare, and there is no resident defence representative. The last Australian Navy visit was back in 2014. Australia currently does not provide any material assistance to the Bangladesh armed forces. 

If the new government of Australia wishes to take any initiative regarding Bangladesh, it should emphasise on building personal relationships and networks with the Bangladesh military. Although a long-term undertaking, it could provide significant benefits in times of crisis, when personal relationships can count more than formal institutional agreements.

In conclusion, the inescapable reality is that despite these internal challenges, Labor Party – similar to its political predecessor – has banked on U.S. resolve in resisting China. Former Prime Minister Morrison had established a new peaceful relationship with the US, making Australia one of their most reliable allies in Asia policy. It is estimated that Albanese would uphold a similar stance in his regime to bring changes in Australia’s role and place in the world. Also, as he promised to end the climate wars, which played a crucial role in his victory, now is the time to see if he can keep his word or not.

Featured Image Courtesy: James D. Morgan/Getty Images


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