PERTH, Australia — Once again it is election time in Australia and there is an electric buzz in the air, even more than usual because this race hasn’t exactly been a smooth-sailing run-of-the-mill campaign so far.
It started on June 24 when Julia Gillard replaced then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to become the first female PM of Australia, a move no one saw coming, including Rudd.
Less than two weeks ago, Gillard announced an election would be held August 21, a move that everyone who has an ounce of intelligence saw coming.
Already the election campaign has been packed with pledges, promises and political punches from competitors on opposing sides of the political ring.
So let‘s get familiar with the candidates, shall we?
Since she pulled one massive hood over K-Rudd’s eyes last month, Gillard has been accused of savagely sticking a hell of a knife into his back.
However, as deputy prime minister in the Rudd’s Labor administration, she has been privy to the inner workings of a legitimately popular, trustworthy and genuine government.
Gillalrd is also a fiery redhead with the brains and confidence to be the face of Australia.
Tony Abbott, leader of the Australian Liberal Party for the past eight month s, has become cemented into Australian politics as a conservative and deeply religious iron-man who has had more than his fair share of verbal disagreements with Gillard.
Abbott has also been the butt of many a joke after being photographed in skin-tight speedos while supporting Australia’s lifesavers. (I advise you not to look up the photos, they’re a little disturbing.)
And let the fight begin…
In the first televised leaders’ debate a week ago – which many dubbed a bland and uninspiring sparing match – provided a fascinating preview of where Australia could be heading.
After each of the candidates made the mandatory rounds of the states and kissed a few babies on the trail, we finally reached the ‘great debates.’
Oh, how excited I was, I had even circled it on my calendar, despite my extreme frustration that it was rescheduled for an early time so that it wouldn’t clash with the finale of Masterchef Australia.
On topics that included everything from the economy to climate change and sustainability to immigration, both party leaders put forth their plans on how best to move Australia forward.
TOPIC ONE: Immigration
Though statistics have shown asylum seekers and illegal immigrants make up only about 1 per cent of immigration numbers into Australia, this has proved to be an extremely important part of the election campaign.
In recent days, Abbott has promised to “stop the boats.”
He described with passion how he would cut the annual intake of immigrants from 300,000 to 170,000 in his first term.
Gillard bit back, though, stating that former PM John Howard’s Liberal Party allowed the initial increase in immigration.
She also pointed out a few more important figures: her Labor government had already decreased immigration numbers from 300,000 in 2008 to 175,000 this year.
“The trick here is Tony has today promised the Australian people what I’m already delivering to the Australian people,” Gillard said,
Asylum seekers and refugees also factored into the discussion.’
Abbott discredited the possible regional processing centre that Gillard is discussing with leaders of East Timor. Het argued that East Timor did not even want a center and that it would never happen, instead promising to reopen the center already built in Nauru.
Gillard promptly retorted that Abbott was naïve to believe Nauru a serous option as the Micronesian island nation currently has a caretaker government which is unable to make decisions and may not be able to do so for some time.
Somehow the debate about asylum seekers became an argument about humanity.
Abbott’s approach was simply to turn the boats around and deny any possible entry to Australia or a regional processing center which could determine whether or not those on board were genuine political refugees.
Gillard told of the stark reality of what happens when border security turns a boat around and go back to where it came from: the people smugglers in charge of the boats simply destroy the vessel and it is then up to the men and women of border security to save those in the water.
Because immigration has been one of the most fiercely debated issues by the general public, it may have a profound effect of the outcome of the election.
TOPIC TWO: Climate change
As Australia, and the rest of the world, prepared to step into a new generation of climate change activism, Rudd’s back flip on a proposed emissions trading scheme in April proved a hard pill to swallow.
Many believed that back flip added another nail in his political coffin.
When it came to climate change debate, Gillard’s material seemed a little shaky.
She reassured the public that she would only introduce a price on carbon if the liberal opposition agreed to it and that the only way to cut carbon emissions would be to introduce her market-based approach.
The problem is Abbott has maintained a staunch resistance to any such agreement.
Abbott launched an attack on the government on climate change.
“There has been a complete failure of leadership from this government and this prime minister” on the issue, he said.
Abbott rejected the government’s use of a climate change focus group to target possible solutions. He said it is up to Parliament to resolve it.
TOPIC THREE: Economy
Following a global financial crisis that freaked out every developed western nation, the state of the economy was always going to be a political focus point.
Both candidates put forward rather flimsy plans to deal with it.
Gillard refused to go into detail about what would happen if Australia experienced a ‘double dip recession’ instead choosing to focus on the fact her government had managed to keep Australia out of a recession in the first place.
She said her optimism prompted her to believe Australia would continue to grow and prosper after a world struggle which we came out of seemingly unscathed.
When given his chance to reply, Abbot said only his government would be capable of cutting Labor’s deficit and subsequently lowering taxes and improving the economy.
TOPIC FOUR: Kevin Rudd’s axing
This one’s been on the lips of most Australians for the last month.
No one saw the ouster coming and everyone wanted to know what went on behind closed doors.
How did Gillard step so quickly into a vacant pair of K-Rudd’s shoes after spending the previous month reassuring people that his leadership was safe?
Abbott has been using the political assassination of Rudd to undermine Gillard and the government since the takeover.
He said Australia cannot trust a government that would so willingly give its leader the sack in his first term and refuse to explain why.
Until the debate, Gillard had been reverently tight-lipped about her motivations, claiming what happened behind closed doors between her and Rudd was not something on which she would publicly comment.
The Australian public did not appreciate her seemingly undemocratic attitude behind the leadership siege.
However, she could not shirk Rudd during the leaders’ debate.
When asked about what really happened, she broke her silence and admitted she had become increasingly worried her government had stopped making progress and the leader was losing the confidence of the public.
“It came down to a really difficult choice. It didn’t sit easily with me. But it came down to a choice as to whether I should continue to be of service to Kevin Rudd or whether I needed to look to my service to the Australian people. The choice I made was to be of service to the Australian people,” Gillard said.
At the end of the night, the debate was done and dusted with a quick, and uncomfortable, shake of the hand.
Though Gillard was widely declared the winner, many called it a draw.
Unfortunately, the debate was the only opportunity for opposing candidates to make a serious indentation on the minds of voters.
There will not be another this year.
With the outcome of the election too close to call, both parties may rue their choice not to draw blood while they had the perfect chance.
Rebecca Baylis is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.