CANBERRA OBSERVED: by our national correspondentNews Weekly
Tony Abbott faces winter of discontent
, June 7, 2014
As the parliamentary debate on the Budget drags on, it looks increasingly likely that the Coalition, despite its overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives, will have difficulty getting a number of its most important budget measures through the Senate. It may even face defeat over the repeal of the carbon and mining taxes, two of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s signature policies before the 2013 election.
As things stand at the moment, the only certainties are the temporary deficit-reduction levy on high-income earners, which the ALP will not oppose, and the Prime Minister’s paid parental leave (PPL) scheme, which is expected to get the support of the Greens.
The Medicare co-payment and the tightened eligibility for pensions and unemployment benefits face great difficulties in getting through the Senate.
One continuing uncertainty is the position of the Labor Party. Since the political crisis of 1975, when the Governor-General Sir John Kerr dismissed the Whitlam Labor government because it could not get government appropriation bills through the Senate, Labor has repeatedly insisted that it would not defeat appropriation bills.
What is unclear is where the line will be drawn between “budget measures”, which Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten has promised to oppose, and appropriation bills which Labor will not defeat.
As appropriation bills refer to moneys voted by parliament for particular purposes, it appears that Labor will, at the end of the day, support Commonwealth expenditure measures, but not a number of the government’s revenue measures.
Where the Commonwealth government has decided to discontinue funding particular agencies which were pet projects of Labor and the Greens — such as the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, the National Water Commission and the COAG Reform Council — or to reduce funding for others, Labor is expected to let these budget cuts pass.
The media’s preoccupation with a Budget which faces the likelihood of either amendment or partial rejection in the Senate is distracting attention from important foreign policy issues emerging in North Asia, particularly between Japan and China, two of Australia’s largest trading partners.
Since November 2012, when Xi Jinping succeeded to the key post of General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and Chairman of the party’s central military commission, and his appointment as President of China last year, China has adopted a far more aggressive policy internationally, particularly in the East and South China Seas.
Almost simultaneously, Shinzo Abe became Prime Minister of Japan, and set about a program of expanding Japan’s economy and its international profile. One element of this has been the expansion of Japan’s self-defence forces, and repealing the constitutional limitation on military operations overseas.
The evidence of China’s aggressive posture is clearly seen in 1) its deployment of an oil-drilling rig, backed by Chinese naval vessels, in waters claimed by Vietnam; 2) the stand-off between China and Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea; and 3) the recent deployment of Chinese fighter aircraft to warn off Japanese military aircraft which were observing China-Russia military exercises.
It is standard practice for countries to monitor their neighbours’ military exercises, and Japan was doing what it had done regularly in the past. However, the Chinese response was radically different.
A Japanese government spokesman said that Chinese fighter jets had appeared without warning, and flown just 30 metres from its reconnaissance aircraft over the East China Sea.
There was clearly a near collision between Chinese and Japanese military aircraft, which has heightened tensions between Japan and China. This comes on top of China’s establishment last November of what it called an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) between Japan and China, which requires any aircraft entering the zone to notify China.
The heightened risk of conflict was foreshadowed by the Chinese themselves. A Foreign Ministry statement said, “Japanese military planes intruded on the exercise’s air space without permission and carried out dangerous actions, in a serious violation of international laws and standards, which could have easily caused a misunderstanding and even led to a mid-air accident.”
Clearly, tensions between the two economic superpowers are higher than they have been for years.
The Chinese Communist Party’s actions have already led to rioting in Vietnam and the destruction of many Chinese businesses in the country.
Its aggressive stance could lead to military conflict with Japan. This would inevitably involve the United States, which has repeatedly pledged to support Japan in the event of conflict with China.
These tensions come at a time when Australia is attempting simultaneously to expand exports of iron ore, coal and natural gas to China, and to pursue closer economic and strategic co-operation with Japan.
While Australia is preoccupied with the Budget, other issues are emerging in the region which could have an even greater impact on Australia’s future.