“Whether the events in our life are good or bad greatly depends on the way we perceive them.” So wrote French philosopher-politician Michel de Montaigne in the 16th century.
Australian political events are perceived here in France differently from in Australia. But perceived they are, with keen interest. France shares many Australian anxieties: the perception that refugees are flooding in, fear of Muslim extremism, uncertainty about climate change, disillusionment with politicians and distress that we can’t beat Roger Federer.
Is Australia currently in crisis or not? A news item in Le Figaro on Sunday noted that Australia, by electing a minority government, is merely following Great Britain. Fashionable rather than fearful. The Metro, in contrast, warned of Australia’s political instability. “The country is confronted with the risks of institutional paralysis, with both parties lacking a majority.”
Several newspapers are fascinated by the characters. Le Nouvel Observateur highlighted le duel entre deux personnalités - fight between two opposite personalities. “Julia Gillard, 48, feminist and atheist, and Tony Abbott, 52, former seminarian, journalist and minister in the conservative government of John Howard, practicing Catholic, sportsman, called ‘the mad monk’ - le moine fou - because of his past and his reputation as a political extremist.”
Others focused on the key policies. According to Le Monde three issues dominated: tax on the mining sector, the national broadband network and the carbon trading scheme.
Commentary in France reflects puzzlement at Australia in five main areas. First, that a government could lose support while its economic management is being hailed around the world.
An opinion piece by Pierre Prier in Le Figaro was headed “Incertitude politique dans le ‘paradis’ australien”- Political uncertainty in Australia’s “paradise”.
Prier claimed that “economic indicators are in good shape … It is the only developed country not to have suffered from the economic crisis, posting a growth rate of 2.7 per cent in 2009. Unemployment is marginal at 5.3 per cent. The future is assured thanks to natural resources, mainly iron and coal, of which Australia is the largest exporter. The 22.3 million inhabitants enjoy one of best qualities of life in the world.”
Prier expressed bemusement at Tony Abbott’s attempts to blame the government for the nation’s debt “which accounts for only six per cent of the GNP”. In many countries it is now about 100 per cent.
Second, that since the 2007 change of government, Australia has been regarded as having abandoned a period of pro-US isolation and re-entered the global community. Kevin Rudd’s call on the Chinese government to address human rights - in their own language - was widely reported. So were other significant changes. Why reverse this?
Le Figaro claimed Gillard’s predecessor, “le brillant mais autocratique et cassant Kevin Rudd” - brilliant but autocratic and fragile - had been lauded at home and abroad. “Very popular at the beginning of his mandate, he had opened Australia to the outside by signing the Kyoto protocol and promising a carbon tax. He had also reconciled Australians with their past by saying sorry to the Aborigines for discrimination of which they were victims.”
But it continued that Rudd had given up on the carbon tax, disappointing his supporters, and had alienated the powerful mining lobby by announcing a 40 per cent mining tax - sans négociation.
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