The world's stake in a changing Australia
Every year gives the rest of the world more reason to adjust its provincial view of Australia as a symbol of remoteness. The stakes of other countries in Australia are increasing. The nature of their economic and political ties can be affected by the politics within Australia. Thus the recent election there, with its resurgence of opposition to the conservative leadership, means something to the growing numbers of Japanese profiting from Australian investments, for example; to the Americans, Finns, and others with treaties for safeguarded imports of Australian uranium; to the third-world nations to whose needs Australia has been paying new attention in recent years.
Policy changes are not anticipated at the moment, since Prime Minister Fraser's Liberal-National Country Party coalition did retain a majority in the House of representatives. But some governmental reorganizing and readjusting may be expected under the heightened competitive politics promised by the now strengthened opposition in the House and the probable loss of control of the Senate. The latter result could be especially interesting, since the balance of power could be held by the small party known as the Australian Democrats, who are opposed to both the mining and export of uranium.
Prime Minister Fraser's landslides of the past were not repeatd, even as the pre-election polls indicating Labor Party rebirth were not fully confirmed. Complete results were not immediately available under Australia's complex electoral system. But it was clear that Labor's high popular vote was distributed in such a way as not to win a comparable number of extra seats, though it seemed likely to reduce the Fraser coalition's majority of 48 by perhaps 30 seats.
In part the rise of Labor apparently depended on the personalities of Mr. Fraser, seen by some as aristocratic and domineering, and of Labor leader Bill Hayden, a folksier sort whose campaign style is said to have improved beyond expectations. But in the matter of issues a Labor victory could have meant changes beyond such promised domestic ones as lowered taxes and increased social services. Labor opposed the uranium export program being promoted by the government; it wanted to require more Australian ownership in Japanese and other foreign development of domestic mineral resources; it would have placed more conditions on United States military facilities while continuing to support Australia's alliance with the United States, which has been strategically important to both parties. When such topics come up after this relatively close election, the hot breath of Labor can be expected on the neck of governmental decisionmaking.
What lends added interest to it all is the transition of Australia from a land oriented toward Europe and the British Commonwealth to a self-assertive modern nation seeking not to sever such ties while becoming an Asian power as its geography dictates. It is taking more account of the Japan, the Indonesia, and the third world on its doorstep.
Movie audiences have recently been reminded of the old Australia in films depicting a young woman's feminist aspirations in the 1980s and a young aborigine's violent response to discrimination in 1900. One of the questions in the recent election was how to protect the aborigines' rights in lands with mineral deposits; one of the outcomes was the voting of three or four women to parliamentary seats, where only four had been elected before in the body's 80 -year history.
Australia is changing, with more and more of the world on board.