Australia. Governments in the states of Queensland and
Western Australia imposed restrictions on alcohol sales in
certain locations in January, including in the tourist town
of Broome in Western Australia. The purpose was to stop the
spread of alcoholism and lawlessness in Aboriginal
communities. The measures were criticized by the Australian
Hotel Association and by Broome's Chamber of Commerce.
Following a disclosure of widespread alcoholism and sexual
abuse of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory, in
June 2007, the federal government imposed a six-month ban on
alcohol and hardcore in some Aboriginal communities. The
government also took over the management of 73 Aboriginal
communities in the Northern Territory, which had previously
been largely self-governing.
In mid-February, the
Australian Senate approved a $ 42 billion
stimulus package to boost the economy since the financial
crisis also hit Australia in the second half of 2008.
See Digopaul. Particularly the important mining industry was affected by
the recession. A first minor crisis package, aimed at
pensioners and families with children, was launched at the
end of 2008. The spring's initiatives went to housing,
schools and roads, as well as direct support to low-income
earners and students. According to Prime Minister Kevin
Rudd, the crisis package would prevent the country's GDP
from falling in 2010. The government had tried to get
through the crisis package a couple of weeks earlier, but it
was then voted down in the Senate, where the vote of
independent Senator Nick Xenophon from the state of South
Australia became crucial. Xenophon had demanded that the
Labor government speed up a rescue plan for the country's
most important river system, Murray-Darling, and when the
government failed to do so, he joined the opposition and
voted no to the crisis package. He changed after the
government promised to include a billion Australian dollars
to the rivers in the stimulus package.
In February, at least 173 people died in violent bush and
forest fires, which also destroyed large areas of the
southern state of Victoria. The wildfires, caused by extreme
drought and heavy winds, were the worst natural disaster in
Australia since 1899. Most victims died during "Black
Saturday" on February 7, when temperatures of up to 46
degrees combined with wind speeds of 100 kilometers per hour
caused firestorms which burned 400,000 hectares of land and
destroyed or damaged several communities in Victoria. Over
2,000 homes, schools, churches and other buildings were
destroyed and about 7,000 people became homeless.
The cost of destruction is estimated to be at least $ 500
million. Police suspect that some of the fires were sparked
and at least one person was charged with arson. Prime
Minister Rudd promised that the guilty would be punished and
that all the downtrodden communities would be rebuilt. The
public's willingness to help was great. In just a few days,
the Australian Red Cross raised 28 million Australian
dollars for those affected.
The fires brought up the issue of climate change.
Australia is one of the countries that has already begun to
notice the extreme weather conditions warned by climate
experts. The average temperature in the country has risen by
0.9 degrees since the 1950s and is expected to increase at a
faster rate going forward. While the fires raged in the
south in February, the northern part of the country,
especially the state of Queensland in the northeast, was
plagued by the worst floods in 30 years caused by storms and
cyclones. The Labor government has promised to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent by 2020 and is
prepared to go up to 25 percent if there is an international
agreement on what can replace the so-called Kyoto agreement.
However, environmental organizations require a reduction of
at least 40 percent.
However, the government failed to pass a law that would
regulate emissions trading and lead to reduced carbon
dioxide emissions from 2011. Prime Minister Rudd wanted to
clear the emissions reductions ahead of the UN climate
summit in Copenhagen in December 2009, but the government's
bill was voted down in the Senate, first in August and then
in November. Before the second vote, Liberal leader Malcolm
Turnbull had promised that his party would support the
proposal. But members of the Liberal Party felt the law
would harm Australia's economy and also questioned
scientists' data on the greenhouse gas's climate effects.
The day before the Senate vote, Turnbull was forced to
resign, and by a small margin, members elected climate
change skeptic Tony Abbott as the new leader of the Liberal
Defense Minister John Fitzgibbon resigned in June
following allegations of conflicts of interest after being
invited to travel to China by a businesswoman and friend
with roots in China, which was also seen as a potential
security risk by the Australian intelligence service. The
trips to China had taken place before Fitzgibbon became a
minister and he felt that he was forced out of his post as a
result of a conspiracy at the Ministry of Defense and in
certain media. John Faulkner was appointed his successor.
The central bank unexpectedly raised its key rate by 25
basis points to 3.25 percent on October 6. The bank thus
became the first of the world's major central banks to raise
the key rate after the financial crisis. Finance Minister
Wayne Swan said Australia's economy was developing better
than others and that there was no doubt that the economy was
recovering. Earlier, the International Monetary Fund (IMF)
had noted that the global crisis had not affected Australia
as negatively as other economies, partly because of the
measures taken by the government. The central bank raised
the key rate on two more occasions in 2009, and in December
it was 3.75 percent.
The so-called forgotten Australians, about half a million
orphanages, received a public apology from Prime Minister
Rudd in mid-November for being ill-treated by the state.
According to a 2004 state investigation, children were
subjected to various types of abuse and neglect in
orphanages between 1930 and 1970. The children were cared
for due to family problems or for other reasons. Some of
them were sent to Australia from the United Kingdom.
In November and December, new fires raged in the southern
states of New South Wales and South Australia caused by
heat, thunderstorms and severe winds. Authorities urged
people who were not prepared to fight the fire to leave
their homes instead. This is a common recommendation in
Australia since ancient times, but during the February fire
(see above) many had not followed it, but instead waited in
their homes and burned down.