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. 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 Party.
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.