In case you haven’t heard, Australia is about to go to the polls to decide who should be in charge down here for the next three years. You may be thinking, “ok but how does that affect me”, but there’s actually some pretty important stuff going on.
Australia’s had a weird couple of years.
Because of our parliamentary system, the governing party can change leaders whenever it wants, which is why we've had six prime ministers in six years. John Howard was in charge for 11 years until 2007, then Kevin Rudd beat him at an election. Rudd was knifed by his own deputy, Julia Gillard, who then became prime minister in 2009. Rudd knifed her back in 2013, before promptly losing an election to Tony Abbott, who was promptly knifed by Malcolm Turnbull two years later.
And all this chaos comes despite the fact that Australia is one of the great economic success stories of the last few decades - we haven’t had a recession in almost 25 years (mostly because China loves buying our dirt), and we have pretty strong economic growth. Despite that, polls suggest the race will be tight and a record number of votes will be directed away from establishment parties towards minor candidates.
So, let’s start at the start: who’s running the place?
You may know Malcolm Turnbull.
He’s the prime minister and leader of a centre-right coalition, but he hasn’t been for very long. He took the job from Tony Abbott in September last year.
Turnbull has always been popular with voters and was seen as the "nice" conservative - a socially progressive, economically conservative dude who believes in marriage equality and climate change.
But it hasn’t really turned out that way. Turnbull only leads his party with the support of the far-right, which means he can’t do the things he once promised on those issues. He’s now campaigning for re-election on a platform of “jobs and growth” - a phrase he has been repeating ad nauseam for the last eight weeks.
Turnbull is also running on a stability platform. He says that in uncertain times (think Brexit, Trump) you should stick with the devil you know. Even if that devil is pretty unpopular.
The centrepiece of his election pitch is a tax cut for small businesses and middle income earners.
Labor’s Bill Shorten is the opposition leader.
He’s from the centre-left and spent most of his career before politics as a union official. He’s a nice enough guy and is fairly capable, but carries a lot of baggage. He was instrumental in bringing down two former prime ministers, and has previously been called to testify at inquiries into union corruption (the inquiry found he did nothing wrong).
Shorten is running a very different campaign. He’s running away from his revered Labor predecessors - the economic rationalist reformers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating - and promising big spending with increased deficits in the short term.
It’s unusual for a leader to present such a wide array of big changes as Shorten has. It’s why he probably won’t win.
What are the big issues?
The Great Barrier Reef
For the first time in a long time, the environment is an issue that might actually swing some votes in Australia. The Great Barrier Reef is in big trouble, and plenty of scientists say this election is the tipping point that will decide whether the reef can survive beyond a few decades.
Both major parties have acknowledged this and released big policies, but experts say neither party is doing enough. You can read more on the reef here.
Australia is the last English speaking democracy in the world to not have marriage equality. Labor was in charge for six years until 2013, but failed to legislate it. The Coalition (in charge now) is doing everything it can to delay reform for as long as possible.
The Coalition has pledged to let the people decide, via a national vote, whether same-sex marriage should be legalised in Australia.
From a legal point of view, this is completely unnecessary because parliament has the power to make the change, but a national poll is popular with voters. Opponents say the vote will unleash a torrent of bigotry towards LGBT people, and it’s not binding, so the result doesn’t matter anyway. But it was one of the conditions of Malcolm Turnbull taking over as prime minister, so we’re stuck with it.
If Labor wins, it has pledged a parliamentary vote, which would almost certainly pass the parliament. The vote would be held in the first 100 days of Labor governing. Here’s a quick explainer on what’s going on with the whole issue.
Australia’s Indigenous population is among some of the most disadvantaged people in the world, with incredibly high unemployment, incarceration and suicide rates, and drastically low life expectancy rates.
Labor has made some major announcements regarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs in education, justice, health and employment throughout the campaign. Including
They’ve committed $200 million to double the number of Aboriginal rangers to 2,000 across the country as part of their employment commitment, along with around $130 million in other commitments in Indigenous health and education.
The Coalition hasn’t made many major Indigenous affairs policy announcements, and most of its commitments have focused on encouraging economic development and increasing employment opportunities.
Although it has promised a $115 million Indigenous Entrepreneurs package to support the creation of more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander small business.
Australia’s refugee policies - which involve intercepting asylum seeker boats and sending refugees to detention centres on pacific islands - has been widely criticised as inhumane by human rights groups and the UN.
But stopping asylum seeker boats has been a huge vote winner in Australia for more than a decade, which is why both parties have identical policies now - they will stop the boats at all costs.
The Coalition has spent a lot of the campaign trying to convince people that Labor doesn’t ~really~ want to stop the boats, and Labor has spent plenty of time telling everyone that they can be just as tough as the Coalition.
At the start of the campaign, the Coalition's immigration spokesperson warned that illiterate and innumerate refugees would steal Australian jobs. So that's where we're at right now.
That’s not all that’s being discussed this election; also on the agenda are things like housing affordability, youth unemployment, Medicare and internet speeds. You can read more about it all here.
And now there’s nothing left to do but vote, like only Australians can.
Rob Stott is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Rob Stott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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