Australia. The beginning of the year was characterized by extreme weather with floods, fires and a cyclone. The heavy rains that caused major flooding in the state of Queensland in northeastern Australia at the end of December 2010 continued in January 2011. The area covered by water was as large as Germany and France together. At the end of January, the state of Victoria, in the southeast, was also hit by flooding. At this time, at least 30 people had died in the floods and many were still missing. The authorities referred to the floods in 2010-11 as the country’s worst natural disaster ever, at least in terms of money. According to Countryaah official site, Queensland is a very important agricultural area that also has large coal production. Victoria is the country’s center for dairy production. The cost of lost production and exports was estimated to be at least US $ 3 billion and the reconstruction is estimated to cost even more. At the end of January, Prime Minister Julia Gillard pledged $ 5.8 billion to begin reconstruction. To finance part of the cost, a new temporary tax for high-income earners was introduced.
In early February, a cyclone swept across Queensland. It caused material damage in its quarters, but not as extensive as one had feared. In early February, forest fires raged on the outskirts of Perth in the west. The fires destroyed over 50 homes. At the end of March, hundreds of people in the capital Canberra and other cities demonstrated against the Labor government’s plans to introduce a carbon dioxide tax in 2012. According to the proposal, companies in the steel sector, among other things, would pay taxes based on how much carbon dioxide they emit. Australia is one of the countries that emit the most greenhouse gases in the world calculated per inhabitant and the Labor government said it wanted to promote a more environmentally friendly economy. Opponents – companies, the Conservative Opposition and Protestant Individuals – argued that the carbon tax would mean reductions for industries and thus increased unemployment. They also warned of higher energy prices. The critics further argued that as long as there is no internationally binding emission allowance agreement, Australia would lose competitiveness if a unilateral carbon tax were introduced.
In July, the concrete bill came from the government. According to this, the 500 companies that account for the largest carbon dioxide emissions, including steel companies and coal mines, would pay carbon tax from July 1, 2012. The taxed companies would receive some state compensation to avoid bankruptcy. The government also hoped to be able to provide consumers with tax cuts to compensate for increased electricity bills.
According to opinion polls, about three-fifths of voters were against the carbon tax. In August, thousands of people in Canberra demonstrated against the tax.
In mid-October, Parliament’s lower house voted in favor of the new carbon tax with 74 votes to 72. In early November, the law was passed in the Senate, even there by a small majority and thanks to the government’s support of the Greens.
In May, Australia signed a controversial refugee agreement with Malaysia. Under the agreement, Australia would send 800 of its asylum seekers to Malaysia in exchange for the country receiving 4,000 refugees from Malaysia over a four-year period. Among other things, the government wanted to send unaccompanied refugee children to Malaysia. It was said that this would put a stop to human traffickers who charge to drive people in boats to Australia, transport that is often life-threatening. The government’s plans immediately received sharp criticism from human rights organizations such as Amnesty and the UN refugee agency UNHCR. The Greens, who in other cases often support the Labor Government, were also opposed to the proposal. The critics drew parallels to the heavily criticized “Pacific Solution” applied by the conservative John Howard government, accusing the Labor government of hypocrisy. The Pacific solution meant that Australia paid Nauru and Papua New Guinea to house some of the country’s asylum seekers in camps. When Labor was in opposition, they were strongly critical of the detention camps and closed them when they came to power in 2008.
In late August, the Supreme Court put a stop to the planned refugee cooperation. The court ruled that the cooperation was illegal because the rights of asylum seekers could not be guaranteed in Malaysia, which has not signed the UN Refugee Convention. The decision was a deep disappointment for the government, Gillard said, criticizing the court for having “rewritten the Refugee Act”. She then tried to get support for the refugee cooperation in Parliament in order to push through the agreement after all. But she did not receive enough support and announced in October that the plans for the refugee exchange had been abandoned.
Aborigines are heavily overrepresented in Australian prisons, a parliamentary report released in June shows. The committee behind the report called the figures a disgrace to Australia, saying the country was facing a national crisis. According to the report, every fourth prisoner is Aboriginal, even though Aborigines make up only 2.5% of the population. In the youth prisons more than every other prisoner belongs to the indigenous people. According to the authorities, poor housing, mental illness and alcohol and drug abuse often contribute to the situation. The prosecutor said the figures were alarming and meant that the increasing focus on law and order sometimes goes too far when Aborigines are incarcerated for crimes that usually only render fines.
In August, the central government signed an agreement with the state government on the island of Tasmania, which means that over 400,000 hectares of valuable forest will be preserved. Environmentalists have long wanted to preserve the Tasmanian forests, which include the world’s tallest deciduous trees, but for the past 25 years, tens of thousands of hectares of forest have been cut down and much of it has been exported as wood chips to Japan, among others. One reason why the authorities are now prepared to invest money in conserving forests is that timber exports have fallen in recent years.
In November, Parliament approved a bill that would give Australia the toughest regulation of cigarette advertising in the world. Under the new law, all cigarette packages must be olive green. The manufacturer’s name may only be printed in a small and neutral style, while warning pictures of cancer-smokers should cover a large part of the cigarette packages. The law comes into force in December 2012.
The tropical cyclone Grant, with heavy winds and floods as a result, caused major material damage in northern Australia at the end of December. In the Northern Territory, flooding resulted in parts of a long freight train being derailed and swept away by a bridge.