Australia. In connection with the opening of the new parliament on February 12, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologized to the Aborigines for the abuses the whites have committed against the indigenous peoples since the colonization. For the first time, Aboriginal enrollees were also included in Parliament’s opening ceremony.
In particular, Rudd mentioned how badly the children of the “lost generation” were treated when they were stolen from their parents and placed in white families. This so-called assimilation policy went on from the 1910s to the end of the 1960s.
The excuse was welcomed by most Aboriginal representatives, although some wanted the government to pay damages to those affected by the assimilation policy. Rudd said no to compensation and instead wanted to invest in improving the current situation of indigenous peoples who are generally much worse off than whites in terms of health, life expectancy and education. Rudd’s representative, John Howard, refused during his time in power to give the Aborigines a formal apology as he allegedly feared the demands for financial compensation. All six state governments had already apologized for the assimilation policy, but only Tasmania had promised damages.
- ABBREVIATIONFINDER: Click to see the meanings of 2-letter acronym and abbreviation of AU in general and in geography as Australia in particular.
In 2008, Rudd’s government reformed the controversial refugee policy that was aimed at detaining asylum seekers and visitors whose visas had expired. The harsh refugee policy had been introduced by the previous Labor government in the 1990s. The government also interrupted the so-called Pacific solution that former Prime Minister Howard had introduced in 2001, which included holding asylum seekers in camps in Nauru and also on an island in Papua New Guinea, pending Australian authorities to investigate their cases. Nauru and Papua New Guinea were paid by Australia to house asylum seekers. In February, the last group of refugees left Nauru and the camp there closed.
The harsh rules for refugee reception were softened. The government promised not to internally seek asylum-seeking children in the future, and that adults would only be detained in exceptional cases to deter refugee smugglers and for a maximum of one year. The opposition criticized the government for opening the borders for increased immigration and for encouraging refugee smugglers. Immigration Minister Chris Evans said border controls would be a priority even in the future, but that it was about treating asylum seekers more humane. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations welcomed the government’s decision.
During the autumn, there was a marked increase in the number of people trying to get to Australia compared to the previous year and the authorities stopped several refugee boats. In December, the government surprisingly announced that a new camp for asylum seekers would be opened on Christmas Island, a rocky island in the Indian Ocean that belongs to Australia. The camp had been erected on behalf of the previous government and was completed in the fall of 2008. Thus, it was clear that Rudd’s government had not yet completely abandoned the harsh refugee policy. Women and children would not be placed in the camp, according to the Department of Immigration.
In April, the government invited over a thousand participants, including businessmen, academics, scientists and artists, to a forum on the country’s future. One of the most common suggestions were to make Australia a republic, which was voted down in a referendum in 1999. Prime Minister Rudd had during his overseas trip to the United States, China and Europe in March-April, when he, among others, met with Queen Elizabeth II, told the press that he has been a Republican all his life but that a new referendum on the issue was not a high priority. Other proposals that emerged at the forum were to reform the Constitution of 1901, review the tax system and create mechanisms for environmental improvements.
Australia’s first female general governor, the lawyer and former Queensland governor Quentin Bryce was sworn in on September 5. She succeeded Michael Jeffrey in the post which formally represents the British monarch but in practice has limited power. It was speculated whether she would become Australia’s last general governor, should the country become a republic and cease to have the British monarch as the formal head of state. Bryce, like the Prime Minister, is a Republican and a large part of the population is expected to support the establishment of the Republic.
In mid-September, the Liberal Party got a new leader when Malcolm Turnbull won by four votes over Brendan Nelson, who had taken over the party leader post after Howard in the fall of 2007. Turnbull is a millionaire, a former lawyer and was environment minister in Howard’s government. Nelson had been accused of not being strong enough as opposition leader against the prime minister and Labor leader Kevin Rudd, whose popularity rose during his first year in power. A survey from late autumn 2008 showed that he then had the support of 68 percent of voters.
In December, Rudd presented new measures to improve the climate. Australia will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5-15 percent by 2020. The Green Party and environmental organizations immediately criticized the plan for being insufficient.
Melbourne shutdown lifted
After four months of severe restrictions to stop the spread of covid-19, the shutdown of the city of Melbourne will end. According to the authorities, no new infections have been reported and no new deaths as a result of the virus. Melbourne was hit by a second wave in July and in August the number of daily illnesses was 700. It will also soon be possible for Melbourneers to travel to other parts of the state of Victoria. However, there are still restrictions on travel to other states in Australia, although it is hoped that these will be removed in the near future.
Australian journalists flee China
Two journalists from major Australian media companies choose to flee China after being visited by Chinese police in their homes and receiving interrogation warnings in connection with activities that violate national security. The journalists, one working for the Australian state television channel ABC and the other for the Australian Financial Review, both sought refuge in Australian diplomatic missions and were able to return to Australia after diplomatic negotiations.
The first recession in 30 years
Economic statistics from the first and second quarters of 2020 show that Australia’s economy has entered a recession. During the second quarter, GDP decreased by 7 percent compared with the first quarter. GDP also shrank by 0.3 percent during the first quarter. The recession, the most severe downturn since the late 1950s, is a consequence of the shutdown of society to stop the coronavirus from spreading. But it was also a consequence of the severe forest fires at the end of 2019.
According to Countryaah reports, the population of Australia in 2008 was 22,154,568, ranking number 53 in the world. The population growth rate was 1.890% yearly, and the population density was 2.8839 people per km2.