‘The prediction is that in two decades, half of all car trips in Melbourne at peak times will be congested, up from a third now.’ Photograph: Julian Smith/AAP

I’m a citizen of Melbourne. That’s all. Not an economist, nor a politician, a property developer, a demographer. Just a resident with an affection for the city, with all its flaws and idiosyncrasies.

As a citizen, nobody has been able to explain to me clearly why Melbourne, and Australia for that matter, should be absorbing so many new people every year, at a rate far higher than the OECD average, faster than other developed nations, with no feasible plan to cope with it.

The epicentre of what former New South Wales premier Bob Carr calls Australia’s “weird experiment” is Melbourne, my town.…  Seguir leyendo »

Former Australian Nationals party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, center, looks down while sitting in parliament in Canberra, Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. Joyce quit as party leader and deputy prime minister over a sexual harassment allegation. Credit Rod McGuirk/Associated Press

Australian politics these days feels like a story in People magazine. Political journalism, indeed Parliament itself, has been reduced to a forum for rumors about sex.

It all began in February with the sensational news that Barnaby Joyce, then deputy prime minister, had been having an affair with an aide, who is now pregnant. Eventually Mr. Joyce resigned from his leadership post and retreated to the backbench. But the government’s response to the scandal ensured it would linger on.

Having initially insisted that Mr. Joyce’s predicament was a private matter, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull swiftly changed his view and introduced a formal ban on sex between ministers and their staff.…  Seguir leyendo »

La nación de los canguros

El canguro rojo (el mayor de todas las especies de canguro) es el animal nacional de Australia. Hay canguros en el escudo de armas del país, en las monedas, en los uniformes deportivos y en los aviones de la aerolínea australiana más popular. Si salgo de excursión y veo a estos magníficos animales a los saltos por el campo australiano, no puedo dejar de sentir que estoy en un país único, provisto de una flora y fauna distintiva. Pero como demuestra un documental reciente internacionalmente aclamado para el que me entrevistaron, “El canguro: una historia de amor-odio”, la relación de Australia con los canguros tiene un costado mucho más oscuro.…  Seguir leyendo »

In Sydney, thousands of banned firearms were collected in 1997 as part of the Australian government’s buyback program after the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre, in which 35 people died when a gunman went on a shooting rampage. Credit David Gray/Reuters

The rampage at a high school in Parkland, Fla., has prompted calls for an Australian-style response, as have previous massacres in the United States. Australia introduced a comprehensive gun control regime after a massacre in Tasmania 22 years ago, and mass shootings here dropped to zero. Some experts regard it as the most effective gun control system in the world.

But the Australian model won’t work in the United States. Here’s why: We Australians have a profoundly different relationship with weapons. Americans love guns. We’re scared of them.

This difference explains why a conservative prime minister was able to confiscate some 650,000 privately owned firearms and ban semiautomatic weapons without a single reported act of violence.…  Seguir leyendo »

Barnaby Joyce, deputy prime minister of Australia, at a parliament session last year. Credit Lukas Coch/European Pressphoto Agency

Barnaby Joyce was probably the last politician average Australians would expect to be embroiled in a sex scandal. A comparison to Mike Pence isn’t so far-fetched: They’re both second in charge of a conservative government led by a flashy businessman, and standard-bearers for family values, tilled in the nation’s agrarian heartland. For most of the Australian public, Mr. Joyce was a bumbling farm boy who meant well.

Last week, though, a story broke that turned public sentiment against him. Following investigations by two small websites last year, the Sydney-based Daily Telegraph reported that the deputy prime minister was having a child with a former staff member, Vikki Campion.…  Seguir leyendo »

Beijing Is Silencing Chinese-Australians

On a September night in 2016, I took my seat at a theater in the heart of Canberra for a Chinese national day celebration organized by the pro-Beijing Chinese Students and Scholars Association. There was a commotion and all of the seats around me were suddenly filled by men in black suits communicating with walkie-talkies. They followed me into the bathroom and tried to have the theater’s security staff kick me out.

Earlier, I had reported for a student newspaper on Chinese government ties to the group and its efforts to censor anti-Communist Party material at my university. I later identified the men at the theater as members of the Chinese student association, and it was clear that the attempt to intimidate me was a result of my articles.…  Seguir leyendo »

A protester holding a placard with a clenched fist on an Aboriginal flag during an Australia Day demonstration in 2017. Credit Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images

When pollsters asked Australians a year ago to list three words associated with Australia Day — the country’s Jan. 26 national day — the most popular responses were barbecue, celebration and holiday. But among Indigenous Australians, the most popular words were invasion, survival and murder. That, in miniature, is why the country finds itself in the throes of an intense debate over the timing of Australia Day.

Jan. 26 is the day in 1788 when the first fleet of ships from Britain entered Sydney Cove. Put simply, the holiday commemorates the British colonization of Australia — and with it the dispossession of the indigenous population, a centuries-long story of subjugation and countless atrocities, like the Gippsland massacres in the 1840s, in which up to 1,000 indigenous people were killed by white settlers over the course of a decade.…  Seguir leyendo »

Is it okay to celebrate an act of genocide? Is it reasonable to hold neighborhood parties on the day that genocide began — opening crates of beer, cranking up the barbecue and staging colorful fireworks displays?

That’s the question being asked by Australia’s indigenous people ahead of the country’s national day, which falls on Jan. 26. It’s the day the British sailed into Sydney Cove, claiming the country with the purpose of establishing a penal colony.

That first British settlement was the starting point of what — just maybe — is one of the world’s most inspiring stories. The detritus of Britain were discarded on an island 10,000 miles from home, yet they prospered.…  Seguir leyendo »

As former Prime Minister Tony Abbott stood in Parliament this week complaining that the bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Australia was somehow being rushed, it represented a moment of profound political defeat for him.

Mr. Abbott has been the most vocal and high-profile opponent of same-sex marriage in the country. In his tenure as prime minister, he tried everything to delay the inevitable, including denying Parliament a vote on the matter before insisting that the public give its opinion on it.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull inherited Mr. Abbott’s plan: a voluntary, nonbinding opinion survey, conducted through the mail. Last month, the survey result revealed what every poll has been screaming for years: a strong public preference in favor of same-sex marriage that hangs around 60 percent.…  Seguir leyendo »

Australia’s recently released foreign policy white paper, the first to be produced in 14 years, tries to bring together two competing tensions. First, Australia’s region is in the process of being redefined by greater Chinese influence and decreased US dominance. That requires Canberra to assert its own agency in a contested space. Second, and more complicated, is the reality of Australia’s relations to these two major powers. Australia’s security is tied to an alliance with Washington, but economically China is by some distance its major trading partner.

The white paper states that ‘more than ever, Australia must be sovereign, not reliant’, but it understands that whatever stability can be achieved – whatever space for Australian agency – will be dependent on the relationship between the US and China.…  Seguir leyendo »

Social conservatism, as an international political movement, may have just scored one of its greatest-ever own goals.

Here in Australia — like in many parts of the world — social conservatives have long argued that they speak for the silent majority, for people silenced by “political correctness.” But on gay marriage in Australia, the silent majority was firmly on the side of inclusion. In the coming weeks, the Australian Parliament will finally legislate in favor of same-sex marriage — but only after a process which traumatised many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Australians, sent shock waves through families, and cost a small fortune.…  Seguir leyendo »

Nearly 400 men are languishing on Manus Island in the South Pacific because they dared to try to reach Australia by boat. A majority of them have been detained there for more than four years, and most are legally eligible for resettlement. Technically, the site is not a refugee camp but a “regional processing center,” which is a misnomer because it implies a process and an outcome, and there is little sign of either for these men.

This is the culmination of Australia’s oppressive refugee policy, under which asylum seekers who travel to the country by boat are prevented from ever settling here.…  Seguir leyendo »

Australia thinks of itself as “the most successful multicultural society in the world” — to quote the oft-repeated phrase by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. But now that claim is being challenged in so many ways, all at once, it seems.

For a start, there’s the current political crisis, based on a half-forgotten section of the constitution forbidding those who have dual citizenship from sitting in Parliament. So far, eight parliamentarians — including the deputy prime minister — have been thrown out of office for no greater crime than having a father who was born in New Zealander, a mother who was Italian, or some other similarly unlikely “allegiance to a foreign power.”

Nearly all these parliamentarians were born in Australia.…  Seguir leyendo »

No issue has been such a political graveyard in Australia as climate change. At least three prime ministers from the last decade have had their tenure buried there: John Howard, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard all lost their jobs, at least in part, for trying and failing to deliver polices to combat climate change.

To this list, you could add Malcolm Turnbull’s stint as opposition leader, which ended when Tony Abbott challenged him as party leader over his acceptance of the emissions cap-and-trade plan of the prime minister at the time, Mr. Rudd.

Today, of course, Mr. Turnbull is prime minister (a role he seized, in turn, from Mr.…  Seguir leyendo »

Nothing prepares you for your first sight of Uluru. Amid the vastness of Australia’s arid red center, there is something wondrous about this monumental slab of sandstone rising dramatically out of a flattened landscape. It is not difficult to see why Indigenous Australians saw it as a sacred place.

Uluru is not just a place of wonder and reverence. It has become, too, a political and historical battleground, a place through which Australia has tried to grapple with its relationship with Indigenous Australians.

It was the Anangu, the original inhabitants of the region, who gave Uluru its name. For more than a century, though, it was known to Australians of European descent as Ayers Rock, named after a 19th-century Anglo-Australian colonial administrator.…  Seguir leyendo »

Australians are increasingly concerned about China’s growing influence in the country. Chinese money is being funneled to politicians. Beijing-run media outlets buy ads in Australian newspapers to promote the Communist Party view on local and regional issues. Chinese companies are buying Australian farms and natural resources.

The push extends to Australia’s universities. Chinese agents are said to monitor Chinese students and report on those who fail to toe the Communist Party line. And in another troubling trend, many of the 150,000 visiting Chinese students are importing a pro-Beijing approach to the classroom that is stifling debate and openness.

In 2008-9 I taught international relations to undergraduates at a Chinese university in Beijing, giving me a window into Chinese students’ attitudes and behavior.…  Seguir leyendo »

Every now and then you get the impression that Australia is desperate to be under grave threat.

That’s certainly how it appeared when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week announced the creation of a “super ministry” of Home Affairs, choosing as his backdrop a mix of military equipment and soldiers wearing gas masks. There was a time when his predecessor, Tony Abbott, was lampooned for giving national-security-themed news conferences in front of an ever-growing number of Australian flags. Now Mr. Abbott seems a master of subtlety.

It was a shocking yet predictable moment. Shocking because it seemed like a sudden escalation for Mr.…  Seguir leyendo »

A routine Australian Senate committee hearing last month on security was never going to be normal in the aftermath of the Manchester terrorist attacks. Still, it is no small thing that the hearing led to a former prime minister lecturing the country’s most senior intelligence official on the causes of terrorism.

At least since former Prime Minister John Howard suggested in 2001 that asylum seekers coming to Australia might include terrorists, the two Australian anxieties of refugees and terrorism have been on a collision course. As the terror risk here has grown, and with the politics of refugees becoming more divisive, that course has accelerated in recent years.…  Seguir leyendo »

The political fault lines are familiar to any democracy. At election time, the people divide according to location. Those living in coastal cities tend to vote center-left; those in the hinterland are likely to vote conservative. The pattern repeats by age, education and ethnicity. The university graduate and the migrant lean center-left; the retiree and the local-born lean conservative.

The twist in Australia is that these social and economic forces are shaking out in favor of the Labor Party, not the conservative Liberal Party. Australia is decidedly more urbanized and more cosmopolitan than the United States, Britain or continental Europe. This essential difference in cultural makeup has allowed Australia to resist the wealthy world’s lurch to the populist right.…  Seguir leyendo »

Like many Western countries, Australia has agreed to resettle refugees from the wars in Syria and Iraq. Unlike other countries, Australia explicitly favors Christians, even though they are a minority of those seeking refuge.

The Australian experience is a case study for Europeans grappling with an influx of refugees and for Americans considering the long-term implications of the Trump presidency: When Muslims are demonized, state-directed prejudice is more likely.

Data I obtained through Australia’s freedom of information law shows that 78 percent of the approximately 18,563 refugees from Syria and Iraq granted entry from July 1, 2015, to Jan. 6 of this year identified themselves as Christian.…  Seguir leyendo »