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What Went Wrong With Australian Politics?

Photographer: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg
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Viewed from afar, Australia is the envy of the world with its abundant resources and an economy that’s gone 27 years without a recession. But scratch beneath the surface and it’s a different story. An era of stability and economic reform has been replaced by a revolving door of leadership and politics trumping policy. The nation is sliding in international rankings for innovation and education, leaving it struggling for economic momentum even as global growth picks up.

In short, a dearth of leadership. From 1983 to 2007, the nation had just three prime ministers and underwent a period of economic reform. Since then, no leader has served a full three-year term. The removal of a first-term prime minister in an internal coup, when Kevin Rudd was ousted by his own Labor lawmakers in 2010, marked a fundamental shift in the political landscape as a narrow focus on opinion polls, driven by a 24-hour news cycle, took hold. Voters have noticed. Since 2007, the major parties’ share of the vote has fallen from about 80 percent to 70 percent. Into the breach has stepped a hodgepodge of single-issue independents and small parties, mopping up disaffected voters from the left and right fringes.