The U.S. isn’t the only country that can have a crippling argument over the state of its finances. Australia is in the middle of one too.
But unlike American conservatives, Australia’s conservative prime minister — Tony Abbott — has decided to impose higher taxes on his country’s highest earners. Abbott has proposed a 2 percent wage levy, despite promising not to raise taxes when he was running for office.
On Tuesday, the government promised to slice its deficit in half — with the help of some severe austerity measures.
But it’s not all tax hikes and spending cuts for the country. Australia has now pledged to spend $84 million on the search for the Malaysia Airways flight that has been missing since March 8. The plane, and the 239 people who were aboard it, is thought to be somewhere in the Indian Ocean.
Back on the mainland, Australians shouldn’t expect as much aid as the searchers for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 are getting. Along with higher taxes, Abbott plans to lay off more than 16,000 state employees, slash 200 spending programs, kick people off unemployment benefits, and cut pensions for the elderly. Other government projects — such as high-speed Internet and high-speed rail — have been pushed to the wayside.
Members of Australia’s liberal Labor Party say the so-called crisis is being blown out of proportion. According to a recent Newspoll survey, 35 percent of Australians say they are satisfied with Abbott’s performance. By comparison, President Obama holds a 41 percent approval rating.
The Australian government is structured a lot like the U.S. government. It has a bicameral legislature, a constitution that governs the commonwealth government’s relation to the country’s six states and other territories, and a high court that interprets that constitution. But, as in Britain, the country’s prime minister is drawn from the ruling party’s leader in the legislature. Abbott represents Australia’s Liberal Party — which, confusingly, actually leans to the right.
While the $84 million that Australia has said it’ll spend on the plane hunt is a drop in the bucket compared with the $27.9 billion the government plans to cut from its budget over the next fiscal year, it does have symbolic power. Is finding the plane’s 239 people — missing for over two months — worth more than Australia’s own citizens? “The documents put no limit on what Australia is prepared to spend,” the Associated Press reported.
The mystery of the missing plane is too seductive a story for Australia to ignore — more so than 16,000 unemployed government workers.