Australia Is Searching for Financial Help. And the Malaysian Airplane.

The country is promising millions to the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 while trying to cut billions at home.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on April 30, 2014 in Geelong, Australia.
National Journal
Emma Roller
May 13, 2014, 11:22 a.m.

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.

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