In a remarkable and most unexpected outcome, Australia's conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison has retained the country's leadership at the recent Australian Federal Parliamentary election (18 May, 2019). Morrison's victory confounded a wide array of commentators, academics, advocacy groups, industry groups, all of the opinion polls, most of the media and a host of fringe political groups who not only predicted victory for the Labor opposition but an emphatic one.
The outcome was a stark reverse of expectations. The Labor Party recorded a swing against it and rather than winning seats, lost them. Their primary vote collapsed in many areas. In the resource rich state of Queensland, only one in four voters gave Labor their first preference vote. Nationally, the figure was just one in three.
The result has dumbfounded the inner urban elites of government, the bureaucracy, media and industry, many of whom are in denial or seeking therapy. Most important, it has helped draw a new geography of political boundaries based not on long standing ideologies of labour or capital, or of class, but of location and privilege. A more complete reversal of traditional party allegiances would have been impossible to imagine before last weekend. As observed by the Sydney Morning Herald, "The Queensland seat of Capricornia is a perfect illustration. It has many coal-mining workers and was held almost steadily by Labor from the 1960s until 2013, yet as of today it is a much safer Coalition seat than Josh Frydenberg's well-heeled Kooyong, which was (conservative Prime Minister Robert Menzies' old electorate."
Prime Minister Morrison only last year had toppled the previous PM, the nominally conservative but left-leaning climate conscious inner-city Malcolm Turnbull. He campaigned on basic economic management, tax cuts and moderation. In contrast, the Labor Party campaigned on the cause célèbres of any number of inner urban hipster coffee shops, bistros or university campuses.
Labor sought a 50% target of renewable energy by 2030 (yes, within the next 12 years!) and adopted much of the climate agenda favored by inner urban interests with the financial means to afford higher electricity costs – much more so than their suburban middle or working class counterparts. (The left wing Greens Party demanded a 100% renewable target). Labor also promised a future where half the new cars in Australia would be electrically powered by 2030 (but couldn't describe how these would be charged or how these would work across the remotely populated Australian landscape).
Labor were aligned with The Greens, who tend to poll strongest in inner urban seats or in the wealthiest suburbs, on being 'anti coal.' A proposed major Queensland coal mine became the focus of a "green convoy" (all driving petrol powered vehicles mind) from inner city Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane to the coalfields of Central Queensland – where job hungry communities turned their backs on the convoy and many refused to serve the protesters. The green anti-coal pro-renewables protest convoy proved such an irritant that it cost Labor seats in working class communities.
"This is the climate change election" both Labor and the Greens promised. Coal miners facing lost jobs and failed communities reliant on those jobs in regional areas were blithely told "you'll have to retrain."
Other policy items on the Labor menu included a tax on retiree savings, removal of tax breaks on housing (with a market already falling), looser borders and being more forgiving on illegal immigration. Labor also proposed an un-costed fantasy in the form of a very fast train between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Perhaps they planned to recruit the genius minds behind the Californian experiment?
"If you don't like our policies, don't vote for us" anxious retirees were told. They didn't.
The truly remarkable thing about the days prior to the election was the utter confidence of the inner urban cabal. They were going to win and there would be little left of the governing Liberal National Party. Breakfast TV through to evening current affairs shows – all of them hosted in well to do inner urban areas – expressed complete faith in a Labor win. One gambler was so confident he placed an AUD $1 million bet on Labor winning. To say the least, he lost big.
The denizens of trendy inner city secondhand bookshops may have been filled with confidence, but not of suburban and regional voters. Struggling with flat real wage growth and having borne the brunt of a changing employment landscape, rising electricity bills and falling confidence in their future, this was not the time to tell them it was their duty to sacrifice even more to 'save the planet' by paying ever higher electricity bills, or buying an electric car they can't afford. Especially when that message comes from smug sounding public servants or wealthy, entitled inner city residents who have been the beneficiaries of economic change, as well as overseas investors, rather than its victims.
The conservative vote which returned Prime Minister Morrison came from working and middle class people, living in the suburbs and regions of the country. It did not come from traditionally affluent inner urban seats – many of which were once held by conservatives but which are now marginal or in the hands of Labor or left leaning independents. (The Greens hold only one Federal Parliament seat – based on the hipster inner north of Melbourne).