Australia's election in the spotlight

Australia’s electorate defied predictions on Saturday, when it carried Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the incumbent Liberal-National conservative coalition government to a shock victory.

The Labor opposition, led by Bill Shorten, was ahead in almost every opinion poll for three years – some commentators called the election ‘unlosable’ – but on the day their progressive social, environmental, and fiscal policies failed to generate enough support to carry the vote.

In counting late on Sunday, 73 of 151 House of Representatives seats had gone to conservative candidates, closing Labor’s path to victory and prompting Shorten to announce his resignation amid a bitter internal post-mortem.

The final count, expected today, will determine if the conservative coalition holds a slender legislative majority, or, as seems likely, be left negotiating for votes in a hung parliament.

The results conform to a pattern now familiar in democracies across the world. As The Guardian reports: “Inner metropolitan Australia swung to Labor in its safe seats and in safe Liberal seats… but the outer suburbs and regional Australia swung in the other direction.”

Writing in the Guardian, Brigid Delaney reflects that as with the UK and US election shocks of 2016, “part of the national trauma was the realisation that one part of the country was so ill-acquainted with the other part”.

Indeed, during Bill Shorten’s concession speech, one crestfallen supported was heard to shout: “It’s not you Bill, it’s the country.”

However, while many news outlets paint the weekend’s results as the latest domino to fall in the global swing to the right, in the Sydney Morning Herald, Sean Kelly says that the outcome should not be seen as a wholesale rejection of the progressive agenda.

“The lesson, I suspect, is more specific, about creating losers on taxation. Similarly, there will be arguments that this result repudiates action on climate change. But hasn’t Morrison invested months in trying to repair the Coalition’s image on this issue? Little here is simple,” he writes.

Among the reasons theorised for Labor’s loss are Australia’s cautious, change-wary voters, Mr Shorten’s lack of charisma – the Financial Times carries a quote calling him “Australia’s Ed Miliband” – and the party’s over-abundance of policies.

The Labor campaign was “hampered by a blizzard of policies that tended to obscure one another and rhetoric that veered towards class warfare”, says The Age. In contrast, Morrison campaigned with a “simpler line of attack”.

Liberal strategist Grahame Morris told the publication: “The Labor program gave the Coalition something strong to run on every day: ‘the Bill you can’t afford’.”

In The Daily Telegraph, Matthew Lesh sees lessons for the UK’s Conservatives: “The message for the Conservatives in the UK is clear: create brand differentiation from Labour, be the party of lower taxes and aspiration – and never give up. Then an unexpected victory could be heading your way”.


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