As the shock of the election result recedes, more comparisons are being made between Morrison’s triumph in Australia and Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the 2016 US Presidential election.
However, these comparisons are only valid at the most superficial level. Morrison is not Trump, and Australia is not America.
It is true that both Morrison and Trump came from a seemingly unwinnable position in the polls. And it is also true that Morrison is no ivory tower elite, lecturing the ordinary people on how their betters think they should live. Certainly, Hillary Clinton was perceived this way, and there is little doubt that Queenslanders similarly resented the ‘stop Adani’ convoy of condescension.
Yet here the comparisons end. People voted for Trump because they thought that America had lost its way. The very nature of Trump’s slogan makes this clear: ‘make America great again’ is the call of a group of people who want radical change to the current order.
In contrast, Morrison was a representative of the status quo.
The agent of change in the Australian election was Bill Shorten. And though both would bristle at the comparison, the central economic message of both Shorten and Trump’s campaigns were surprisingly similar — specifically that our current economic approach has failed and we should return to the economics of the past.
Politicians on the left in Australia have borrowed from America and Europe a narrative that market economies have failed and it’s time to substantially reregulate companies, raise taxes and put government at the centre of society.
However, unlike much of the rest of the world, our economic story is overwhelmingly positive. Australia does face real economic challenges but we have seen sustained real income growth across every level of society.
As the Productivity Commission found last year, inequality in Australia has risen only slightly over the past four decades. Data from the HILDA reports show that absolute poverty in Australia has significantly declined over a similar period.
This is why Shorten’s borrowed message failed in Australia, despite having greater support elsewhere in the world. Indeed, when you consider Shorten sought to attack the foundations of much of Australia’s success, that he lost is probably less surprising than many think.
This is an edited excerpt from an opinion piece published in the Canberra Times.
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