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Until the conservative Liberal–National Coalition won a surprise victory on Saturday, Australia’s federal election was universally held to be an “unlosable” one for the Australian Labor party. Ever since the voters handed a narrow but clear victory to the Coalition prime minister, Scott Morrison, it’s looked like the confirmation of wider political trends in the English-speaking world, including America, that favor the Right but that will also push it to change.
The ALP entered the campaign having enjoyed a healthy lead over the Coalition in more than 60 successive polls since the 2016 election. Even an allegedly infallible exit poll promised Labor a total of 82 seats in the 151-member Parliament. In fact, Labor looks like it will end up with 69 seats against the Coalition’s 77. With five seats still being counted, the Coalition has won 75, and though Morrison has been promised the support of independents, he probably won’t need them. These statistical swings add up to what he called “a miracle” of unexpectedness.
How the Coalition won is not so unexpected. It won blue-collar workers, outer-city and suburban seats, and regional constituencies, especially in Queensland. Australia’s cultural equivalent to the U.S. South delivered only five of its 30 seats to the ALP despite the party’s high hopes of gains there. On the other hand, inner-city seats in Sydney, Melbourne, and other metropolitan areas, inhabited by well-paid professionals, continued to drift leftward, dividing their votes between Labor and the Greens. Again and again, however, that drift stopped short of toppling the seats held by Coalition cabinet ministers that Labor had targeted. But it’s a tide that will still be coming in at the time of the next election. As James Allan points out in a piece written for the Australian Spectator, this mimics the class realignment of parties elsewhere:
Over time, as in Canada, Britain and the US, the inner city seats will mostly be lost to any right of centre political party as the political spectrum around the Anglosphere reorganises itself into a new spectrum where more wealth does not correlate to ‘more likely to vote right’. Remember, Hillary Clinton won the hundred wealthiest counties in the US and virtually all the richest parts of the UK voted ‘Remain’. This willingness to virtue-signal on a big pay package is coming to Australia.
But policies inspired by virtue-signaling produce economic victims in other social classes. That had an impact on two important groups of voters this time. First, Labor sought to raise revenue through policies, meant to curb global warming, that would raise the energy bills of hard-pressed blue-collar “battlers” and also shrink their job opportunities in the country’s important energy industries. That probably cost Labor its hoped-for gains in Queensland, where the Left has fought a long campaign to prevent the opening of a new coal mine. As former Liberal prime minister Tony Abbott observed: When climate change is solely a moral issue, Labor wins; when it’s an economic one too, the Coalition wins. The scales tip farther rightward when the voters are informed that Australia’s contribution to carbon emissions is nugatory and that the Greens don’t seem interested in asking China or India to cut their much greater carbon emissions. The Left in politics and the media advertised this as “the climate change election.” And they lost.
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