Claiming victory on Saturday night on May 18, 2019 on the election outcome, Scott Morrison referred to it as a “miracle”, as if some divine intervention or inspiration secured his success. In the Herald Sun newspaper the next morning, one political journalist asserted Morrison had always been “under-estimated”, but perhaps more pertinent maybe, is Morrison’s under-estimation of himself. By calling his victory a miracle, he seemingly undermined his sense of self-worth and political acumen as well as his dedicated and devoted effort in the election campaign.
It may be that he is just intrinsically modest and self-effacing; humility a natural disposition with his religious faith paramount in his perspective. Unsurprisingly, he attended church on Sunday morning. Noting the failure of all the news’ polls on voting intention to successfully predict the election outcome, one poll has been consistently correct for months; Morrison has always been the people’s preferred Prime Minister over Bill Shorten.
While Morrison might be genuinely decent and honest without obvious arrogance or a sense of innate entitlement, Shorten often seemed the opposite. Morrison appeared convincingly as having a common touch, a man of empathy for ordinary people and their concerns and interests. Shorten, often cast as well as castigated as shifty and untrustworthy, seemed imbued with a misplaced prescience that deluded him into believing that after six years as Labor leader, “it’s time”. Whitlam he is not; neither was he a Hawke nor a Keating. Moreover, Australia is a very different country now than in previous decades.
Indeed, a Herald Sun letter on Monday the 20th May highlighted exactly that, brilliantly and accurately summarising the ideological differences between Hawke and Shorten. John Paulson, of Craigieburn, wrote: “Hawke was pro-market; Shorten was pro-intervention. Hawke controlled the unions; Shorten wanted to give them free rein. Hawke saw business success and personal aspiration as contributing to the nation; Shorten wanted to punish business success and personal aspiration. Hawke-to Australia’s great benefit- decentralised industrial relations; Shorten wanted to centralise it again. Hawke stood up to the Socialist-Left faction within the ALP; Shorten cowered instead, giving them their misguided desire.” Paulson lucidly spells out the policy differences between the two Labor leaders, without acknowledging times have changed, with only about 17 per cent of workers presently members of a union and more people involved in their own businesses and self-employed.
So given the stated policies of Shorten and his party faithful, were his policies as instrumental in his defeat as his dislike by the populace? Given he has never been the preferred Prime Minister, even when Turnbull was PM and all the news’ polls were detailing his declining support, Turnbull was still the preferred choice as PM. In that context, how does one analyse the election outcome? Is it as simple as personality trumping policy as the definitive factor? Reality was that before Shorten even announced his policies he was already lagging considerably behind Morrison as preferred PM, so did his policies only exacerbate this unpopularity? Exactly what role did policy have in the outcome? Was his initial unpopularity due to his obvious socialist, left leaning beliefs, albeit without policies even being articulated? And do the differences in the “image” of Morrison vs Shorten account for the unpopularity in the beginning? What do their images represent about them and how do they translate for millions of Australians? Were the ideologies and beliefs of ordinary Australians reflected in the election outcome?
There is no doubt Morrison is a conservative, with some pundits placing him in the political centre while others regard him as more on the Right. Shorten was clearly on the Left and a strong advocate of union power while consciously highlighting the “top end of town” as of privileged prestige and wealth compared to rank and file workers. Moreover, the Labor campaign pinpointed women as critical in the outcome, with his wife, Chloe, rhapsodising about his feminist credentials. Sadly, most women in this country do not identify as feminists, so the campaign was misguided and misdirected in this target. Likewise about climate change to some degree, for while thousands of young people might clamour for more action I don’t believe it was a focal issue for ordinary, older Australians.
More to the point was jobs, particularly in Queensland where the Adani mine and its future was a decisive factor. Before the election, the LNP had given its approval for the mine to go ahead, while Labor equivocated without making a concrete decision. According to one letter in The Australian on Tuesday 21 May, Peter Steele, of Brisbane in Queensland, wrote: “If you want to distil all the collective speculation down to one issue, it is surely Adani.” Former president of the ACTU, Jennie George, also claimed “Forsaking blue-collar workers…(was) a losing strategy…If the needs of workers and their communities are not put to the forefront, you can hardly blame them for shifting their votes elsewhere.” And online, a post by Jon opined: “The reasons for Labor’s loss include telling your diehard supporters in the inner city what they want to hear but ignoring the rest of Australia where jobs matter….Labor (also) went after the ‘rich’ normal people who had placed a few dollars aside for their retirement. Stupid.”
Indeed, as what these few words indicate is just how “out of touch” with ordinary or normal people, to borrow Jon’s word, Labor’s entire campaign was. Certainly, it addressed a left-leaning intelligentsia, a minority of the populace, of which many journalists, especially at the ABC and The Age, are part of, but they were apparently so ensconced in their “bubble” they did not countenance or canvass the views, needs and hopes of others; the majority of Australians. The result also suggests these others are possibly of a conservative nature too, which I do not find at all surprising. Hawke succeeded because he could straddle both the “top end of town” and the “blue-collar workers”, but Shorten could only criticise the former by trying to take their money off them with his tax policies including introducing franking credits and removing negative gearing. As John Hill, of Willoughby in NSW asserted in a letter to The Australian, “The Labor pitch was to appeal to the politics of envy and class warfare. The average voter would not have it.”
The reality I conclude is that Shorten was always unpopular because he was never sincere in his concern about real, ordinary Australians and seemed to be living in an Australia of yesteryear. The campaign reminded me somewhat of the 60s campaigns when Labor leader, Arthur Calwell, competed against PM Robert Menzies with his belief about class, privilege, wealth vs union power and workers. That “us and them” philosophy underpinned much of Labor’s campaign. In this approach, it was out of touch as much now as Labor was then. Of course, I was only a teenager unable to vote, but the Menzies’ rhetoric of hard work and diligence to achieve one’s ambitions resonated strongly with me by comparison. I believed in a socially upward mobility in this country where personal aspiration would succeed with hard work, simultaneously believing however that Labor was more socially concerned for the underprivileged and disadvantaged. Menzies seemed to encourage prosperity while Calwell denounced it. Morrison’s brilliant line about a “fair go for those having a go” or words to that effect, took me back to that era too, though I strongly criticise Morrison and his party for not considering a rise in the Newstart Allowance for the unemployed. Treasurer Frydenberg said they would not increase it despite staying stagnant for 25 years. Even Bowen only said if Labor won, they would review it. Neither party apparently gave a toss about the unemployed.
In summary, I contend Shorten and his team were simply oblivious to ordinary Australians, living in their own world of hackneyed and anachronistic views no longer relevant in today’s Australia. This “out of touch” politics is in some ways similar to how Trump in America defeated Clinton, where jobs mattered more than slugging the rich. As I wrote in a post about Trump, if people can’t put a roof over their head and food on the table for their families, even the most worthy of policies will go unsupported. Most people too are unconcerned about philosophical polemic when they can’t even attend to the basic necessities of life. Morrison targeted jobs for now and in the future; Shorten hardly mentioned them. Shorten was personally unpopular and politically inexpedient, with policies that did not resonate with the realities of everyday existence for most Australians. The election result was no surprise to me.