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‘Things that never were: Contradictions in the 2019 federal election' by Dennis Altman

by
September 2019, no. 414

‘Things that never were: Contradictions in the 2019 federal election' by Dennis Altman

by
September 2019, no. 414

In retrospect, the Morrison government’s win in May 2019 is not surprising. After the shift to the right in a number of liberal democracies since the election of Donald Trump, why did we assume that Australia would be immune? The assumption that Labor was certain to win resembled the attitude of most commentators towards Hillary Clinton in the United States in 2016. This is not to suggest that Scott Morrison is another Trump, but rather that the deep suspicion of government and the anger at the rapidity of social change that undermined Clinton were also factors in the Australian elections.

The vicious polarisation of views now evident in the United States was clearly apparent in some areas of Australia. This was reflected in the blatant racism of some senators and in the bitter divisions between pro- and anti-Adani supporters. The willingness of right-wing commentators to abandon any pretence at civility, already clear in the attacks on Julia Gillard as prime minister, is poisoning political debate and undermining confidence in government.

Over the past several decades, Labor’s base has steadily declined, with union membership now one million fewer than in 1976, despite a much larger population. Elsewhere, most notably in Germany and France, social democratic parties no longer seem viable for government. Australia is exceptional in that the choice for government remains essentially the same as it has been since Robert Menzies created the modern Liberal Party in 1944.

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