Matthew Lesh

What the Tories can learn from Australia’s election upset

It is hard to exaggerate the level of shock caused by Scott Morrison’s Australian election victory. The re-election of the country’s Liberal party prime minister – and the defeat of left-wing Labor leader Bill Shorten – took the polls and plenty of Aussies by surprise. Earlier this year, Shorten told a bemused Arnold Schwarzenegger “I’m going to be the next prime minister of Australia”. The Australian people had a different idea.

In his victory speech, Morrison thanked “quiet Australians” for supporting him. A similar dynamic was, of course, at play among shy Tories in the 2015 election in Britain, shy Brexiteers in 2016 and then shy Trump voters later that same year.

“I’ve always believed in miracles,” Morrison, an evangelical Christian who was criticised for his personal beliefs during the campaign, declared in that same speech. Morrison became leader last August after the dumping of moderate and press gallery-darling Malcolm Turnbull. Before entering politics, Morrison was an adman who was behind one of the most successful tourism campaigns in Australia’s history: “Where the Bloody Hell Are Ya?”. The Australian stock market has shot up to a 12-year high following Morrison’s victory, adding £17.6bn  in value.

Morrison led an extremely disciplined campaign. The Liberal Party’s messaging was clear: we will cut taxes, create jobs, grow the economy and let you and your family get on with your life – and Labor is a danger to all this. The policy differences could have been starker but the rhetorical contrast was very clear. Labor talked up fairness and inequality; the Liberals focused on opportunity and aspiration. “If you’re having a go you’ll get a go,” Morrison said. Labor promised £210bn in new taxes to fund public services; the Liberals backed moderate income tax decreases and budget surpluses. Labor promised action on climate change; the Liberals committed to supporting the Adani Coal Mine.

The Liberal-National Coalition is expected to have a small majority of 78 seats in the 151-member House of Representatives – up from 73 at last election.

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