Economic Fears Drove Australias Surprise Election Result – The Wall Street Journal

Economic Fears Drove Australias Surprise Election Result - The Wall Street Journal

Australia Election Results: Prime Minister Scott Morrison Seizes a Stunning Win

SYDNEY—Australias conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison scored a surprise come-from-behind win at national elections Saturday, in a divisive campaign that exploited fears radical economic and climate policies pledged by center-left opponents would end the worlds longest growth streak.

SYDNEY, Australia — Scott Morrison, Australias conservative prime minister, scored a surprise victory in federal elections on Saturday, propelled by a populist wave — the quiet Australians, he termed it — resembling the force that has upended politics in the United States, Britain and beyond.

I tell them the truth. No one in Labor expect this result – no one. I saw all the Labor party polling. I spoke to all of the senior shadow Ministers. None of them saw this coming, he wrote on a 10 Daily column. 

What the f*** just happened: Top Shorten lieutenants election defeat text message to Labor member

The win stunned Australian election analysts — polls had pointed to a loss for Mr. Morrisons coalition for months. But in the end, the prime minister confounded expectations suggesting that the country was ready for a change in course after six years of tumultuous leadership under the conservative political coalition.

While Scott Morrison defied the odds and was handed another three years in power, Dastyari received a text from an unnamed senior Labor adviser that read: What the f**k just happened? 

I have always believed in miracles, Mr. Morrison said at his victory party in Sydney, adding, Tonight is about every single Australian who depends on their government to put them first. And that is exactly what we are going to do.

The election had presented Australia, a vital American ally in the Asia-Pacific, with a crucial question: Would it remain on a rightward path and stick with a political coalition that promised economic stability, jobs and cuts to immigration or choose greater action on climate change and income inequality?

In the election aftermath, Dastyari revealed he had been inundated with people wanting to know how the Labor party had reacted to the result.   

By granting Mr. Morrison his first full term, Australians signaled their reluctance to bet on a new leader, choosing to stay the course with a hardworking rugby lover at a time when the economy has not suffered a recession in nearly 28 years.

Australians are just deeply conservative — wherever possible, we cling to the status quo, said Jill Sheppard, a lecturer in politics at the Australian National University. While we want progress on certain issues, we dont like major upheavals.

The triumph by Mr. Morrison, an evangelical Christian who has expressed admiration for President Trump, comes at a time of rising tension in the Asia-Pacific region. A trade war between the United States and China has forced longtime American allies like Australia to weigh security ties with Washington against trade ties with Beijing.

Judd Deere, White House deputy press secretary, said Mr. Trump had called to congratulate Mr. Morrison.

The coalition is set to form a government for a third term despite the suffering from internal turmoil that culminated in the ouster of Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister for Morrison last August. The government then also lost two seats and its single-seat majority.

The two leaders reaffirmed the critical importance of the longstanding alliance and friendship between the United States and Australia, and they pledged to continue their close cooperation on shared priorities, Mr. Deere said.

“This – this is a really extraordinary result. It is a stupendous result. It is a great result for Scott Morrison and the rest of the wider Liberal team, and Scott Morrison will now, quite rightly, enter the Liberal pantheon forever,” he added.

The conservative victory also adds Australia to a growing list of countries that have shifted rightward through the politics of grievance, including Brazil, Hungary and Italy. Mr. Morrisons pitch mixed smiles and scaremongering, warning older voters and rural voters in particular that a government of the left would leave them behind and favor condescending elites.

Abbot tried to put a positive spin on his loss, telling his supporters: “I want to say to you: there is good news and bad news. There is every chance that the Liberal-National Coalition has won the election.”

The candidate Mr. Morrison defeated, Bill Shorten, the leader of the center-left Labor Party, offered an alternative path for Australia: a return to more government intervention on climate change and the economy, and intensified skepticism about the United States and Mr. Trump.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten called Prime Minister Scott Morrison to congratulate him on the election victory. He told Labor party supporters that his party didn’t win enough seats to form a coalition government.

Mr. Shorten, despite being the face of the political opposition for six years, was not an easy sell to voters. His personal approval ratings never matched Mr. Morrisons, and he relied on the more popular and diverse members of his party to score points with the public.

Australia’s ruling conservative coalition defied polls and scored a stunning political victory in the country’s general election on Saturday, with the main opposition party officially conceding the defeat.

On Saturday night, he conceded defeat and said he would no longer serve as opposition leader. I know youre all hurting, he told supporters in Melbourne. And I am, too.

Mr. Morrison, who kept policy proposals to a minimum during the campaign, rode a singular message to victory: that the Labor Partys plans to raise spending to bolster public health programs, education and wages would blow up the budget and end Australias generation-long run of economic growth.

Ignoring the turmoil that has led his coalition to churn through three prime ministers in six years, he promoted his center-right Liberal Party as a steady hand on the tiller, and made promises of cheaper energy and help for first-time homeowners.

The Adani Group, the Indian conglomerate behind the mine project, says it will provide thousands of jobs in nearby towns marked by empty houses and rife unemployment. But in other parts of Australia, particularly among the urban educated left, it faces fierce opposition. Stop Adani is a mantra for many, promoted by organizations like Greenpeace and shared with pride on social media, signs and T-shirts.

The intraparty tumult came to a head last year when the Liberals right flank ousted Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. He was toppled in August after his moderate plan to address carbon emissions was rejected by his coalitions right wing as going too far.

And yet the path to victory for Scott Morrison, the incumbent prime minister, will make agreeing on a response more difficult. He and his Liberal-National coalition won thanks not just to their base of older, suburban economic conservatives, but also to a surge of support in Queensland, the rural, coal-producing, sparsely populated state sometimes compared to the American South.

The party coup soured many Australians on the countrys political system and helped contribute to a degree of voter apathy and anger that colored Saturdays election.

Even for skeptics, the effects of climate change are becoming harder to deny. Australia just experienced its hottest summer on record. The countrys tropics are spreading south, bringing storms and mosquito-borne illnesses like dengue fever to places unprepared for such problems, while water shortages have led to major fish die-offs in drying rivers.

The campaign was short — just over a month, as is the standard in Australia. And Mr. Morrisons effort was defined mainly by energy, with folksy events and handshakes for voters, coupled with stiff criticism of Mr. Shorten and a determination not to take no for an answer.

Neither One Nation nor United Australia did as well as similar parties recently in countries like Italy, Hungary and Brazil. But for Australia, where compulsory voting encourages moderate election outcomes, the results defied expectations and made clear that the country remains deeply conservative and open to the far right on a variety of issues.

His combative style was especially clear during the second of three televised leadership debates, when he stepped close to Mr. Shorten, who accused him of being a space invader.

Mr. Morrisons coalition also benefited from deals with two right-wing groups: One Nation, the anti-immigration party led by the Queensland senator Pauline Hanson, and the United Australia Party led by the mining billionaire Clive Palmer, who spent tens of millions of dollars on a populist campaign with the slogan Make Australia Great.

To those who opposed Mr. Morrison, it was a sign of his bullying tendencies; to those who supported him, it was seen as evidence of passion and conviction.

He portrayed himself as the good bloke, the good father, the buddy, the mate that Australians would like to have, said Patrick Dumont, a professor of political science at the Australian National University.

Mr. Morrison, 51, is a veteran politician who has occasionally sought out a provocative role on hot-button issues.

There was simply no mood for change. In 2007, when Labor took power, we felt a massive mood for change at Australia House in London [the largest voting booth in the world]. Turnout was down [this year], showing a lack of enthusiasm for a Shorten Labor government,…

He entered Parliament in 2007, representing a suburb of Sydney. As immigration minister in 2013, he proudly embraced a stop the boats policy that denied asylum seekers arriving by sea the right to apply for settlement in Australia.

Under his predecessor, Mr. Turnbull, he served as treasurer, appearing in Parliament at one point with a lump of coal to deliver a message to those demanding stronger action on climate change.

Dont be afraid, he told lawmakers, without mentioning that the coal had been shellacked to keep his hands from getting dirty. Dont be scared.

Though he has an image as a political brawler, Mr. Morrison has proved adept at the insider politics of Canberra, Australias capital. He was a loyal foot soldier under Mr. Turnbull until the party pushed to oust the prime minister, at which point Mr. Morrison successfully offered himself up as an alternative.

In August, he became Australias fifth prime minister in five years — a sign of how volatile the countrys politics has been over the past few years.

The fact that he escaped punishment from Australian voters for his actions during the party coup surprised many experts.

I think were just getting used to the politics of the absurd, said Susan Harris-Rimmer, a law professor at Griffith University in Queensland. It just seems like its been a long time since politics was normal anywhere.

Mr. Morrison, however, rode a wave of conservative support. The coalition of the Liberal and National Parties maintained seats in closely contested suburbs from Perth to Melbourne, and picked up support across rural areas.

In the northeastern state of Queensland, which stretches from Brisbane to the tropics near the Great Barrier Reef, several Liberal Party candidates won handily. That suggested that in the battle over the proposed Adani coal mine, which would be among the largest in the world if it receives final government approval, voters favored immediate concerns about jobs over the risks of climate change.

The Liberal Party did suffer some setbacks. Tony Abbott, the divisive former prime minister, lost his race in a Sydney suburb, where voters demanded more action on climate change. He was one of several conservatives who had argued that most Australians were not willing to trade immediate needs for more distant global concerns.

Its clear that in what might be described as working seats, we are doing so much better, he said in his concession speech. Its also clear that in at least some of what might be described as wealthy seats, we are doing it tough, and the Green left is doing better.

Mr. Morrison, who has been cautious on climate change, arguing that current policy is enough, can now claim that his mix of enthusiasm and his appeal to working-class economic stability — focused on a fair go for all — is what Australians wanted.

Australian voters ultimately stuck with what they knew, while also tilting toward personality. They rejected policies that would have altered the financial status quo, including efforts to cut back on tax perks for older and wealthier voters, and went along with the more energetic politician.

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