Polls showed the left-wing Labor Party pulling away from his
conservative Liberal-National Coalition in what Heading into last Saturday’s election in Australia, Prime
Minister Scott Morrison was a dead man walking.
Polls showed the left-wing Labor Party pulling away from his
conservative Liberal-National Coalition in what newspapers
the globe were calling “The Climate Change Election.” Polls were being
thrown around showing that more and more Australians were prioritizing climate
action as their top issue, and opposition leader Bill Shorten was being
heralded as the next prime minister.
Fast forward 24 hours to Sunday morning: Morrison’s shock
re-election has made him a conservative folk-hero, while Shorten has resigned
the leadership of Labor in the face of a humiliating defeat.
So, what happened?
For one, it appears that the polls were just plain wrong,
with the Australian media noting
that polling as a science is struggling to keep up in a world without
landlines, and increasingly relying on robocalls rather than live operators.
That said, polling failure only explains why Morrison’s
re-election was a shock, not why it happened.
Among the big takeaways from these results is the massive
swing against Labor in industrial and working-class areas. Australia’s national
several towns where the bottom fell out of Labor’s vote, and the first two
towns listed were (respectively) centers of mining and sugarcane farming. These
were places where people actually do the type labor that give the Labor Party
Among the big takeaways from these results is the massive swing against Labor in industrial and working-class areas.
Perhaps even more illustratively, the night’s only real breakthrough
for climate activists was the defeat of conservative former Prime Minister Tony
Abbott in his campaign for re-election to Parliament.
Abbott has represented the wealthy suburban-Sydney seat of
Warringah since 1994, a seat that has been held continuously by conservatives
since the foundation of the Australian Parliament. Yet, Abbott was ousted
by a centrist independent Zali Stegall, who ran a campaign on climate
change and described her win as a repudiation of Abbott’s conservative stances
on climate policy.
So, what makes Warringah different from everywhere else?
Well, one answer might be that Warringah has the single highest
median household income of any electorate in Australia. Abbott himself
mentioned this in his concession
speech, which oddly came on a night when his party won big on the exact
issue he lost on.
“It’s clear,” he said, “that in what might be described as
‘working seats,’ we are doing so much better. It’s 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.”
More importantly, he went on to say that where climate
change was a “moral issue, we do it tough. But where it’s an economic issue, we
do very, very well.”
The tilt of Australia’s high-income urban areas to the left
on climate issues is not new, and not limited to Warringah. The parliamentary
seat of Melbourne-which encompasses only Melbourne’s downtown-is also the only
seat held by the Green Party. The Greens also poll well in the richer seats
immediately bordering Melbourne, and climate plays a role in some of Sydney’s
One post-mortem on the election from the
Australian Broadcasting Corporation pointed out the wealth issue thusly:
In [Warringah’s] case and in other inner-city seats, support for climate action looks broadly consistent with a “post-materialist” sensibility. . Here the emphasis on quality of life over immediate economic and physical needs encourages a focus on issues like climate change. But this is a sensibility that speaks to those in higher socio-economic brackets, and principally with higher levels of education.
Put more bluntly, climate-based politics appeal primarily to
those insulated from the potential economic consequences of climate policies by
their high incomes, and shielded from even seeing those
effects by their urbanized lifestyles.
Those not materially blessed enough to
live as “post-materialists,” however, still make their decisions based on what
it takes to put food on the table, pay the rent, and provide for their
This sort of growing rich-poor political divide is not unique to Australia. In Israel, working class Israelis have solidified behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while wealthy areas swing strongly against him.
In the United States, Donald Trump won states like Michigan
and Wisconsin while some of Brooklyn’s
trendiest neighborhoods elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the House.
It’s not just that the working class is drifting right. The
upper classes, especially in gentrifying inner cities, are gravitating hard to
a left that is increasingly focused on perceived moral issues and less
interested in bread-and-butter economics.
Climate-based politics appeal primarily to those insulated from the potential economic consequences of climate policies by their high incomes, and shielded from even seeing those effects by their urbanized lifestyles.
However, there is one key difference that makes Australia
unique. Perhaps more than any other nation, Australia has seen climate change
loom over its politics for over a decade.
Former Labor Prime Minster Kevin Rudd made it the signature
issue of his premiership from 2007-2010, with at least one costly program literally
going up in flames. Rudd’s plan to re-insulate Australian homes for energy
efficiency failed to account for the flammability of the new insulation and led
to the deaths of four workers.
In 2009, Rudd’s cap-and-trade proposal caused a massive
split in the Liberal Party when then-party-leader Malcolm Turnbull tried
to force the party to support Rudd on the issue-leading the party’s
legislators to remove him and replace him with anti-cap-and-trade
leader Tony Abbott.
Australia has been through “climate change elections”
before, and experimented with environmental policy as much as any nation on
Earth. The results illustrate what happens when politics becomes centered on
creating a “better world” by making life harder in the real world.
Such ideas may gain traction among those who know they can
afford to weather the storm, and the rich can condemn the poor for their
“materialism” in rejecting the new order, but working people (rightly)
prioritize feeding their children as a higher moral goal.
Given that Australia’s ever-shifting politics has sometimes
drawn comparisons to Game of Thrones, perhaps it’s worth noting that Australian
Labor and Daenerys Targaryen learned the same lesson in their big finales this
weekend: No matter how lofty your aims, there’s little morality in burning the
world down in the name of building a better one.
The post Australia’s Election Shock Shows the Perils of Moralizing Climate Change appeared first on The Daily Signal.
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