Labor faces crisis of identity

Australian Conservatives Release

Scott Morrison called it a miracle. But the most astonishing election result since World War II is ­attributable to two forces – Morrison’s superior reading of the Australian character and Bill Shorten’s fatal overreach in his agenda for radical change.

The Conservative Party strongly opposed Labor’s destructive socialist agenda and will now fight in the Senate to make the re-elected Coalition government a better, more conservative version of itself.

The Australian reports, Morrison’s victory redraws the landscape. This is a win for Morrison’s vision of the Liberal Party – speaking to the silent, hardworking and retired Australians who don’t want sweeping change, class warfare or progressive ideology imposed upon them, but seek instead a government offering reliable, steady and credible returns.

The Abbott-Turnbull era is closed. The Morrison era is launched. With Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott out of parliament, Morrison has the chance to give the government and the Liberal Party a fresh start under a united team, a prospect virtually impossible last August.

This victory, its engineering and campaign was Morrison’s work – it transforms him from an underrated stopgap into an authority figure. Too much of Labor’s climate change campaign was post-material utopianism, not the practical politics Morrison or most Australians represent.

Labor’s calculated shift to the Left in its ethos and policies has ended in tears. Bill Shorten did not just lose an election the party was convinced it would win. The transition of Labor into a redistributive, “progressive” party is revealed as a flawed project. Labor has a special problem. The challenge now is not just its strategy; it is Labor’s very identity itself.

The paradox of Labor’s campaign was the scant evidence that the majority of the public wanted the sweeping change, punitive tax increases or vast spending agenda that Shorten offered. With its rejection, this defective manifesto, endorsed by the leadership group, looms as a monumental folly. What were they thinking?

The Liberals beat back the Labor attack, survived most of the assault from independents – apart from Abbott’s own defeat – and will have fresh confidence in fighting GetUp in future. Morrison’s election-night speech stuck by his script – he will work for ordinary people. It is hard to imagine a Liberal leader more remote from the “big end of town” fiction that Shorten used as the selling point for his tax redistribution.

During the campaign Morrison signalled his outlook by saying “people want a government that has simple, honest aspirations” not a government that engages in “a great class conflict and makes grand, unachievable promises about what they think they can do”.

Morrison will not be a grand economic reformer. He has no interest in debates about the free market versus government intervention. He is practical and will adopt whatever works. Morrison will not seek to remake the nation. He will seek to improve the nation – and the lot of people. One of the first priorities will be to legislate the three-stage personal income tax cuts which Conservative Party leader Cory Bernardi supports.

Labor’s mistake is that it became infatuated by its near victory against Turnbull in 2016. Yet it overreached and misjudged.

It succumbed to an old-fashioned spending agenda financed by a higher tax burden and a series of tax redistributions that hurt an array of investors, middle-income earners and retirees. It knocked aspiration. It was often sold on false grounds, witness Shorten’s claim that franking credit refunds were “gifts”. It was framed for two years in rhetoric of class warfare unseen for many decades and ran in parallel with proposed changes to the industrial relations system to secure higher wages through public intervention, not productivity.

This was accentuated when Labor embraced climate change ideology, with Shorten doubling down as the campaign advanced. He refused to provide any data on the economic costs of his emissions reduction policies on the basis that this was no longer needed. For Shorten, Australia had reached the stage where cost-benefit economic arguments didn’t matter – virtue signalling was the new polity.

This was ideological folly yet a reflection of “progressive” politics. The upshot is the Labor primary vote is under 34 per cent. Only one in three Australians is voting Labor as the first preference. In the resources states of Queensland and Western Australia it is far worse. The coal revolt in Queensland covered four seats – Herbert, Dawson, Capricornia and Flynn. The coal campaign conducted by Resources Minister Matt Canavan had a material effect.

Senior Labor figures speaking on election night and yesterday were a bundle of confusion. They lost because of their blunders – yet they seem unable to absorb this. The reason is not hard to find. Labor has changed its character as a party and it believed that Australia was also moving. But this weekend many of the Forgotten People did a rethink. They thought twice and decided not to trust Labor and its grand agendas of sweeping change. That leaves Labor with an embarrassing gulf between its own party and the people.

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