In more bad news for the Labor Party, the rich are moving left but the workers may well be moving right.
The city of Mackay lies on the southern tip of LNP MP George Christensen’s Dawson electorate. It is a firm working-class town, a strong union town, one of the main centres of Australia’s sugar cane industry. The State electorate of Mackay has been held continuously by the Labor Party since 1904. The former State electorate of Bowen, directly north of Mackay, was the only State seat in the country to elect a member of the old Communist Party of Australia back in the late 40s. On Saturday, Mackay was meant to be the launching pad for the campaign to topple the hated religious conservative Christensen. With “Gorgeous” George the “member for Manila” on a margin of only 6,000 votes, Dawson was considered a very winnable seat by the ALP faithful.
Instead, voters in this staunchly working-class area abandoned the Labor party in their thousands. Christensen was returned with an 11% swing that came predominantly from the areas of his electorate where voting ALP traditionally hasn’t been so much a political choice as a birthright.
Around the country, the story was the same. In Queensland, the Labor seats of Herbert and Longman fell to the LNP. In the marginal electorate of Dickson, the man leftists love to hate more than any other, Peter Dutton, not only survived a push by Getup! to unseat him but enjoyed an increased majority as well. Amazingly, in Queensland, the northern Brisbane suburban electorate of Lilley looks to be the northernmost surviving ALP seat.
But it wasn’t just Queensland. Even in Victoria, the marginal outer suburban and regional seats that were considered almost certain to topple stayed firm. What on earth was going on?
The ALP and the Australian left more generally have been enjoying the trend over the last three decades of wealthier voters migrating to the left, both in their voting preferences and in their political identity. For half a century now, the wealthiest third of Australian society has sent its children to universities funded by their own taxes, where their progeny have been indoctrinated by lecturers drawn almost exclusively from the furthest left 5% of the population. This shift in attitudes amongst the privileged on social issues is the reason why electoral battles in wealthy federal electorates like Wentworth, Warringah, Kooyong and Higgins have become battles over who has the most progressive views on issues like climate change, refugees and gay marriage.
In the recent Victorian state election, the Labor party won in a landslide with a 6% swing, but it was a swing concentrated in wealthy areas. While the ALP took the extremely wealthy electorate of Hawthorn and almost took the super-rich beachside electorate of Brighton, its vote in the working-class outer suburbs and regional towns was much less impressive.
In the Federal election, the ALP bosses in the garden state targeted twelve seats overall but four in particular that they were certain of: Corangamite (which takes in the area around the regional city of Geelong), Dunkley (centred on the working-class suburb of Frankston), Chisholm (a heavily Chinese upper-middle-class suburb in Melbourne’s east) and La Trobe (a semi-rural seat on Melbourne’s fringe). They won Dunkley and Corangamite due to redistricting that should have made both safe Labor seats anyway. As of writing, they have won no others in the entire state and seem highly unlikely to do so. The swing to the ALP in Victoria seems to have only come from the inner cities and the heavily immigrant suburbs that already voted for them anyway. The state as a whole was filled with marginal Liberal and National electorates and suffered a 1.2% swing to the ALP. Yet with the exception of the two redistricted seats, none of those marginals in the suburbs and regions fell.
The day after the election, I saw an online message from an acquaintance who works in the humanities faculty of a major Victorian university. He seemed genuinely confused by the election results. So did most of his friends, predominantly inner-city upper-middle-class types in the media and higher education sectors. They had no idea how this could have happened. They all watch the ABC (some even work there) and all considered themselves to be amongst the best informed citizens in the country. Yet they had no idea why people in the suburbs and regions didn’t share their thoughts and fears. “Are we really that much in a bubble?” one of them asked.
In 1970, Kim Beazley Snr, father of the later opposition leader, declared at an ALP State conference that: “When I joined the Labor Party, it contained the cream of the working class. But as I look about me now, all I see are the dregs of the middle class. When will you middle class perverts stop using the Labor Party as a cultural spittoon?”
They haven’t yet. But perhaps the people who pay their taxes and their union dues to feed the egos and the stomachs of these “Dregs” are beginning to catch on to the fact that while the Liberals may not always have Australia’s best interests at heart, the modern ALP never does.