The Australian Labor Party has lost an “unlosable” election after being ahead in almost every poll for two years. Labor supporters are devastated and Scott Morison couldn’t believe his luck.
Coalition sources have said that voters rejected Labor’s taxation proposals and didn’t want to take a risk on their economic management.
Progressive critics, on the other hand, have argued that Labor’s choice of leader and policies were not ambitious enough to inspire a mass movement of grassroots support.
Although there might be some truth to each of these claims, we shouldn’t see Labor’s defeat as a resounding endorsement of the Coalition. In fact, the Coalition suffered a 0.5% swing against it in first preference votes.
The sad result is that the great winners of this election were a motley collection of right-wing minor parties and the brand of out-in-the-open racism and Islamophobia they represent.
Fraser Anning may be out of the Senate but support for his fascist politics has evolved from 19 personal votes below the line as a One Nation senator to over 60,000 votes for his Conservative National Party.
Anning called for a ban on Muslim and “black” immigration and has been described as too racist even for the standards of Pauline Hanson.
With the Overton window of Australian politics marching in goose-step ever rightwards, figures such as Fraser Anning and Malcolm Roberts have steadily achieved more mainstream positions in the Australian political landscape.
The scene has shifted so much over the past decade that the right-wing dominated Coalition now looks like the sensible centre.
It’s true that minor parties did well in this election (24.7% of all formal votes cast in the lower House). Yet it was the right-wing minor parties that achieved the highest gains and took the most out of Labor’s vote.
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (PHON) vote share was up 1.7% to 3% of the national vote. Although they were fielding more candidates, which partly explains the rise, in Queensland PHON increased its vote from just over 5% to 8.7%. Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP) had not previously contested lower house seats but pulled over 3% of the national vote.
It’s too early to obtain exact figures, but it looks like over 1,000,000 first preferences were directed towards right-wing minor parties (including PHON, UAP, Katter’s Australian Party, National Conservatives, and other micro parties).
It’s the sheer thriving ecosystem of the far right that is most alarming. Xenophobes are spoilt for choice. If you find Fraser’s brand of neo-fascism a little on the nose, you have the more veiled racism of the One Nation party or the right-wing populism of billionaire mining magnate, Clive Palmer.
This rise of open white nationalism has been downplayed for too long in Australia as a fringe phenomenon. White nationalism and its related ideologies of anti-feminism and anti-Islam are the most troubling developments in Australian politics.
Their policies and rhetoric have been advanced by far-right actors previously considered outside the boundaries of legitimate political discourse. But more alarmingly, these ideas have been normalised by the actions of mainstream political parties, particularly the Coalition.
The far right have also been treated to serious interviews and appearances on mainstream national television programs where their ideas are legitimised as one possible answer to today’s political questions. Media outlets have been seduced by the pursuit for easy clicks and views by airing the views of these controversial figures.
Arguments for preserving Australia’s “Judeo-Christian heritage” and banning certain races and religious groups from immigration and are now regular parts of Australian political discourse.
The Left are too quick to draw a line back to economic causes, rather than confront the issues of race, religion and identity as politically salient in their own right.
Before John Howard assumed office in 1996 there was a mainstream agenda of multiculturalism, progressive taxation and republicanism. The Howard era radically transformed the terms of public debate and led to a rise in jingoistic nationalism and the demonisation of asylum seekers. Australian politics has continued to shift even further to the right under his successors.
Analysing and confronting the underlying causes of the continuing rise of white nationalism should be a top priority for Labor and other progressive parties during the next three difficult years.
James Muldoon is a lecturer in political science at the University of Exeter