Mar 8, 2017

The Trump echo in Australia

Illustration by Greg Ruben / Axios

For all the talk about rising right-wing populist movements in Europe, there's something worth watching on the other side of the planet in Western Australia where an unusual alliance has formed between the mainstream center-right Liberal Party and the hardcore populist nationalist party One Nation, led by the controversial figure Pauline Hanson.

For an update, I got in touch yesterday to two of the leading figures on Australia's anti-establishment Right — Cory Bernardi, the Senator who recently broke away from the ruling Liberal Party to launch his own Australian Conservatives party, and the influential columnist Andrew Bolt.

Here's what they told me about how the Australian movement compares to Trump's:

  • Bernardi says "the major political parties have delivered misery, debt and BS" while telling the people everything is great. "No one can stomach that sandwich for long." He says the concerns about immigration, political correctness and speech censorship, distrust of elites and 'experts' are all live issues in Australia.
  • Like Trump, Bernardi and Hanson view Islam as a threat to the West.
  • Bolt says that "voters supporting all these renegades are desperate to seize some control over their country after seeming so powerless and even despised ... For some it seems the sheer joy of rattling a stick along the white picket fences of the rich, which is why they do not share the disdain of the elites for the rude and even intemperate talk of Trump, Wilders, Farage and Hanson. They want to be heard. They want the powerful to jump a bit."
  • Bernardi, a free trader, cautions that there are differences especially on the trade issue, which in his judgment isn't as charged an issue as it is in Trump's America.
  • More important than trade is foreign investment — especially when it comes to the Chinese buying up agricultural land. "Selling the farm (foreign investment) is big here," Bernardi says. "Not necessarily rational but is a common gripe."

What comes next in Australia: Bolt makes the important point that the Australian political system makes it much harder for a Trump to triumph and become prime minister. "A party cannot be hijacked or subverted so easily as Trump could by running as a rogue presidential candidate," he says. "You need to win the support of your political colleagues to get elected prime minister, and you need to have a lot of party credentials to get that."

Why this matters: The next parliamentary elections will be in 2019, if not sooner. One Nation polled at 8% in the first national primary vote poll conducted recently by The Australian. In Queensland the party's support is 23%. That's a big deal in a country with two entrenched main parties. "You can't form government but you have a good chance, once elected, of gumming up the works," White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is following these developments along with the nationalist movements sweeping Europe and Asia. And his former website Breitbart is eyeing Australia as a potential place to launch a new foreign outpost.

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