Australian Political Class Jumping At Trump-Shaped Shadows

Seeing Trump in everything.

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It was a very small rural by-election over the weekend, but according to many in the Australian political establishment it had all the hallmarks of Donald Trump's shocking presidential election victory.

Dan Himbrechts / AAPIMAGE

An angry, anti-establishment electorate. A middle finger to the incumbent party. A pro-gun, pro-protectionism vote.

When it came to count the votes in the Orange by-election, the two-term NSW Coalition government suffered an embarrassing swing that will likely see the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party pick up their first lower-house seat in NSW parliament.

The by-election of 56,000 voters was largely decided on local issues, but Donald Trump's election just days earlier cast a shadow over it.

"Donald Trump becomes Mike Baird's bogeyman in Orange by-election" was the Sydney Morning Herald's editorial.

The kicker read: "Will the American outsider's victory empower disenfranchised Australians to unleash anti-immigration, anti-trade, anti-elite views to clobber the Baird government?"

Speaking from the Orange Ex-Services' Club bistro last week, radio hosts Alan Jones and Ray Hadley invoked the US president-elect and called for voters to take a "baseball bat" to the establishment.

"Given what Mr Trump has just done, anyone tipping political results at the moment needs a crystal ball," Hadley said.

As Trump's election upended US politics, it appears to have also had the knock-on effect of casting a long shadow over Australian politics. Party insiders, analysts, and journalists are jumpy and seeing Trump in everything.

Take, for instance, opposition leader Bill Shorten's speech on Saturday to the Victorian Labor conference, where he announced that Labor would be taking an "aggressive Australia-first approach to policy".

Glenn Hunt / AAPIMAGE

The Labor leader was railing about 457 visas that according to business groups are vital in plugging skill gaps with overseas workers.

"What's happening is we've got people coming to work in Australia ... and, in some cases, they're getting ripped off and exploited, lowering wage outcomes and taking the jobs of nurses, motor mechanics, carpenters, auto-electricians," Shorten told media after the conference.

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull accused the pro-union Labor leader of trying to "heed the lessons of Ohio and Michigan". One headline read "Bill Shorten channels Donald Trump in address to Labor faithful".

No Australian politician has felt more vindicated, and energised, by the Trump victory than One Nation leader Pauline Hanson, who celebrated the US election result by sipping champagne on the Parliament House lawns.

Facebook: PaulineHansonAu

According to Fairfax Media, Labor strategists in the state of Queensland are worried Hanson will be the beneficiary of a Trump-like backlash against the major parties at the next election.

"We're in changing times and we've got to accept that and adapt, or we'll see a Trump happen here," the Labor source said.

Then there was the former prime minister Tony Abbott, dumped by his party last year due to poor polling, who held up Trump as proof there was a kind of "silent Abbott vote" that had been overlooked by pollsters.

TONY ABBOTT: If you don’t have a strong centre-right party, people looking for what broadly might be described as conservative positions will find other voices to represent them. I think this is something that mainstream politicians ignore at their peril.

ABC HOST FRAN KELLY: You saw this, you tried to tune into it … but you failed in the polls, we had a very close election here in Australia

TONY ABBOTT: Donald Trump was constantly failing in the polls. This election, both the UK election of last year, the Brexit vote of this year, and the Trump vote this year are a good sign that we should not be ruled by polls. What we have seen in all three cases were people who weren’t upfront with the pollsters because they saw the sort of excoriation that the non-politically correct obviously didn’t want to tell pollsters what they really thought.

Senior lecturer at the University of Sydney's US Studies Centre Dr David Smith told BuzzFeed News that Australians should be wary of making the easy Trump comparison.

"The paradox of Trump is that he promised a total break from politics as usual, while running at the head of one of America's two major parties," Smith said.

"Loyalty to a political party is a huge part of how Americans vote, even when voting for someone who is trashing that party.

"The party setup in Australia doesn't really allow the same thing to happen, because the selection process of party leaders is almost entirely determined by party heavyweights.

"Someone coming in with a slogan 'Make Australia Great Again' would be a bit weird. The things that someone like Hanson promises are pretty modest compared to what populist nationalists in the US, Britain, or France promise: the restoration of national greatness."

Mark Di Stefano is a political editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

Contact Mark Di Stefano at mark.distefano@buzzfeed.com.

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