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Neoliberalism in the swinging outer suburbs

  • 03 September 2013

The outer suburban marginal seats will almost certainly swing to the Coalition on Saturday. And I'm sure many of the Left intelligentsia think they have the reasons for the swing all worked out: voters in the outer suburbs are uneducated, 'aspirational' cashed-up bogans who only care about their mortgages, negating their working-class origins and keeping asylum seekers on the sunny shores of the pacific islands.

The problem with that explanation is that interest rates are low, the standard of living appears to be steadily improving and the ALP has lurched to the right of the Coalition on boat arrivals. Why then would these voters all now be trending toward the Coalition when all the indicators suggest they should be happy with the incumbent?

The standard explanation is that outer suburban swinging voters are so ignorant they have been tricked into backing the Coalition by the corporate press, or that they are so self-interested they are willing to see people lose their dole simply so they can have a few extra plasma screens on their walls.

Let me paint a different picture for you based on personal experience. The ALP's electoral fortunes in Melbourne's outer south-east broadly reflect what has been happening for the party across western Sydney over the past two decades. Since the late 1980s there has been an overall long-term trend to the Coalition in these seats, though they have swung back to the ALP several times over the last few elections.

Like many who live in these areas, I am a swinging voter with no real party affiliation. I live in Pakenham, which sits on the edge of Latrobe, a marginal ALP seat expected to swing back to the Libs, and McMillan, an outer-suburban, semi-rural seat which is becoming a moderately safe Liberal seat. Adjoining Latrobe are two other tightly held, politically volatile seats, Casey and Aston, held by the Coalition by less than 2 per cent — they generally swing back and forth, but have been trending to the Coalition since the late 1980s.

I suspect the reason is that the neoliberal agenda of the last 30 years has brought clear gains in wealth and quality of life for people in these electorates. Life is good and getting better. Incomes and education levels are above the national average. Personal wealth is increasing, largely through the value of their homes. More and more children from these electorates are going onto university, and