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Where's Australia's Trump and Sanders?

  • 30 June 2016


Last week Sam Newman told News Corp he'd been approached to run for mayor of Melbourne on a 'Donald Trump-like anti-political correctness platform'.

The football personality gave little detail about his potential campaign, preferring to instead lend support to his former Footy Show colleague Eddie McGuire's 'joke' about drowning a female journalist.

Nevertheless, the announcement raised an interesting question: where's the Trump in Australia's federal election? Or, for that matter, the Bernie Sanders or the Jeremy Corbyn?

Some might object to linking Sanders and Corbyn with the Republican presidential nominee on the not unreasonable grounds that their leftwing populism raises fundamentally different issues than Trump's grandstanding on Muslims and immigration.

Nevertheless, the point remains that, in the US, Britain and many other places, we've seen candidates from both Left and Right presenting themselves as outsiders challenging the political status quo.

Why hasn't something similar emerged here? As Jonathan Green says, it's not difficult to identify a potential constituency in Australia, 'a shared sense that politics as we've known it has run its race, seeming to stop fatally short of offering a coherent response to real world problems outside the comforting self-serving conceits of the media-political bubble'.

After the extraordinary events of the past few years, a period in which both major parties were wracked by Game of Thrones-style intrigues, we might have expected this election to throw up more surprises.

Instead, with Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten, Labor and Liberal seem almost to have reverted to their political archetypes. This, after all, is a contest that pits an urbane merchant banker against a former union bureaucrat — two candidates who might almost have been selected from central casting.


"The issues deemed the most important are precisely those that cannot be discussed — a paradox that neatly captures the dysfunction of 21st century politics."


The overt normalcy of the election appears particularly odd given that neither party's resolved the issues underpinning the Rudd/Gillard feud and the Turnbull/Abbott clash. Many commentators have identified the collapse of the traditional support base of the majors as the source of the extraordinary recent instability, with the slow erosion of the constituencies defining politics in the 20th century leading to the absence of policy confidence that so marks the present day.

For instance, the Age explained that we probably wouldn't get a debate on health and immigration, ('the two biggest issues in the final weeks of the election campaign') because 'the parties were unwilling to participate in