Brexit a boost for Turnbull

By Cathy Harper. Editor, Election Watch

The decision by British voters to walk out on European Union has sent economic and political shockwaves around the world.

Stocks markets plunged and the pound slid in value on the back of the surprise result, while the Scots have already renewed moves towards independence. Select EU foreign ministers met in Berlin on Saturday amid concerns of a domino effect among other member countries.

The interim director of the Melbourne School of Government and Professor of International Relations, Andrew Walter, says the Leave result is disastrous.

“Brexit amounts to a major retreat of Britain […] from global economic and political leadership,’’ Professor Walter says.

“It has given a considerable boost to right-wing nationalism across Europe at the worst possible time, when mainstream parties of the centre-right and centre-left are losing support. If these mainstream parties respond by adopting parts of the nationalists' agenda, the postwar European project could rapidly unravel.’’

The result comes just a week from Australia's Federal Election and will likely underscore the Coalition's rhetoric relating to the need for strong economic leadership to deal with uncertainty.

Uncertainty favours the incumbent

Not long after the Leave result became clear, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull took the opportunity to tweet:

The Government will ramp up this message in the campaign’s final days, honing its message that a Labor government will spend recklessly.

But Professor Walter says “emphasising policy continuity has obvious drawbacks for the Prime Minister, since his inability clearly to differentiate his government from that of (former Liberal Prime Minister) Tony Abbott has disappointed many who hoped for substantive change”.

University of Melbourne Vice Chancellor's Fellow and former Labor MP, Maxine McKew, says Turnbull has to be careful. 

"If the PM goes into rhetorical overdrive on this, and suggests some kind of knock-on apocalyptic calamity then he will not be believed. And he better watch his Treasurer. Scott Morrison is many things but so far he has not proved a reassuring or particularly believable voice on economic matters."

Given that the Government’s plan for the economic future of the country comes down to a big corporate tax cut, the Government is poorly placed to argue that it has the policy ascendancy or the gravitas that the times demand," she says.

Labor will focus on the Coalition's internal division

It’s this weakness Labor Leader Bill Shorten will seek to exploit by painting Mr Turnbull as similar to British PM David Cameron – a Prime Minister weakened by a hopelessly divided party.

Voter volatility

The last six months have shown that volatile electorates in the US and Britain could choose anything and anyone.

Donald Trump has won the Republican presidential nomination and Britons have chosen to reverse 40 years of work to create closer political and economic ties with its neighbours.

The Leave vote was fuelled by popular platforms appealing to concern about national sovereignty and border protection.

These issues have powerful effect in Australia and revent voting patterns show the electorate is more volatile than it's ever been.

Ms McKew says neither the Coalition or Labor have put a persuasive case to those who may be feeling disenfranchised and anxious about the future.

"Young university trained Australians who can’t find full-time jobs, older Australians watching diminishing returns on their savings, and many others in regions and cities who are appalled at the erosion of civic decency. Some of this disenchantment will find expression in a vote for Independents. This was a pre-Brexit scenario, but it could be given a bit more impetus by what has happened in the UK," she says.l

But Professor Walter believes the short-term electoral impact of Brexit on Australia will probably be modest.

“Those voters who have been uninspired by either of the major parties are unlikely to switch their first preference vote due to Brexit, though the Government may now gain more second preferences at the margin,’’ Professor Walter says.

The most significant impact on Australia will be the global financial and political fallout.

Professor Walter says “no future Australian government will be insulated from the consequences of Brexit, which will continue to reverberate in domestic and international politics in ways that for the most part will be highly damaging’’.

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