Hong Kong Chamber: A Letter from Canberra (Nov 2016)

I’ll be the first to admit that the result of this month’s US Election took me by surprise.

I’m not the only one.

But the implications of the election of Donald Trump to the office of President extend far beyond the United States.

And the result didn’t happen by accident. Rather, it was the product of the same forces that we are seeing in advanced democracies right around the country.

In the UK’s Brexit, in Australia’s One Nation and in Eastern Europe’s rising wave of populist nationalism, we’re seeing a popular rejection of institutions people feel they’ve been rejected from.

And to point the finger at the most sinister cultural, racial and religious undercurrents of this modern populist revolt would be to misdiagnose the problem.

Exit poll after exit poll revealed what we perhaps intuitively knew: Trump’s supporters are angry.

And that’s understandable. When people feel they have no place in the modern economy, then they have nothing to lose by rejecting it.

But it’s these conditions that breed extreme and populist parties.

It’s when the modern economy leaves people behind – when the gap between the haves and have-nots becomes a chasm, or when the labour market stops looking for whatever it is you’re selling – that people look at the promise of globalisation and trade and feel like they’ve been sold a pup.

Markets create winners and losers, but they don’t create societies. It’s when people are hurting that Government needs to step in, with a strong social safety net, by means-tested transfer payments, a decent social wage and effective health and education services

Australia’s alliance with the United States is stronger than any one individual. Our relationship is an important one and that isn’t set to change just because the President does.

But our social contract is a promise. For inclusive growth, social mobility, for equality and opportunity. And we’ve seen that, when it’s broken, voters get angry. 

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