Features Australia

Can Turnbull win over Tony’s tradies?

19 September 2015

9:00 AM

19 September 2015

9:00 AM

I’ve just moved away from the ‘cashed-up bogans’, bling and boats of Melbourne’s bayside suburb of Patterson Lakes. Goodbye to the Kath and Kim house, that symbol of outer suburban culture. Goodbye to The Cove pub, where gambling itches can be scratched 24/7. Goodbye too to plumbers with Porsches, tattooed ladies with earrings like satellite dishes, and the best Vietnamese rice paper rolls this side of Saigon.

Built on reclaimed land on a network of man-made canals, ‘Patto’ is a lifestyle village: a hedonistic, fun-loving and very affluent bastion of middle Australia. In the outer suburbs, land is cheap, allowing more of the household income to build good-sized homes and spend on the better things in life. But whether or not they’re CUBs, Patto residents are people who work very hard for what they have, simply enjoying the good life along Melbourne’s bayside fringe. It’s not a place for bludgers, and there’s a strong volunteer ethic: lots of clubs and community service organisations to join. Patto-ites may not be university-educated soy latte-sippers, but they do love a flat white.

Like most people not obsessed about politics, Patto-ites are more insightful than most professional commentators. They offer the same acute glances into the tribal mind as the Angry Old Man of outer suburbia, Mark Latham, without his attitude. They typify the the great, silent majority of Australians, people who never will be interviewed on the ABC, or vox popped by the Age.

They may be patronised by academics and self-styled intellectuals, but outer suburban communities like Patto, and Mandurah in Western Australia’s by-election electorate of Canning, are where Australian federal elections are won and lost. Inner city latte-sipper and urban working class seats tend to go strong Labor – or increasingly Green. Affluent, high net worth suburbs like Sydney’s Vaucluse are blue-ribbon Liberal strongholds. Regional Australia is shared mostly between the Libs and the Nats. But outer-suburban capital city seats, especially in the nappy valley new suburbs springing up everywhere, are the ones that are marginal and more likely to swing one way or another. Not all these communities are as materially well-off as Patto, but all of them are the battleground on which federal electorate are most fiercely fought.

And that’s the big question mark about the sudden change of prime minister. Malcolm Turnbull is undoubtedly more popular generally than ousted Tony Abbott, according to the opinion polls, Canberra press gallery and much of the commentariat. Turnbull’s more socially progressive outlook certainly appeals to Labor and Greens-voting intellectual and arty types far more than Abbott’s dour muscular Catholicism and a political philosophy learned at Bob Santamaria’s knee. But how will the Turnbull gospel go down in election-deciding communities like Patterson Lakes?

For all Abbott’s struggles for acceptance among the literati and Twitterati – reflected in his spiteful, vengeful and utterly disgraceful castigation by lefty commentators and social media pseuds – in Patto, Abbott as prime minister was someone in tune with their lives and their values. While there was frustration with his leadership in terms of frequent mis-steps and stuff-ups, Abbott was never on the nose in Patterson Lakes.

Talking to Patto-ites over a bevvy, at the barbeque or the sailing club, Abbott is respected for toiling against heavy odds: they know he had a tough gig facing down hostile chattering class types and, especially, a feral Senate. What’s more, he’s highly-regarded for his unsung community service as a firey and lifesaver, and he’s celebrated for banishing Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, and for abolishing the carbon tax which, as I once wrote in the Speccie, all but killed Patto’s beloved extravagant Christmas light displays.

Abbott may never be an economics whiz kid, but he let Bruce Billson craft a winning small business package in this year’s budget that actually understood what it’s like to be a tradie or a shop-owner. Abbott showed an instinct for what support these small businessmen and women, the economic backbone of the outer suburbs, need to grow their business and to create more jobs. He got them.

By contrast, Turnbull’s affinity with Patto and its materialism largely starts and finishes with their shared fondness for the material trappings of affluence. He is much admired for his self-made success and his ability as a communicator, but his career as a barrister, banker and corporate lawyer, associating with the great and powerful for decades, is far removed from the outer suburban normality. In policy, even his association as communications minister with the never-never National Broadband Network is a minus, even though it was Labor’s baby.

Turnbull’s patronage of the luvvie arts and small ‘l’ liberal views on social issues like gay marriage and especially man-made climate change, where the Patto view is closer to Abbott’s declaration of it being ‘crap’, are also considerably removed from outer suburban realities. On gay marriage, for instance, there’s a feeling of not caring one way or the other, but there’s bewilderment, even anger that it has become a first-priority issue strangling parliament and the economic agenda.

There’s no doubt that Turnbull’s ascension will build the Liberal vote in Labor seats, as well as in the blue-ribbons like his own seat of Wentworth, But to win his own mandate, Turnbull has to win over outer suburban marginals, and he can’t take them for granted. He has to prove to them, by his politics and policies that, like Abbott, he does understand their lives far removed from the inner cities.

If Turnbull can do this, especially by practising what he preached on spill night about honouring the broad church of the Liberal party, he has every chance of delivering on his saviour’s promise. But if the outer suburbs become Turnbull’s forgotten people, be they tradie paradises like Patterson Lakes or the new suburbs housing Howard’s battlers and Abbott’s aspirationals, the new prime minister may yet be remembered for being a very naughty boy rather than a messiah. There’s his real challenge.

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Show comments
  • Gramus

    A deluded piece full of stereotypes and lacking substance.

    This piece is a weak attempt at recasting the narrative around Tony Abbott’s leadership and will fail as a result. Tony’s Trades were a creation of a media strategy NOT a phenomenon in reality. Given Tony Abbott’s 60% disapproval rating one can conclude that he was completely rejected as PM by middle Australia.

  • Sue Smith

    You’ve got this largely right. Tony made some ‘own goals’ and mis-steps, to be sure. Every PM does, but the game has changed since the ferals of the Twitterati and left wing media jumped on each and every syllable. Labor can expect the same vile feedback if they get into office – but they’ll get the kid glove treatment from Fairfax, The Guardian and the ABC who are already engaged in “Fightback”.

    The chatterers didn’t like Abbott mostly because he had values; the left doesn’t have values, just ‘positions on issues’, so they find anybody who has and holds to these very confronting indeed.

    A Jesuit educated Catholic (Shorten had the same education but he’s sloughed all that off in favour of his bullies in the union movement) is always going to hold strong convictions. That’s something I really admired. But it scares the hell out of the ‘anything goes’ brigade, thinly masked as “progressivism”. Well, that’s the one step forward/two steps backward kind of social policy. Going to go to court because you’ve been arrested? Don’t worry, you don’t have any personal responsibility – we have just the lawyer for you!!! The judge is sympathetic too because he/she doesn’t believe in prison – it ‘makes people worse’. The people on the streets? Well, ‘shit’ sometimes happens.

    Well, you get the (dismal) picture of “progressivism”.

    • Adam d

      Dismal of prison sentences can’t be blamed on Labor both parties fail on that. And for the record many policies you call left are central.. You’re so extremely right you don’t understand that. Raised Christian I’ve learnt God is love his followers aren’t. Self reflection how man sins do you commit a day? Like Abbott you shade unwarranted hatred

      • Adam d

        Share hating my autocorrect

      • Sue Smith

        Rambling, incoherent, shocking syntax and full of rubbish. Gotta love it!

      • Sue Smith

        Sorry, but every time Conservatives have raised issues relating to pathetic and perversely lenient sentencing so-called “progressives” shout at them about Lora Norder auctions and absolutely stonewall discussion (as is their forte). The left has MUCH to answer for in our fractured society where everybody is encouraged to do whatever he/she pleases.

  • David W.

    I don’t know where you get the idea that Abbott was popular with tradies. I’m a tradie (electrician) and I wouldn’t have voted for Abbott in a pink fit. I barely know anyone who would have voted for him.

    • Steve

      Well I am a tradie and I wouldn’t vote for turncoat Turnbull if he was the last candidate on the planet.

      Give me Tony Abbott anyday, over a show pony. A reminder that a majority of the country, big enough to win power, voted for Abbott at the last election. There was still time for that to happen again, despite what the chattering tradies might think.

      • Adam d

        Abbott was the most successful opposition leader ever. But he did screw himself over by making up fake emergencies and crises.. This made him the most unsuccessful primeminister ever. I always recommend think for yourself.. Don’t read the daily telegraph.

      • Sue Smith

        Yes, Turnbull is a show pony – reminds me of Andrew Peacock (what an interestingly appropriate name!!!). He will full of puffery and talk today announcing his ministry and, by God, he reminded me of Kevin Rudd right down to the details! I’m afraid he’ll go the same way.

        Liberals are destined to go into opposition in a year but this may do them good. Somebody with the smarts and genuineness of Morrison will lead the party to victory after 3 years in opposition. Cannot be helped, but there it is. We must, as the Pope says, grin and bear it.

  • Adam d

    As a “bogan” raised middle income family child I can tell you why Abbott will be missed by some. Firstly his scare campaign against house hold energy bills increasing under Labors climate change was a farce. Our country is more in debt now then under Gillard (direct action uses tax payer money to incentivise big polluters to cut emissions rather then taxing them and saving the tax payer… He convinced many this is good. Secondly look at Bendigo; Muslims are facing hatred for building a mosque due to Abbott utilising the ISIS events too scare white Australia. Finally gay marriage, whilst by all polls, has an overwhelming support, he appealed to the racist homophobes that either vote for nationals or fred Nile…. Abbott will only be missed the missinformed, racist or homophobic

    • Adam d

      Left out by at the end there sorry

  • Kelvin Butcher

    The only metaphorical blood on Turnbull/Bishop’s hands is the blood of rightwing commentators like Dean and Hadley, who are angry because they know that as long as Turnbull is PM they will no longer be able to influence government policy via the PM’s office, like they did under an Abbott government.

    • Sue Smith


  • Paul D

    Good article. As the author points out middle Australia is made up of uneducated bogans. It is the job of Malcolm Turnbull to explain issues such as climate change to those who weren’t blessed with an academic education.

  • Evil Genius

    What absolute twaddle!
    Tony Abbott never had any real support among the trades unlike John Howard who actually could speak to the section of society often referred to as “the battlers”.
    Abbott was a combative buffoon who’s harmartia was his own doing – he destroyed his PM’ship by being the man he is.
    Good riddance and we’re better off without his idiocy.
    Malcolm will have a better chance on capturing the middle ground because the majority of Australians are sick to death of hard right religious conservatives who do not represent the bulk of the population.

  • Ken-Suzanne Hall

    ^he Howard government started work choices. Abbott followed suit. They can’t help themselves. I may vote for labor in the future, maybe the Greens but it will not be for the LNP. They have successfully shown their colours, Their arrogance and their lack of compassion both on the world scene and to Australians has been well and truly on show. The leader doesn’t count, they are easily replaced as we witnessed last week. Five in five years. I have watched the politicians tell their lies then watched the Drum on the ABC as our all knowing journalists preach and try to interpret the current events and Australia’s political future. You are all out of touch with the public. Australia’s politics are a mess, simply because we have the worst crop of talent less people I can remember in my 69 years.

  • Lyndon While

    Surely this opinion piece needs to be accompanied by an acknowledgement of Barnes’ history of working with the hard extreme right of the Liberal Party?

  • Greg Manning

    “Inner city latte-sippers”, “intellectual and arty types,” “the literati and Twitterati,” “lefty commentators and social media pseuds,” “hostile chattering class types,” “feral Senate,” “luvvie arts and small ‘l’ liberals” … how many cliché pejoratives can one short piece pack in? This isn’t an argument, it’s a series of stereotypes laid out in a row. It might be popular in advertising, but it ought not to persuade anyone.

  • Philx

    Turnbull’s patronage of the luvvie arts and small ‘l’ liberal views on social issues like gay marriage and especially man-made climate change, where the Patto view is closer to Abbott’s declaration of it being ‘crap’, are also considerably removed from outer suburban realities. On gay marriage, for instance, there’s a feeling of not caring one way or the other, but there’s bewilderment, even anger that it has become a first-priority issue strangling parliament and the economic agenda.”

    Oh how low the standards ,”GAY”stop ,slurs on HOMOSEXUAL ,and when LAW is concerned Not gutter journalism Homosexual ,BIG WORDS WILL BE USED.

    Marriage ,is not “happy gay”and love preceeds it.Contract over property ,not love nothing .