The Australian general election tomorrow comes at a time when the country has to make a clear choice about its economic future. Australians, whatever their political allegiances, generally recognise that the economy has to be rebalanced after a heady mining boom gave way to tumbling commodity prices. That boom is not likely to be replicated any time soon, either. Hence, a buoyant politics of prosperity needs to be replaced with a cautious and calibrated approach. New policies are needed to sustain Australia through an inevitable transition and to take it to a new plane.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's Liberal National Coalition and Mr Bill Shorten's Labor party both have come up with a slew of proposals to take the country forward, but there are important differences between them. Crucially, the government campaign is centred on sound economic management. The Liberals claim to have the fiscal expertise to guide the transition to a diverse economy that creates more jobs and therefore social opportunities. Corporate tax cuts feature prominently on its essentially conservative agenda, one woven around fiscal rectitude. By contrast, Labor has made a familiar pitch by promising to look after the interests of low- and middle-income families and improve the schools and healthcare systems.
Of course, all these objectives are valuable in themselves. To set them up against each other would be a false dichotomy. It is more a case of weighing the political vision of one party against another. Labor's populist declaration is that the worst thing Australians could do for the national budget is to smash the family budget. However, it is equally true that family finances are hardly likely to get better if the national coffers begin to run dry. There also is a danger that some voters might be sidetracked from deciding on these key issues by right-wing parties. These exploit xenophobia directed at immigrants who may be blamed at will for a host of economic and social problems.
The apparent revival of parties that are campaigning on anti-immigration platforms complicates the Australian electoral landscape. They should not be ignored. The anti-immigrant stance of the United Kingdom Independence Party succeeded in upstaging the population policies of both the Tories and Labour in Britain, and helped to propel the country's shocking exit from the European Union. The lesson of Brexit for Australia is that all politics is local. Equally, however, all economics increasingly is global. In the midst of the necessary tension between the two, Australians would wish to vote for a party that offers them the best chance of reconciling their immediate interests with a stake in a global future. The vote might well decide whether a cut-off island mentality or an outlook befitting a promising continent is to rule the day.