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Why ‘economic anxiety’ doesn’t explain One Nation and the far-right’s return

Greg Jericho comments in The Guardian (8.8.17) that a recent Grattan Institute report suggests those who attribute the rise of nationalist parties, such as One Nation, to regional inequality are over-egging the case.

‘The re-emergence of nationalistic fringe parties such as One Nation caused many to wonder why, given our continued run without a recession, some areas of the country appear to have turned away from mainstream politics. One suggestion often referred to somewhat derisively as “economic anxiety” argues that some areas – especially those outside the cities – have been left behind. However, a paper by the Grattan Institute pours cold water on this idea, arguing that the economic divide between Australia’s cities and regions is not getting bigger.

‘Clearly the economy of our nation has changed greatly over the past century – and even in the past few decades. While there has always been a large number of people working in services – from education and health through to retail trade and administration – in the past 30 years, the share of people working in services has risen from 69% to 79%. That is a difference of about 1.2 million people.

‘The Grattan Institute’s latest working paper, Regional patterns of Australia’s economy and population, looks at the impact of these upheavals to see whether some of the increase in support for more protectionist and nationalistic parties and policies has been fuelled by economic factors that are hidden by general measures such as GDP and national unemployment rates.

‘As the paper notes, these changes have geographic consequences. Its authors note that “the loss of agricultural and manufacturing jobs is felt most acutely in regional areas and on the city fringes”.

‘… The shift from agriculture, the decline of manufacturing and the mining boom that was mixed with an influx of income and people (much of which was transitory) has had many wondering if this upheaval and the fact that residents in regional areas feel they are being left behind has caused the increase in support for previously fringe parties.

‘But, at first glance, it would appear this sense of “economic anxiety” is either misplaced or overhyped as a reason for political change.’

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