Who are the “quiet Australians”?

Not me, that’s for sure. The ABC investigates:

Claiming victory on election night six months ago, Scott Morrison said it was “the Quiet Australians who have won a great victory tonight”.

“It has been those Australians who have worked hard every day, they have their dreams, they have their aspirations; to get a job, to get an apprenticeship, to start a business, to meet someone amazing,” he said.

“To start a family, to buy a home, to work hard and provide the best you can for your kids. To save for your retirement and to ensure that when you’re in your retirement, that you can enjoy it because you’ve worked hard for it.”

The description is so broad it defies many of the normal defining features of income, class, age, ethnicity or geographic location. But pollsters say it is nonetheless a group that can be defined — and appealed to in political messages.

And when 7.30 went in search of Quiet Australians, it found many who identify themselves that way.

‘I think I am a Quiet Australian’

This family in Oatlands in Western Sydney is among them.

“Every single thing that he said, is what we are,” said Janita Singh of Mr Morrison’s comments on election night.

Ms Singh and her husband Ajendra — or AJ — Diwakar moved to Australia from Fiji 15 years ago and have a son, Manuelle, with cerebral palsy.

“We consider ourselves very lucky to be in a country like Australia,” Ms Singh said.

“I think I am a Quiet Australian,” Mr Diwakar said, “because I don’t go out into the street, shouting, protesting and making other people’s life difficult.

“All I’m doing is I tell myself, I’ll get my day at the poll, at the voting station. And that’s when we will tell people what we think and that’s what we did.”

‘A very diverse group’

Pollster Jim Reed said “Quiet Australians are the majority, so they are a very diverse group”.

“Being the majority means it’s very difficult to pin down exactly what they look like,” said Mr Reed, who set up his own polling consultancy, Resolve, this year after 20 years of polling in Australia, the US and the UK, including for Crosby Textor.

“I think there is this theory that there is somehow a forgotten, quiet bunch of conservatives somewhere. That’s not true at all.”

“They may or may not be of faith. They may or may not have a certain ethnic background. They may or may not be a certain age group. They are incredibly diverse.

Judith Brett has written extensively on the history and culture of the Liberal Party. She observes “the phrase ‘quiet Australians’ is an interesting one, because we have to remember that actually it’s Mr Morrison’s rhetorical phrase”.

“It’s not a description of a group that are out there who are thinking, you know, in the way say class once was.”

There is a tradition of such voters in the Liberal vote.

“When Morrison talks about the Quiet Australians, we can see behind that Howard’s battlers, and even further back we can see Robert Menzies’ forgotten people from his wartime speech that’s become a sort of iconic Liberal Party message now,” Ms Brett said.

“But also, they’ve all got a bit of an edge of grievance or a bit of a worry about being neglected. The forgotten people want to be remembered, the battlers contrast the people who have it easy, the Quiet Australians contrast with the noisy.”

Mr Reed said his research shows Quiet Australians “tend to be focused very much on those immediate and personal concerns and, I guess, therein lies the rub, because we have a group of people who do live in the inner city and they’ve sometimes been called the elite”.

“In the olden days we would have called them the upper class. They are closer to power, closer to the centre of politics, to media, to academia, to business. And they are seen by the majority to be somewhat distracted by social issues, progressive issues sometimes, and more insider political debates, and they seem to be distracted from those very immediate issues, and the majority is simply repaying that in kind by disengaging from those political debates … social media debates. Hence Quiet Australians.”

‘I like practical, down to earth, real solutions’

Just outside Toowoomba, nurse Therese Houghton says her work colleagues thought it was hilarious when she told them she was being interviewed for a piece about Quiet Australians.

Practical issues — or a lack of practical approach — was very important to her in deciding who she would vote for in the federal election.

“I think the clincher came for me when [Labor leader Bill] Shorten stood beside the electric car and started carrying on about electric cars,” she said.

“And it was just idiotic. I just went, ‘Oh my God’. And I just thought, ‘I think you’ve lost it’. And I was convinced from that point.

“I like practical, down to earth, real solutions, things that you can actually do and achieve. Not all the la la land stuff.”

‘We’re busy with kids, working’

Stacey Price and Richard Gough in Ballarat also identify with the Quiet Australians label.

“Yeah, I definitely think that when someone referred to this Quiet Australians it was talking about us,” Mr Gough said.

“I think quiet Australians are people that are probably just too busy … we’re busy with families, we’re busy with kids.”

Pollster Mr Reed said Quiet Australians generally tend to live “outside the inner suburbs of our major cities”.

“By virtue of that they tend to have average, lower incomes, they have fewer job opportunities, and they have less access to infrastructure and services than we enjoy in the centre of our cities,” he said.

“The reason for the [election] result in Queensland, for example, is really a result of there being more Quiet Australians out there who are outside the inner city. They are in suburbia, they are in regional centres, they are in the country.”

‘He’s like everyone else’

While Quiet Australians may have diverse views on some subjects, and even more diverse ways of thinking about them, two striking things emerged from our interviews with them.

The first is that they do not necessarily believe there is much the Government can do about some issues, such as the economy. The second is that their approval of Australia’s current Prime Minister stems from them thinking he is just like them, not because they necessarily see him as a strong leader, or has an impressive policy agenda.

“I think I’m probably more swayed by the fact that he has said, or someone said, he’s just a guy from Western Sydney with a mortgage like everyone else.

“If you invited him for a cup of tea [he] will be happy to come down to your house,” Ms Singh said.

“I have a great respect for him,” Mr Diwakar said. “I know him from his tourism days — ‘Where the bloody hell are you?’ You know, and he’s a Sharks supporter. He’s a rugby league man. And he’s a churchgoer.”

‘What is Extinction Rebellion doing?’

These voters are generally satisfied with the Government’s performance — or say it is too early to judge — but think the Government needs to do more on drought assistance and to increase support for the unemployed. Some say the Government is not really doing very much.

They are not rusted-on Coalition voters. They are worried about climate change and are taking personal steps to try to deal with it, but resent those who protest about it and other issues too.

“They see people supergluing themselves to road crossings in Brisbane, or having the luxury of driving a caravan up from Tasmania to Queensland to talk about climate change, and it’s not that they don’t care about those issues, but they are taking very practical personal steps to address environmental concerns rather than going out and protesting.”

“You know, what is Extinction Rebellion doing?” asked Mr Diwakar.

“Lately there’s just been so much hysteria,” Ms Houghton said. “And the whole Greta [Thunberg] factor, and everyone swanning around becoming absolutely ridiculously hysterical over it. And I think I really liked [that] Scott Morrison basically said, we won’t be swayed by any of that, we will do what we’re going to do.”

“I think everybody agrees it’s an issue,” Ms Price said.

“And for some people, it may not be the most important issue. The noisy Australians almost make you feel like you don’t care about climate change.”

‘Newstart needs to be increased’

Mr Diwakar said the Prime Minister is “very practical and things that he says we want to believe him, we are believing him”.

“But there are certain things that five months or six months down the line I think he should have done better.

Ms Houghton is also not happy about the Government’s refusal to move on Newstart.

“One thing that I am quite annoyed by is the amount of Newstart,” she said.

“I think Newstart needs to be increased massively.

“It’s not going to be money that’s going to be put in savings accounts, it’s going to be money that’s going to be spent immediately.”

Ms Price, however, agrees with the Government.

“I feel that if we keep increasing these allowances, where’s the incentive for somebody to come off the allowance?” she said.

‘Farmers are being treated like dirt’

Overall, the jury is out for these voters and they are prepared to give the Prime Minister and his Government some time.

“I think he is doing enough,” Mr Diwakar said. “From the election policies, they are doing what they said that they will do, and that’s what we voted for.”

“In the six months after the election, Mr Morrison has lived up to expectations perhaps 85 to 90 per cent,” Mr Gough said. “In 10 per cent, in a few things, he has let us down,

Ms Price agreed. “Watch this space I guess,” she said.

Ms Houghton said she thinks “this seems to be a lot more stable Government than we’ve had in a long time, in a long time. And that makes me feel a bit better”.

Ms Brett said: “I think for those people who are not so involved in politics, I think there’s a bit of a wait and see.

“The economy is not doing that well. There’s a lot of signs, you know, a lot of empty shops in the areas that I walk around.

“People’s houses, people’s finances are under a lot of strain. And we don’t really know what it is that Morrison wants to do except stay in government, and he seems to me to be a very reactive prime minister.”

Mr Reed said: “I think right now all Australians,not just Quiet Australians, are focused on a number of issues, particularly things like stagnant wages, where the economy is going, what’s happening with the drought. And a lot of people are relatively positive and comfortable right now but uncertain for the future.

“They are really looking for signs of hope and I think there is a hope attached to this Government still.

“Australians are great at giving people a chance, giving people an opportunity, and I think they are willing to do that. But certainly they want these issues addressed.”

It’s a bit more simple for me. Quiet Australians are Queeenlanders, end of story.

David Llewellyn-Smith

David Llewellyn-Smith is Chief Strategist at the MB Fund and MB Super. David is the founding publisher and editor of MacroBusiness and was the founding publisher and global economy editor of The Diplomat, the Asia Pacific’s leading geo-politics and economics portal.

He is also a former gold trader and economic commentator at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the ABC and Business Spectator. He is the co-author of The Great Crash of 2008 with Ross Garnaut and was the editor of the second Garnaut Climate Change Review.

Latest posts by David Llewellyn-Smith (see all)

Comments

    • The Horrible Scott Morrison MP

      Wrong. They’re people who want to contribute as much as possible to their families and to their fellow human beings by working. They need protection from the hateful ideology of the left which is all about taking the fruits of people’s labour to ensure universal government dependency.

    • ContrarianMEMBER

      That’s what I was thinking the ABC degenerates trying to twist who really is the quiet Australians.

  1. “Quiet Australians” are all those people who will bend over and take whatever people willing to play with their ideologies care to ram into them. The complacent, opinionated and lazy masses.

  2. Appears the Quiet Australians occupy the Venn diagram overlap of ignorant Australian morons, Christian Australian morons and selfish Australian morons…

  3. Quiet Australians are the property owning classes — the more property they own the quieter they are! 😉

    ‘Cept round the BBQ

  4. The silent majority is deep in debt, adept at rent seeking and wishing to lower hte rates / open hte gates.

  5. Is there any significance in retirees moving to Queensland? It sounds like a masterful LNP plan to push up house prices, encourage retirees from Sydney and Melbourne to free up equity by moving to Queensland, and gain a demographic strangehold on democracy.

  6. Janita and Ajendra Singh. Who moved here from Fiji 15 years ago and can’t wait for their next chance to vote. FMD.

    • Jumping jack flash

      If you read between the lines the article is aimed at Australian voters to change their attitudes to politics and politicians.

  7. Jumping jack flash

    So close…
    They’re getting very close to the realisation that there are no “workers” anymore. “Howard’s Battler” is dead. Hawke’s “Noble Worker” is gone.

    The new “quiet Australian” is the aspirational property investor, who may or may not be a mum or dad, who may or may not already own a ppor, but whatever the case must have access to enormous piles of debt quickly and easily, with the smallest deposit possible, or no deposit preferably.

    Whichever party promises to knock down the barriers to obtaining debt is surely going to get the vote. The Libs are seen as the ones to provide the necessary debt, and the ones who can speak the banks’ language.

    Labor is seen as being there to support the poor people. The bogans. Nobody identifies as a poor person or a bogan anymore.

  8. As far as I can tell, ‘quiet Australians’ are uninformed, politically apathetic, taken in by mainstream media, don’t really care about others, can’t be bothered to think about things in the long term or national/global level issues, love a handout, tax-cut, tax-offset, subsidy, etc…

    So it’s obvious why the LNP love them. Since they’ve captured the mainstream media, they can oh-so-easily delude the majority into voting against their best interests.

    • You are over generalising and falling into this ABC ‘everyone else must be idiots’ trick. Hillary tried this by matronising ‘the deplorables’ in 2016.. proved a dumb strategy.
      Try reading Jonathan Haidt on this. You are better off at least pretending to be interested in other people. No community, no society. Basic.

  9. Interested PartyMEMBER

    “It’s a bit more simple for me. Quiet Australians are Queeenlanders, end of story.”

    lol…troll time, eh?

  10. let me correct this. yes it’s Queensland (I’m one too).
    Labour intentionally lost Queensland
    (they didn’t show up @ polling booths, I went to five in gold coast – crickets).
    Why would they drink the LNP’s shitty poison chalice? let them gulp it down….
    no brainer really.

    ps. should we really give olds a week to vote?? my view is if you can’t get your rotten carcass down on voting day, then you don’t count.

  11. curl of the burl

    If you spin the ABC logo on w wheel going exactly 66.6 km/hr, it becomes a shwastika. True story. Like Epstein killing himself.

  12. “Mr Reed said his research shows Quiet Australians “tend to be focused very much on those immediate and personal concerns ”

    This is surely the key point. It’s hard to care about electric cars in 20 years (or even saving the barrier reef) when you can barely pay your bills now and some recent arrival is competing for your job.

  13. Quiet Australians prefer to do their lobbying behind the scenes often with brown paper bags full of cash.

  14. Janita Singh works as an editor for The Australian.
    Just another Quiet Australian….
    She quickly changed her Twitter profile after the article was published.
    (so many things to cover up, so little time..)