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Learn lessons of Trump's win, Howard warns

AAP logoAAP 11/11/2016 Prashant Mehra

Former Australian prime minister John Howard says he was an unenthusiastic supporter of Hillary Clinton in the US presidential race but understands why voters embraced Donald Trump.

"Really, the last thing a lot of Americans wanted was more of the same, and Hillary Clinton was quintessentially, more of the same," Mr Howard told an HSBC conference on Australia and China in Sydney.

He attributed Mr Trump's win in the election to the desire of the American people for change and blamed political parties across the world of not listening to their voters.

"You had an American nation that, through a combination of reasons, was feeling troubled both about its present state and its future," he said.

But Mr Howard warned against seeing Donald Trump's election as a signal for a return to protectionism, saying the world needs more open trade.

Asked which candidate he preferred, Mr Howard said he would have voted for Hillary Clinton, but quite "unenthusiastically". He has previously criticised some of Mr Trump's stances during the election campaign.

Mr Howard said he recognised that there had been impact of global trade, giving a hypothetical example of a 55-year-old male manufacturing worker in the US mid-west who lost his job because of rising Chinese exports.

But the solution was not to abandon free trade, he said.

"One of the messages that I want to deliver today is this is not a time to walk away, in any shape or form, form globalisation or open trade. Quite the reverse. I think we should double down on our commitment," Mr Howard said.

His remarks came in the context of the US President-elect's promises during his campaign to revitalise American industry by renegotiating trade deals, slapping tariffs on imports from China and Mexico and bringing manufacturing back to American shores.

Mr Howard warned that trade sanction were rarely one-sided and a trade war between the world's two largest economies would be damaging and lead to tensions.

The former leader also criticised political parties across the western world, saying they would do well to study in detail what comes out of the US election.

"All people in politics should understand: it doesn't serve you well to insult the voters. The voters determine your future," Mr Howard said.

Political parties are now far less representative of the generalities of people who vote of them, and are instead being driven more by single-issue agendas.

"Successful political parties are those that attract the broadest possible base," he said.

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