THURSDAY, 7 NOVEMBER 2019
SUBJECT: Labor campaign review.
LEON DELANEY: As you know, Labor today released its self-examination of what went so horribly wrong at the May election. The report was prepared by Craig Emerson and Jay Weatherill. It's a 92 page review. It's made 60 findings and 26 recommendations. In short, it says that Labor quote ‘lost the election because of a weak strategy that could not adapt to the change in the Liberal leadership, a cluttered policy agenda looked risky and an unpopular leader’. Joining me now is the Federal Member for Fenner and Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury and Charities Andrew Leigh. Good afternoon.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good afternoon, Leon. How are you?
DELANEY: Really well. How are you today.
LEIGH: Terrifically well.
DELANEY: Do you agree with the findings of this report?
LEIGH: Yes, I do. I think it's a hard hitting but important review, and one that talks about the importance of getting your digital strategy right, of making sure there's policy coherence and ensuring that we are focused in our message. We were very keen to solve as many of Australia's problems as we could, but in so doing - in pulling together the broadest policy agenda that Labor's taking for an election in my lifetime - I think we didn't carry that core message that a great campaign needs. And the review talks about some of those challenges.
DELANEY: When we talk about a weak strategy that couldn't adapt to the change in the Liberal leadership, I can see that. When we talk about an unpopular leader, that's the sad reality. Bill Shorten didn't really poll terribly well in the opinion polls, although to be fair you don't necessarily have to be a popular leader in order to win an election. But the point about a cluttered policy agenda - I don't know if people were confused by being cluttered. I think they just didn't like the content of some of the policies.
LEIGH: The review goes through where the swings occurred against us. These swings were largely not occurring in places where people would have been paying more tax under Labor. The areas with the highest franking credits receipts for example tended to swing towards Labor rather than away. So I think that does point to the challenge of the huge amount of money that was arrayed against us. Clive Palmer spent nearly $10 million just in the last week of the campaign, more than the Liberal and Labor parties combined. The scare campaigns that we were subject to were more corrosive than we'd seen in 2016.
DELANEY: Oh yeah.
LEIGH: We were up against a barrage of mistruth. We were taking a positive policy agenda, perhaps to the benefit of hindsight should have been less positive than what we did. But I also was pretty proud of Labor's willingness to be very upfront with the Australian people about what we wanted to do to build a better country.
DELANEY: Yeah. I think you're right about the Clive Palmer money, that had an impact obviously, and it would be crazy if it didn't have an impact. Otherwise why would he have spent the money. The second thing obviously too, I think that the misinformation was damaging for Labor and it was clear, not only misinformation but just totally wrong information that was put about not necessarily by the Liberal Party itself, but other third party actors were very active there and then the Liberals jumped on the bandwagon. But when it comes to franking credits, I still have reservations about that because I remember at the time I spoke to lots of people and the idea of eroding the retirement saving plans of people who have already retired got under the skin. Not just of the people who had retired, but their family members, their children, their grandchildren, their nieces and nephews and their friends and neighbours. A lot of people thought ‘well hang on, that's not right’. Taking money away from old people, changing the rules, moving the goalposts after the game has concluded. So I think that really was a factor.
LEIGH: Well, I can only point to the demographics of the swing, which were that we tended to have bigger swings against us in areas where there were less receipt of franking credits. But we can have a reasonable debate about that policy and whether the five or six billion dollars a year it costs is the best way of spending those resources. We did that because we want to make a difference with schools and hospitals. But clearly, when you lose an election all your policies are up for grabs, and you look to build another slate of policies next time. It’s worth mentioning, Leon, we did of course get a swing towards us here in the ACT. Half percent swing towards us here, 1.3 per cent in Victoria. So there were places where we picked up a swing, but then there were places like the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia, where we saw swings against us.
DELANEY: I'm guessing you've got an eye on the clock and realise we don't have a lot of time, but I wanted to mention those areas where you had a swing against you in the less well-off areas - a lot of that was to do with fear about jobs, the attacks on big business. Now that's been identified in this report too, and I think correctly so. And of course the concerns in the coal mining areas, I think that's also been fairly obvious in hindsight, but it's just interesting to note that Bill Shorten put out a statement earlier today saying that if he had his time again he would have had a different position on the franking credits. So that must be some sort of acknowledgement that it was a policy that just didn't resonate.
LEIGH: Look, it certainly is and I think Bill's right on that. To your point Leon about the uncertainty over jobs, that’s our big challenge over the next three years, I think. I don't see our next three years as being about coming up with a cunning marketing slogan. I see it as being about working out what are the kind of core challenges that Australia faces, and job uncertainty is clearly one for many Australians. Working out the right ways of addressing that and then building a message around it. From policy coherence comes your message, not the other way around.
DELANEY: How do you feel about Graham Richardson today? Apparently last night he said ‘for the first time in my life, I voted one Liberal’. Now since then he's tried to backpedal on that and say ‘I actually, I actually I gave him a second preference’ but that was what he said last night.
LEIGH: Well, we certainly need all the votes we can get. I'm hoping we can get Graham’s next time around, but this is something that's happening across the world. You know, from Britain to Germany, Italy to the US, progressives are facing challenges in getting their message out. In a digitised environment, scare campaigns are easier than ever to run. Fear is easier to campaign on than hope, and so a party of progressive change needs to work out exactly how we manage to be the Labor Party that Australia needs.
DELANEY: I thought you might have excommunicated Richo, but never mind.
DELANEY: Thanks. Thanks very much for your time today.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.