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Labor pain and uncertainty

  • 11 November 2019


The Labor Party's dismal performance this year has been bookended by May's election loss and this month's campaign review report. Yet soon after the loss and before the campaign report, before any mature reflection on leadership, the party chose its new federal leader for the next three years, Anthony Albanese. As it reflects publicly on the devastating election loss, discussion has also begun among Labor supporters about whether it has chosen the right leader for the future in Albanese.

The review is an impressive document, the equal of anything that outsiders have produced over the past six months and as good as any previous Labor review. Labor loses so regularly and is such an open party that there have been many such reviews over the years. Headed by Dr Craig Emerson and Jay Weatherill, this review conducted 120 interviews, received 800 submissions and then made 60 findings and 26 recommendations.

Anyone interested in Australian politics, not just Labor supporters, should read it because it canvasses the context, the run-up, the campaign highlights, the voting, the swings, advertising and digital campaigns, and the campaign 'on the ground'. If I was running another party or was thinking about getting active in politics I'd put it top of my 'must read' list.

The report includes a 500 word executive summary which begins: 'Labor lost the election because of a weak strategy that could not adapt to the change in Liberal leadership, a cluttered policy agenda that looked risky and an unpopular leader.' Other matters highlighted include Clive Palmer's outrageous anti-Labor campaign.

It argues that no one thing was decisive but that together they explain the 'massively disappointing' result. There are some omissions, such as any mention of the negative role of the News Corporation papers. It is also quiet on the role of the union movement. It doesn't discuss in detail what the Coalition did well other than by implicit comparison with what Labor did badly.

Any election review after a loss makes the mistake of having too many matters in the negative column. The list is enormous, covering most aspects of the campaign. Yet the loss was a close one, so if only some matters can be addressed Labor will be in with a strong chance in 2022.

In the end the report concludes correctly that those voters who shifted against Labor outnumbered those who shifted to Labor. Labor lost in Queensland, among outer-metropolitan, provincial and rural Australians,