Both major parties published reviews of their federal election campaigns last month, the Liberal Party’s being conducted by former federal director Brian Loughnane and current Victorian Senator Jane Hume, and Labor’s being the work of Greg Combet, Lenda Oshalem, Linda White and Craig Emerson, the first two being listed as chairs and the latter two as panel members. To the best of my recollection, the publication of such reviews started to become standard some time in the noughties, although it was then generally made explicit that parts of the reports – presumably the most interesting bits – were redacted for internal viewing only. This post offers a summary of what the Liberal Party’s report had to say, and will be followed by a similar effort on the Labor report when I can find an idle moment for it.
In contrast to suggestions that Liberal internal polling had performed poorly during the Victorian state campaign, the report states that the party got its money’s worth out of its “benchmark” polling during the campaign, which it notes did not employ robo-polling. This polling showed the Coalition two-party preferred “improved at least 3-4% over the campaign period in the key seats polled”, although there wasn’t much evidence of this in published polling. Further detail that is provided tells a familiar story of weak support for the Liberals among young women, compounded at this election by a heavy swing among middle-aged women.
On this basis, the review reaches the uncontroversial conclusion that a perceived unresponsiveness to issues important to women was “not sufficiently and effectively addressed”. As is often the case with these reviews though, it does a more convincing job of identifying problems than solutions. The report rejects following Labor’s example by introducing quotas, calling only for “targets” for parliamentary representation and party membership with no mechanism for meeting them. It notes the difficulty of a membership becoming ever less representative of the electorate as it declines in numbers, a problem with deep causes that the listed recommendations are unlikely to overcome.
What remained of the party membership was said to have been further demoralised by widespread denial of rank-and-file preselection ballots. Delays to the process arising from factional disputes discouraged strong potential candidates from nominating and in some cases caused the wrong ones to be chosen, which was “a particularly problem in New South Wales”. State party administrations in general are said to have become dominated by factional warlords who had failed to build networks in the community. Once again though, the scope of the recommendations offered is limited: the federal executive is advised to set preselection timelines to be followed by the state divisions, and to implement a code of conduct for those involved in party affairs, “collegial and professional standards” having been found wanting in some quarters. The report rejects the notion of a US-style primary system, as advocated recently by Dominic Perrottet.
While Scott Morrison’s unpopularity is noted, the report to some extent paints the government as a victim of the pandemic, which allowed it little leeway to pay due regard to “political management” and elevated the profile of Labor Premiers to the Coalition’s disadvantage. This was accompanied by a failure to “define Labor and its leader before the campaign”, causing Anthony Albanese to appear as a “low-risk alternate Prime Minister”.
Perhaps constrained by a lack of authority to address policy issues, the report has little more to offer on the teal independent challenge than suggesting a well-resourced campaign of personal attacks might make the problem go away, notwithstanding the abject failure of such efforts during the campaign and the enthusiastic co-operation they received from News Corp (here some credit is due to The Australian columnist Katrina Grace Kelly, who in the wake of the Victorian result wondered if “sections of the electorate now conflate the party with sections of the media, which they regard as toxic, and perhaps they are voting to reject both this type of media as well as the party they think it represents”).
Other points of note: waiting until late in the campaign to announce major policies encouraged a perception that the government lacked a fourth-term agenda; the government’s initial support of Clive Palmer’s High Court action on border closures was an unforced error contributing to the party’s Western Australian debacle; and the party needs to pay closer attention to emerging social media platforms.