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Labor election review blames Shorten, policy and "weak strategy"


UPDATED: Labor’s federal election loss has been put down to a combination of Bill Shorten’s unpopularity, a “cluttered” policy agenda, and a failure to adapt to the ascension of Scott Morrison as prime minister.

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Weatherill and fellow party elder Craig Emerson presented the results of their long-awaited post-mortem to the national executive today ahead of its public release a short time ago.

The former Premier has already addressed local party members on local lessons from the surprise loss, with InDaily revealing his narrative concentrated on three specific areas: a glut of poorly-explained policy, chaotic campaign coordination between the party’s leadership hubs and a failure to address the enduring unpopularity of Shorten.

“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,” the review finds.

“Not one of these shortcomings was decisive but in combination, they explain the result.”

High expectations of victory – fuelled by public opinion polls and betting markets – led the party to assume it had a better campaigning apparatus than its opponents and it gave little consideration to people questioning Labor’s strategy and agenda.

Its digital campaigning, in particular, was outdated and outcompeted and the party must urgently and dramatically improve this area.

The review makes 60 findings and 26 recommendations for change to put the party on track to win at the next election.

It bluntly states “Bill Shorten’s unpopularity contributed to the election loss”, but also says none of its conclusions should be taken as a personal reflection on the former leader.

Shorten himself addressed the public fallout ahead of the report’s release today, with a Tweet addressing his own perceived campaign failures, including the party’s controversial push to scrap franking credit cash refunds – which was not grandfathered, unlike Labor’s negative gearing policy.

“Were the universe to grant re-runs, I would campaign with fewer messages, more greatly emphasise the jobs opportunities in renewable energies, and take a different position on franking credits,” the former leader wrote.

The review criticises the constant flow of spending announcements throughout the election campaign, saying the “sheer size, complexity and frequency” of these policy presentations meant they crowded each other out, became hard for local candidates to sell and raised the anxieties of economically insecure, low-income voters that Labor “would crash the economy and risk their jobs”.

A review of the national platform should focus on the party’s values and allow the shadow cabinet to develop policies and determine when they are released.

“The campaign policies offered can be bold but should form part of a coherent Labor story, be more limited in number and complexity, and be easily explainable so they are less capable of misrepresentation,” it states.

And the party should take care to be more inclusive, developing a strategy to engage multicultural voters – with a specific mention of Chinese Australians – and abandon derogatory mentions of the “big end of town”.

The reviewers say the party must set up a formal campaign committee early, make sure robust local campaigns organisations are in place and focus on fewer target seats.
It found the party’s resources were stretched as it targeted too many seats in the May poll.

Shorten said the report should generate much debate and discussion within the party.


“There are many players on a team but as captain of that team I accept full responsibility for the policies taken to the election,” he said.

“And while the review has not considered or reviewed the merit of those policies it is important that the party does.

The review did examine the “relentless and unprecedented multi-million-dollar political attacks on me” by Clive Palmer and the Liberals that “successfully tarnished my public standing”, he said.

“This is an important lesson for any future leader to confront.”

Shorten again indicated he intends to stick around politics, with the 52-year-old saying he was committed to continuing to contribute to public life “for the next 20 years”.

Labor is hoping it can end nearly six months of navel-gazing with the release of the election campaign post-mortem.

Queensland senator Anthony Chisholm wrote today in The Australian that regional towns in his home state had been “hammering Labor” and the party needed to “find a way to lower emissions without leaving regional communities behind”.

Chisholm says regional Queensland had been battered by unprecedented drought and short-changed by “six years of Coalition government [that] has failed them”.

Leader Anthony Albanese – who took over from Shorten after the May election loss – will make his response at the National Press Club tomorrow.

Labor MPs from the left and right have been making their cases for the party’s future in recent weeks.

Reasons floated for the loss include Shorten’s leadership, and the extensive and detailed suite of policies with the proposed tax changes a particular target.

Mixed messages on the Adani coal mine, the role of mainstream and social media and a failure to convince voters the party cared enough about their jobs and aspirations have also been blamed.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has already offered a brutal assessment, saying Australians neither liked nor trusted Shorten.

But insiders say Rudd was telling everyone during the campaign he thought Labor would win.

Another view is that the party misdiagnosed the 2016 election results as enthusiasm for Labor’s agenda rather than a repudiation of Malcolm Turnbull, and failed to adjust tactics when Scott Morrison became prime minister months out from the 2019 poll.

Frontbencher Tanya Plibersek, who was deputy leader under Shorten, said it was important the party learn from its mistakes, but added that people were tired of seeing Labor “do its therapy in public”.

Albanese made the first of a planned series of vision statements last week as part of his push to reshape the party and prepare it to fight the 2022 election.

Some have complained his speech on jobs lacked detail.

However, one MP said now was the right time for Labor to be talking about its values, and the party should not fall into the trap of specifying policies too early as it did before the last election.

-with AAP

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