Review of Labor election loss and policies - ABC radio interview

November 07, 2019

PAUL TURTON: The Labor report regarding the lost federal election has been released today. Former South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill and former trade minister Craig Emerson have spent months investigating the defeat. In their final report they have made 26 recommendations for the ALP to take to the next election. Here to talk us through them is Labor’s Pat Conroy who of course is the Federal Member for Shortland. He joins us now. Pat, good afternoon and thanks for coming on the program. Mr Shorten was unpopular; the polls kept telling the party that in the lead-up to the election. Should you have done something?
PAT CONROY, MEMBER FOR SHORTLAND: The review identified three overarching issues of why we lost the election. One was a poor campaign and a lack of strategy around it. Secondly, we had too many policies, which scared people. And third, an unpopular leader. And those three were key factors in the election loss.
TURTON: We know of course that Australians were tired of both parties stabbing their Prime Ministers in the back, and of course the Labor Party reacted by putting in place a system that made it difficult to remove a leader. Would you have ditched Bill Shorten in the lead-up to the poll if it was easy to do so?
CONROY: No. One of our strengths over the last six years was our unity and discipline. And you can contrast that – and I only mention it because you did – we went through three Prime Ministers during that period and Bill actually saw off two Prime Ministers in Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott. So, we were campaigning against the chaos and disunity of the Government. So I don’t think it makes sense for us to have changed leaders if that was the campaign we were going to run. And ultimately there were a whole lot of factors completely unrelated to Bill Shorten for why we lost the election. And in hindsight some of those should have been very clear at the time and we should have responded appropriately.
TURTON: You mentioned the confusing the messages that went out to the public. Do I distill that down to franking credits? Was that the big problem?
CONROY: It was a factor, although ironically the people most impacted by our change to franking credits voted for us. The swing towards us in higher income people was there. I think it was more that we tried to do a lot of things. We were very much focused on raising revenue through tax to spend on some excellent new policies and in the end it was people who had more economic insecurity in their life – people whose jobs were less certain – who thought that we were too much of a risk. So it was basically trying to do too much too quickly that scared people, and the Government and Clive Palmer running some ferociously effective scare campaigns.
TURTON: Pat Conroy, your background in politics – I mean you work in the system and your degree is in political science as well, isn’t it?
CONROY: Political economy.
TURTON: You know far more about this than I do. The trend towards presidential campaigning, did that work against the Labor Party do you think for the reasons we’ve outlined?
CONROY: It did in that we didn’t respond and change our campaign when the Liberals got rid of Malcolm Turnbull. We still ran the same campaign. And Scott Morrison was a bit of a blank slate to the Australian people. And he was able to define himself, in the words of the review, as this daggy, suburban dad, baseball cap wearing guy. And I would submit he is not that. He is actually a lot of different things that are negative and are hurting the Australian people. But he was able to present this image and we didn’t disrupt that performance. And so we certainly suffered in the presidential campaigning, as though we were running against Malcolm Turnbull, when in fact it was Scott Morrison who was the opponent.
TURTON: Based on what you know personally, and given the 26 recommendations, just wind back the clock 12 months and tell us how you would have gone about it.
CONROY: I think we would have had fewer policies. We would have articulated them better. We would have explained them in a more cogent way. We would have focused on explaining why people should turf out the Government. And all those factors are still there – whether it’s the softening economy, inaction on climate change, the disunity, all those things were there. But because we had so many things that scared people, people couldn’t focus on the Government. So I think reducing the number of policies we offered, being very clear on what our values were and really putting forward a clear explanation of why they should vote this Government out and vote for Labor.
TURTON: In our backyard climate was an issue. We saw Joel Fitzgibbon’s seat come under threat and we saw that happened in Queensland around the Adani project. What are your reflections on that?
CONROY: I think there were a few factors. In central Queensland and to some extent up the Hunter Valley people were very dissatisfied with us trying to be all things to all people on Adani. I think they were very unhappy with that. And they were also very unhappy with the fact that we presented an image in some forums as not being interested in their jobs and not acknowledging the sacrifices and contribution of coalminers over 200 years. I don’t think that is directly related to our climate policy, which wouldn’t have impacted on thermal coalmining in our region or central Queensland. It was more about how we presented all our policies and people weren’t sure that we were being focused on improving the economic wellbeing of all Australians. That’s why people in our region swung so hard, because they were very focused on economic insecurity, very focused on where the next pay cheque is coming from, can they afford to pay their electricity, their mortgage, their rent. And will their kids have a better future. And I think that just meant that people weren’t prepared to trust us.
TURTON: Pat, in regard to the 26 recommendations from Mr Weatherill and Mr Emerson, is there a formal process for the party meeting and are you likely to embrace all 26?
CONROY: The national executive has accepted and released the report. Anthony Albanese is giving a response to the National Press Club tomorrow and I think he’ll set out the process going forward. I support all 26 recommendations and I want them all implemented. I want us to be in the best position to campaign at the 2022 election and put forward a really strong alternative agenda that people can have trust and vote in. People were to some extent scared off by what we were offering, and by what other people were saying we wanted to do, and I’m really looking forward to running a clear campaign explaining what we want to do improve the country.