.

  • Written by Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

The media have been itching for a report that blamed Labor’s defeat on a dud leader. But the Review of Labor’s 2019 Federal Election Campaign, chaired by former Rudd and Gillard government minister Craig Emerson and former South Australian premier Jay Weatherill, is proportionate in the blame it sends Bill Shorten’s way. Shorten’s unpopularity contributed to Labor’s defeat, but there were wider problems that cannot be put down to leadership alone.

The review is a nuanced account of why Labor lost. Its brief explanation for that loss – a combination “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” – belies the sophistication of the report as whole.


Read more: Grattan on Friday: Labor's post-mortem leaves the hard work still to be done


The document does better than most post-election analysis that has so far come from within the party. Some of this has been so tendentious and self-serving that its value in either explaining what went wrong or in pointing a way forward has been close to nil.

The review suggests that central to the party’s failure was that it did not reassess its approach adequately when Scott Morrison replaced Malcolm Turnbull. Rhetoric that might have made sense when the Liberal Party was being led by “Mr Harbourside Mansion”, as well as proposing business tax cuts, made rather less sense once the “daggy suburban dad” in the baseball cap was in charge.

Labor made too little of the chaos in the Coalition. Instead, the ALP made itself the issue at the election, a kind of government-in-waiting with a target on its back.

University-educated voters in the southern states, when they tuned in to Morrison, might have heard a sound something like the air escaping from a whoopee cushion. And such voters swung to the Labor Party in the election.

But voters in the suburbs and the regions, especially in Queensland, liked what they saw. So did professing Christians, who liked it even more when they saw photos of the devout believer at prayer, right arm pointing to heaven.

Christian voters swung behind the devout Scott Morrison in the 2019 election. Mick Tsikas/AAP

On the other hand, many voters saw a danger to their already insecure lives in Labor’s multitude of expensive promises – and the taxation changes proposed to pay for them. They believed Morrison when he warned them of the risks of voting Labor.

Then there was coal. The authors of the report do seem to struggle with Adani. Like just about everyone else, they know it’s a financial and environmental mess. But in terms of electoral politics, Adani is radioactive.

Labor suffered in Queensland and the Hunter Valley as a result of its ambiguity, but the authors are silent on what the party could have done differently. If it had been less ambiguous about Adani, it would have needed to take a stand. But what should that stand have been?

The report is insistent that Labor should not alienate progressive and well-educated voters for whom climate change matters a lot and Adani is toxic. But how can it avoid their alienation while also pleasing economically insecure voters in Queensland? Is this simply a matter of finessing one’s language, or do the problems run deeper?

This is perhaps the report’s weakness. It is good at setting out the kinds of dilemmas Labor faces, which the party failed to grapple with at the 2019 election. It bemoans the party’s tendency to become the vehicle for various interests with diverse grievances, at the expense of serving the needs of economically insecure working-class voters. The habit of trying to serve too many masters multiplies policies and increases the complexity of campaign messaging, while undermining the party’s ability to craft a coherent story based on the party’s “core values”.

Yet the report has little to say on what such a narrative would look like or what those core values actually are. We are told the latter include:

improving the job opportunities, security and conditions of working Australians, fairness, non-discrimination on the basis of race, religion and gender, and care for the environment.

But there is nothing much here that would prompt an undecided voter to look to Labor rather than the Coalition, especially if they like the look of the Coalition’s leader better than Labor’s – as most did in 2019.

And then, when the review tries to set out what a “persuasive growth story” might look like, we are treated to the usual history lesson on the Hawke and Keating governments, whose “whole economic strategy” was about promoting “growth, and through it, jobs” (otherwise known as “jobs and growth”). For the Labor Party, it seems, it’s always 1983. We just need to find the winged keel to get us home.

Rather as the Hawke and Keating governments did, the review pushes any idea of redistribution, or of reducing inequality, to the very margins of Labor philosophy and policy. Indeed, the hosing down of such aspirations – modest as they were at the 2019 election – may well help to explain one of the strangest silences in the report: its failure to deal with the role of the Murdoch press.

The Murdoch media didn’t merely favour the government over the opposition. It campaigned vigorously for the return of the Coalition. And it is a vast empire, with a monopoly through much of regional Queensland, for instance. It is hard not to see in the review’s silence on this matter a clearing of the way for a future kissing of the ring of the familiar kind.

Still, there is much that is valuable in the review. There is its frank criticism of the deficiencies in the Labor Party’s strategising and the incoherence of its campaign organisation. There is the news that the party’s own internal data pointed to the possibility of the catastrophe that ultimately occurred – polling outside the party prompted a misreading of the readily available evidence.


Read more: Why the 2019 election was more like 2004 than 1993 – and Labor has some reason to hope


The review is also particularly good on the damaging effects of Clive Palmer’s massive advertising splurge. And it makes a fair attempt to relate the Labor Party’s problems to wider international trends, such as the decline of trust, the insecurity of working life for many, the crisis of social democracy, and the search for convenient scapegoats – all of which have undermined the position of parties of reform.

Best of all, the review spares us a lot of rubbish about moving the party to the centre, or the right. It does make much of the need for Labor to reinvigorate its appeal to those groups who seem to have been most alienated at the 2019 election.

It recognises – correctly in my view – that Labor’s position on Adani performed unfortunate symbolic work, suggesting to people especially in parts of Queensland “that Labor did not value them or the work they do”.

But when your primary vote in Queensland is tracking at about 25% and you hold fewer than a quarter of the lower-house seats in that state and Western Australia combined, you probably don’t need a review to tell you something has to change.

Frank Bongiorno does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Authors: Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

Read more http://theconversation.com/nuance-and-nostalgia-labors-election-review-provides-useful-insights-and-inevitable-harking-back-to-hawke-126584

Putting homes in high-risk areas is asking too much of firefighters

The impacts of the bushfires that are overwhelming emergency services in New South Wales and Queensland suggest houses are being built in areas where the risks are high. We rely heavily on emergency s...

Mark Maund, PhD Candidate, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Newcastle - avatar Mark Maund, PhD Candidate, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Newcastle

Natural history on TV: how the ABC took Australian animals to the people

The 'natural sounds' of native animals like this koala had been heard on ABC Radio, but bringing them to TV audiences in the 1960s presented new and exciting challenges. abcarchives/flickr, CC BY-NCMo...

Gay Hawkins, Professor, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University - avatar Gay Hawkins, Professor, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University

If weight loss is your only goal for exercise, it's time to rethink your priorities

Choose an activity you enjoy so it's easier to stick to. ShutterstockAs an aesthetic society, we often demonise body fat and stigmatise people with lots of it. There’s often an assumption that p...

Evelyn Parr, Research Fellow in Exercise Metabolism and Nutrition, Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research, Australian Catholic University - avatar Evelyn Parr, Research Fellow in Exercise Metabolism and Nutrition, Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research, Australian Catholic University

Old white men dominate school English booklists. It's time more Australian schools taught Australian books

Shakespeare's plays are still some of the most studied texts in school English. from shutterstock.comIn recent weeks, Australian universities’ commitment to teaching Australian literature has co...

Larissa McLean Davies, Associate Professor Language and Literacy Education, University of Melbourne - avatar Larissa McLean Davies, Associate Professor Language and Literacy Education, University of Melbourne

There's a yawning gap in the plan to keep older Australians working

A key reason for deciding to retire has to do with getting tired at and through work, how that tiredness affects partners and families. www.shutterstock.comIn the past decade a 30-year trend to earlie...

Andreas Cebulla, Senior Research Fellow, South Australian Centre for Economic Studies, University of Adelaide - avatar Andreas Cebulla, Senior Research Fellow, South Australian Centre for Economic Studies, University of Adelaide

Climate explained: why coastal floods are becoming more frequent as seas rise

As sea levels rise, it becomes easier for ocean waves to spill further onto land. from www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND CC BY-ND Climate Explained is a collaboration between Th...

James Renwick, Professor, Physical Geography (climate science), Victoria University of Wellington - avatar James Renwick, Professor, Physical Geography (climate science), Victoria University of Wellington

Instead of showing leadership, Twitter pays lip service to the dangers of deep fakes

Neural networks can generate artificial representations of human faces, as well as realistic renderings of actual people. ShutterstockFake videos and doctored photographs, often based on events such a...

David Cook, Lecturer, Computer and Security Science,Edith Cowan University, Edith Cowan University - avatar David Cook, Lecturer, Computer and Security Science,Edith Cowan University, Edith Cowan University

Government to inject economic stimulus by accelerating infrastructure spend

The government is responding to increasing concern about the faltering economy by bringing forward A$3.8 billion of infrastructure investment into the next four years, including $1.8 billion for the c...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Government announces changes to error-prone robo-debt collection

The government has overhauled its much-criticised robo-debt scheme which has seen many welfare recipients asked to repay money they do not owe. A Tuesday email to staff in the Human Services departme...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Shampoo with a Purpose

Plastic fantastic? The two-in-one solid shampoo & conditioning bar reducing bathroom waste by 6 plastic bottles per unit When it comes to the convenience of plastic, this widely used and dive...

Scott Broome - avatar Scott Broome

Evacuating with a baby? Here's what to put in your emergency kit

It's difficult to recall what you might need as you're preparing to evacuate, so have your kit ready to go. New Africa/ShutterstockEvery summer in Australia, bushfires, cyclones and floods threaten l...

Karleen Gribble, Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Western Sydney University - avatar Karleen Gribble, Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Western Sydney University

We modelled 4 scenarios for Australia's future. Economic growth alone can't deliver the goods

Australia could achieve higher economic growth through more population growth and lower taxes, but at the expense of equality, fairness and the environment. www.shutterstock.comDespite 28 years of uni...

Cameron Allen, Researcher, UNSW - avatar Cameron Allen, Researcher, UNSW

Australia's major summer arts festivals: reckoning with the past or retreating into it?

Wesley Enoch's Sydney Festival has placed First Nations people and artists at its heart. Victor Frankowski/Sydney FestivalAustralia invests heavily in its major festivals: A$5 million in state governm...

Caroline Wake, Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Performance, UNSW - avatar Caroline Wake, Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Performance, UNSW

Don't (just) blame echo chambers. Conspiracy theorists actively seek out their online communities

The term illuminati has been used since the late 15th century, and applied to various groups since then. It's often discussed by conspiracy theorists, and is heavily referenced in pop-culture. Lettuce...

Colin Klein, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Australian National University - avatar Colin Klein, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Australian National University

University under siege: a dangerous new phase for the Hong Kong protests

Police say surrender is the only option for the hundreds of protesters occupying Hong Kong's Polytechnic University. Fazry Ismail/EPAWhile thousands of Hong Kongers have protested “like water&rd...

Amanda Tattersall, Postdoc in Urban Geography and Research Lead at Sydney Policy Lab. Host of ChangeMakers Podcast., University of Sydney - avatar Amanda Tattersall, Postdoc in Urban Geography and Research Lead at Sydney Policy Lab. Host of ChangeMakers Podcast., University of Sydney

Our land is burning, and western science does not have all the answers

Modern fire managers can learn much from Aboriginal fire practice. Matthew Newton/RUMMIN ProductionsLast week’s catastrophic fires on Australia’s east coast – and warnings of more so...

David Bowman, Professor of Pyrogeography and Fire Science, University of Tasmania - avatar David Bowman, Professor of Pyrogeography and Fire Science, University of Tasmania

Loneliness is a social cancer, every bit as alarming as cancer itself

Young adults and people living in the inner city are among those most likely to be lonely, according to the ABC's Australia Talks project. from www.shutterstock.comThe ABC’s Australia Talks proj...

Alex Haslam, Professor of Psychology and ARC Laureate Fellow, The University of Queensland - avatar Alex Haslam, Professor of Psychology and ARC Laureate Fellow, The University of Queensland

What the termite mound 'snowmen' of the NT can tell us about human nature

Along the Stuart Highway in the Northern Territory, giant termite mounds have been bestowed with human clothes and accessories. Author providedThe Stuart Highway in the Northern Territory is dotted wi...

Claire Smith, Professor of Archaeology, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Flinders University - avatar Claire Smith, Professor of Archaeology, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Flinders University

Nitrogen fertilisers are incredibly efficient, but they make climate change a lot worse

Sustainable farming can reduce nitrous oxide emissions. eutrophication&hypoxia/Flickr, CC BY-SANitrous oxide (N₂O) (more commonly known as laughing gas) is a powerful contributor to global w...

Pep Canadell, Chief research scientist, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere; and Executive Director, Global Carbon Project, CSIRO - avatar Pep Canadell, Chief research scientist, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere; and Executive Director, Global Carbon Project, CSIRO

Sick and Tired of Your Dead End Job? Try Teaching!

Tired of the same old grind at the office? Want an opportunity to impact lives both in your community and around the world? Do you love to travel and have new experiences? Teaching English is the perfect job for you! All you need is a willingness to ...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Impact of an Aging Population in Australia

There’s an issue on the horizon that Australia needs to prepare for. The portion of elderly citizens that make up the country’s overall population is increasing, and we might not have the infrastructure in place to support this. Australians h...

News Company - avatar News Company

LifeStyle

How to Make Your Girlfriend’s Birthday Extra Special

Your girlfriend’s birthday is your opportunity to show her how much you care. But how exactly do...

A Guide to Building Your Kid’s Confidence

As your child grows, confidence is key. Having low self-esteem as a child can have a detrimental e...

3 Hacks that Will Extend the Life of Your Hair Extensions

Everybody has the right to enjoy beautiful, long hair, including you! If you’ve always heard a...

Lessons in Empathy for Children

The ability to be able to understand and share the feelings of a fellow human being – empathy ...