The Daily Telegraph
9 April 2017
With the polls still breaking bad for the government, the last thing the PM would’ve wanted is the public release of Andrew Robb’s
report into the Coalition’s 14-seat drubbing in last year’s election.
It should be released but enough leaks show the secret report pulls no punches. Unless something changes fast, Bill Shorten will win the next election and that means higher taxes, more debt, open borders, higher power prices and political correctness gone mad.
On two separate occasions over the past 10 years, Malcolm Turnbull has plotted to seize the Liberal Party leadership from the incumbent. On both occasions, the polls hit high highs, and then low lows. On both occasions, the base deserted Turnbull and on both occasions, the considered judgment was he had a plan to take the leadership but he had no plan to run the party, or the country.
So how did ii go so wrong? Like Julia Gillard, the method of Turnbull’s ascension dogs his prime ministership. Commentators note Tony Abbott’s unpopularity and it’s true, he was never popular but most underestimate the disdain of Coalition supporters for Laborlike bloodletting.
But let’s look at the campaign.
First, the newly installed prime minister and his supporters wasted precious months qevelling in the coup’s success rather than preparing for an early election. Effort should have been split hro ways: one to establish his government and nanative, and the other to prepare the campaign. VUhen Turnbull’s support for an ETS handed the leadership to Abbott late in 2009, there was a good chance, if smart, that Kevin Rudd would head to the polls in February.
That meant summer was spent in mad preparation and by Australia Day, there was a campaign strategy, marginal seat materials, draft policies, a first cut of costings and a skeleton CHQ ready to go. Every week he didn’t dissolve the parliament helped to refine the battle plan.
For the Turnbull camp, capitalising on inevitable ‘honeymoon’ polls should’ve been the driving force. Shunting experienced ministers to the backbench and over-promoting plotters made campaign preparations harder (as well as resulting in a high reshuffle rate).
There was sufficient draft policy work and marginal seat plans ready to go. Why they junked the tested apparatus put in place in 2010 and 2013 to run the leader’s campaign is beyond me; after all, it helped us take 25 seats off Labor.
This week, campaign chief Tony Nutt has copped the lion’s share of blame but others deserve as much, if not more. As his former boss John Howard often said, campaign directors can’t be expected to fatten the pig on market day.
Revisionists should take a look at Newspoll: despite a 2PP result of 53/47 in December 2015, the government’s first poll in February 2016 had a much tighter result of 50/50. The tightening continued in the lead-up to the May, made worse by a lack of consistency between the PM and Treasurer; the kite-flying on policy, only to rule it out a couple of days later, showed a lack of strategic focus, not to mention discipline.
What’s more, the policy backflip on superannuation killed the budget stone dead when it was crucial for a strong campaign start. But the gaffes and about-turns were nothing compared with the absence of a negative campaign. The brutal reality is that negative works and Turnbull’s reluctance to go negative always struck me as contradictory; after all, he had no compunction going negative to get the job in the first place. By going down Labor’s path, the Coalition lost moral authority, making it hard to use Bill Shorten’s role in knifing two PMs.
The Coalition still could have used his trade union history. Failing to use Shorten’s own Royal Commission evidence was a significant campaign error. I couldn’t believe there weren’t Cleanevent workers, ripped off by Bill, shadowing him on the campaign trail.
Despite his own baggage, Shorten was able to quickly frame Turnbull as out of touch (rankling still). Hard-hitting ministers like Peter Dutton were shut down even though a large number of Labor candidates were soft on border protection and polling showed vulnerability. The obsession with Jobs and growth’crowded out other opportunities too.
Good retail campaigners like Greg Hunt were kept away from issues such as rising power prices and Labor’s plan for a new carbon tax. Campaign workers told head office that’Mediscare’was biting but inside the CHQ bubble, and on the PM’s plane, it fell on deaf ears.
Copying the Rudd-Gillard playbook caused widespread Liberal fury and once superannuation was added in, it was madness to think members would fundraise, volunteer and indeed vote as before. Declaring that ‘the base has nowhere else to go’ was a fatal mistake.
The Liberal campaign ground-game was shambolic. Marginal seats suffered from a lack of experience and resources. Almost all the state directors had never run a federal campaign before. iraining, a key part of the Coalition’s success in opposition, ground to a halt after September 2015. Feedback from local campaigners was they were treated with contempt by twenty-somethings in head office who had only ever seen a marginal seat on a map. Local messages were dumped in favour of innovation and agility’.
I could see Turnbull’s office was struggling when, day after day, their opponents got their announcements briefed into local papers the night before and his staff struggled to get their press release out after the event.
Labor was up and into the news cycle early each day, they were faster online and slicker when it came to visits. Labor had a slick telephone canvassing operation but Coalition phones sat idle because volunteers were on strike. The macro campaign slogan, lobs and growth’, was empty and quickly lampooned. By replacing the Liberal logo with a Turnbull Government ‘seal’, the campaign gurus angered members for what looked like a vanity project.
As they say in politics, the fish rots from the head. Leaders are supposed to campaign like their life depends on it. ln political terms, it usually does.
Most days Turnbull looked like he wanted to be somewhere else. His first error was to call an eight week double dissolution. The campaign itself lacked energy: cancelled street walks, not enough radio, knocking off at lunchtime and relying on a single doorstop most days.
Reports like this are rarely brave enough to finger a sitting leader even if warranted. lf Turnbull was smart, he would take the criticism on board before it is too late. He needs better political advice, he needs a strategy and while he’s had some well-deserved wins, the polls suggest people have stopped listening. The Budget is the final chance for his treasurer, and his govemment.
lf it fails, it only further cements Bill Shorten’s grip on The Lodge.