Shortly after Labor’s largely unanticipated Federal Election loss, IA spoke with a Labor Party strategist.
Among the topics discussed was the Opposition’s acquiescence to the Government’s tax cuts. Why, we asked, was Labor Leader Anthony Albanese not going hard, standing up for the disadvantaged and exposing Morrison’s flagship policy as unnecessary and divisive?
We were told there was an overall plan in place and it would progress gradually in time for the next election.
Although IA is non-partisan, as we faced another three years under this Coalition Government, like many progressive Australians, we were surprised and a little disappointed that Labor was not more aggressive in exposing the Government’s many failures and obvious policy weaknesses.
The three years since have felt like an eternity in some ways and we must admit we were sceptical at the time. And we were not alone — many Labor stalwarts and others have been critical of the ALP's slow and steady method and seeming lack of aggression towards the Morrison Government.
However, Labor’s strategy does seem to have unfolded as forecast.
With a Federal Election imminent, we obtained an update from the same Labor Party strategist, who reinforced the long-game approach as outlined at our last meeting, telling IA:
“The plan has always been to keep the focus on the Government, not on the Opposition.”
They explained that this is not to say that Labor’s key policy platform has been ignored. But that laying it out in detail is largely counterproductive and plays into the Government’s strategy of deflection on key policy outcomes for which it is responsible.
There is no denying that a no holds barred approach, in which Labor's policies were laid out for all to see, did not deliver election victory the last time around.
According to the strategist, by contrast:
The result of this [new] course of action has been that the Government has increasingly acted like an opposition — and not a very good one.
This means that Anthony Albanese’s measured approach has highlighted the Government’s failures while Labor represents the real ‘grown-ups in the room'.
This “debate” over which party possesses mature leadership harks back to former PM Tony Abbott’s successful smear campaign against the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Government and his subsequent claim that “the grown-ups” were “back in charge”.
Of course, history has not been kind to Abbott’s story that the Coalition was led by responsible adults while he was at the helm. Nor has there been any indication that either of his successors, Turnbull or Morrison, has managed to lead a government of adults at any time since.
Nonetheless, this game, supported as it so often is by the mainstream media, has proved to be an often employed and successful Coalition campaign tactic.
But creating a scare campaign without justification when the object of your attacks is giving it no credence is proving to be a difficult task for the Morrison Government, despite an admittedly concerted effort.
In recent times, the Government’s strategy of pointing an accusatory finger at Labor’s supposed undermining of its economic policy has been shown to be baseless, since Labor has criticised but still supported the Government’s economic moves, particularly during the pandemic.
The Murdoch media attacks on Labor’s so-called “socialist-leaning” Chinese alliance, featuring video "evidence" of Albanese allegedly speaking Mandarin at a dinner held by the Australia China Economics Trade and Culture Association, have also proved to be unfounded — if not plainly ridiculous.
We’ve had endless gaslighting of war-mongering and terrorism towards which Labor would be soft, according to the Government. However, rather than show up Labor as weak on national security, these cheap shots have exposed the Government as incapable of managing any threats – real or imagined — or indeed, geopolitical diplomacy of any kind.
The Government has also employed state-based politics to try and discredit Labor as a whole, as evinced by its ongoing attacks on Victorian Premier Dan Andrews, among others.
And this week, there was the fabricated story in which the unions and not the Perrottet Government were blamed for the train stoppage in New South Wales.
Except, as Dr Jennifer Wilson pointed out on IA:
This was not a strike by workers. It was a lockout by the bosses.
The subsequent Monday chaos was caused not by the union or by Labor, but deliberately – and with particular intent – by the NSW Government.
He then claimed he had gone to bed on Sunday night, prior to Monday's train stoppage – apparently oblivious to the chaos his own department had ushered in. He said there was “no way in the world” he could have been told about the closure of the network because he “…may not have answered the phone” anyway.
Elliott then challenged Labor to prove otherwise.
Challenge accepted, it seems, since NSW Labor Leader Chris Minns managed to produce a text message sent by Elliott’s chief of staff to a senior transport official, just before 11 pm on Sunday night, indicating Elliott had indeed been “briefed” on the situation.
Undeterred by the facts, Sydney Morning Herald editor Bevan Shields stuck to his union-bashing version of events but eventually published a poll asking readers to indicate who was responsible for the shutdown of Sydney trains — 65 per cent said they believed the NSW Government to be responsible.
So, despite the ongoing Coalition campaign claiming otherwise – with establishment media reports still pointing at unions and Labor as late as today – the public doesn’t seem to be buying it.
The Coalition’s long-favoured blame game technique, then, if recent indications are anything to go by, is just getting old as far the voters are concerned.
And though the Morrison Government has certainly shown its fervent dedication to the "attack-Labor-at-all costs" defence mechanism, as opposed to a genuine commitment to govern, the attacks just don’t appear to be sticking to Albanese.
And then there's the Government's own unravelling – unassisted by anything Albanese says or doesn't say – the momentum of which is instead propelled by Morrison's increasingly idiotic stunts, such as hair washing and ukulele strumming.
According to the Labor Party insider:
It's a question of balance and flexibility and a targeted approach. Focusing on outlining Labor's policy direction wasn’t doing what it needed to do because it was not reaching the target market needed to win the election — the swinging voters.
And in order to achieve its policy platform, including on key issues such as health, stable jobs instead of a casualised workforce, education, manufacturing, renewables and climate change, Labor first has to be elected to govern.
We are not ashamed to admit that at our last meeting with the Labor strategist, we were unconvinced that this slow, steady and largely uneventful approach by Labor would reap rewards. It has also sometimes been unpopular with their base. But if it is true that opposition parties don't win elections but governments lose them and since, more than ever before, Australia's establishment media fails to hold this Government to account, Labor's strategy appears sound.
Of course, whether it succeeds in unseating the Morrison Government remains to be seen.
This editorial was originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly newsletter. These editorials are usually only available to subscribers and may be read online in the IA members-only area.
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