By Patricia Karvelas, presenter of ABC’s RN Drive
Analysis – Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has earned a permanent place as a Liberal Party legend by returning to government in what was meant to be an unwinnable election for the Coalition.
Mr Morrison smashed the doctrine that disunity will lead to electoral death.
Despite three prime ministers in two terms of government, the Queensland swing to back the Coalition and swings in Tasmania and WA showed that ultimately jobs and fear of change are too dominant.
The Prime Minister made the campaign all about economic management and himself – out-campaigning Labor by running a brutal and stunning campaign demolishing Labor’s big-target policy agenda.
Mr Morrison made the campaign a referendum on him and Bill Shorten, and downplayed the Liberal brand – cultivating a new Scott Morrison image and promising to be a steady pair of hands on the economy.
He told a packed crowd of Liberal supporters in Sydney he had always believed in miracles.
“And tonight we’ve been delivered another one,” he said.
The ‘new’ Morrison
Labor took a big risk campaigning on big changes to tax loop holes including franking credits and negative gearing, allowing Mr Morrison to spend every day of the campaign casting doubt on the way Labor would remake the country.
The marketing metamorphosis of Mr Morrison, from the tough-on-borders hard head to the daggy suburban dad next door, was an important and strategic pivot for a party with a diminished frontbench and deep ideological schisms in its ranks.
His message was sharp, piercing and he never deviated from the one central claim – that Labor was a high-taxing risk to the economy and Mr Shorten would take money “from your pocket”.
By contrast, Labor drifted from message to message – it started on health, moved to wages and staggered into climate change.
Labor’s crazy brave ploy backfired
Labor took considerable policy risks in this campaign, making itself the big target with a suite of policies which had identifiable and quantifiable losers.
It was crazy brave, breaking the orthodoxy that oppositions should slide into government without taking big policy risks.
Labor leader Bill Shorten’s party took a big risk in campaigning on bold changes to Australia’s policies – and it was one which did not pay off. Photo: AP Photo / Andy Brownbill
Compare it to the last change of government, to Labor in 2007 when Kevin Rudd campaigned on an agenda of being a younger John Howard and matching the Coalition’s tax cuts.
Labor took a gamble by taking this approach, but in the end the public made the judgement that the risk was too big.
Australians have reinforced the 1993 precedent – some say curse – which has encouraged oppositions to play it safe and steer away from bold big ideas.
A long night of the soul
Labor’s repudiation at this election will now lead to considerable soul searching and recriminations on the mission of their side of politics.
The party prosecuted a message about the future premised on climate action and fairness while the Coalition stuck to a disciplined campaign with almost no new policy announced apart from the tax cuts unveiled in the Budget and a last-minute pitch for aspiring young home owners.
Labor made itself the conversation every day of the campaign by default – it had the policies to scrutinise.
The Liberals provided so little policy they provided zero risk.
Mr Morrison proved to be a formidable campaigner who crashed over the revolving prime minister question by formulating the “Canberra bubble” answer that neutralised the question and its sting.
Labor strategists say Mr Shorten’s negative personal rating was a big issue throughout the campaign – that voters never warmed to him despite attempts to soften his image through the use of his wife Chloe and the talented women on his frontbench.
Labor left to pick up the pieces
The official Labor party function on election night was like a wake. The Labor faithful were in shock and disbelief that the nation had repudiated their message of fairness and come at them with “baseball bats” in Queensland in particular.
Mr Shorten’s address was raw and emotional, but gracious.
Bill Shorten has said he will not contest the Labor leadership again, though he will remain in Parliament. Photo: Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. (AP Photo / Andy Brownbill)
“This has been a tough campaign. Toxic at times. But now that the contest is over, all of us have a responsibility to respect the result, respect the wishes of the Australian people and to bring our nation together,” he said.
“I wish we could have won for the true believers, for our brothers and sisters in the mighty trade union movement.
“I wish we could have done it for Bob.”
He delivered the kind of speech the Labor Party – and the nation – needed right now, with a call for unity at its heart.
Now Labor looks to how to pick up the pieces.
Talk has already turned to who takes over. Tanya Plibersek – the only name Mr Shorten singled out in his concession speech – Anthony Albanese, Chris Bowen and Jim Chalmers are all possible contenders.
Labor declared early in the campaign that when you change the government, you change the country.
Australians determined the country was better as it is. /radionz