Hand on heart, Labor does it better

I hope to contribute something here that could be of interest to the political debate. I am now a fully subscribed and paid up member of the Liberal Party. I don’t mind saying that given my previous associations with the ALP I would naturally be quite ‘wet’ in the strict sense.

I make no apologies for changing camps. Income levels change and ideologies often change. I now fully believe in free enterprise market. I now think the unions have way too much power in the ALP. I also see no reason why the Liberals are any weaker in Education and Health than the ALP. A Liberal Government is better for myself and my children. And to be honest I was fed up with the ALP. Federal Health Minister, Brendan Nelson was a paid up member of the ALP from 1988 until 1994. Tony Abbott’s father-in-law was a former ALP Senator, and from some prior readings you could probably be forgiven for thinking Peter Costello in the 1970’s was a good old fashioned leftie at Monash University before joining the Libs with best mate Michael Kroger.

I have ticked all the right boxes on my membership form and, hidden nothing of my former associations with the ALP. Good enough for Nelson, then good enough for me I reckon. However, when summing up my involvement in both parties and my observations I believe the Libs are way behind in certain areas. I have made mention of this to HQ and even considered offering my services as an Organiser to the party; all to no avail.

This article attempts to address these inefficiencies and reach the wider audience. As the great Treasurer Peter Costello (God, I would have loved him and Keating to start their own political party) is a Crikey subscriber; then at least someone with some brains in the State Liberal party is going to read this. My dealings with the Victorian Liberal Head Office have been nothing short of pathetic I have to say. But more on that later.

When I worked for the ALP machine

You see I was once a paid employee of the ALP in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s at the ALP Victorian head office in Drummond St, Carlton. I was involved in electioneering, strategy and opinion polling. I guess its fair to say that I jumped off the wagon in 1992 following the Kennett landslide. The State Administration (as was the bloody State of Victoria) was completely broke and probably played the biggest part in my employment being terminated.

Of my 3-year membership of the Libs it seems my advice and comments to attack the old enemy and the old comrades have fallen on deaf ears. I think Crikey is a far more intelligent and wider audience reach than the brains trust of Liberal HQ, which one could be forgiven for thinking that their meetings are held either at the Savage Club or the Melbourne club.

A bit more about me. As mentioned I was a paid employee at Drummond St for the ALP for duration of a few years from the late 1980s to early 1990s. Just so a few of the ALP comrades do not think I am a fake and telling porkies a little bit of information for you. Among those Organisers during my time were current Victorian Police Minster Andre Haemeyer and current Melton MLA, Don Nardella. Also there was State Transport Minister, Peter Batchelor as State Secretary until he won the Thomastown by-election in 1990. Yes it would seem that I was mixing with all the playmakers. Although I wonder what ever happened to Roger Lowry after the Unity faction one year gave him the ‘not a snow balls chance in hell’ No 5 position on the ALP Senate ticket quite a few years ago as a ‘reward’ for all his good service.

I never expected to see former Organiser Rob Acton again once he started making plenty of cash in that childcare centre. But then again this was probably more the result of his talented ACTU employed wife Jenny being completely shafted and then rolled at the last minute in the pre-selection for the safe Federal seat of Hotham in 1989 by Simon Crean. Yes there were indeed some fun, fantastic, and heart breaking days and nights at Drummond St I have to say.

This is the short version of the personnel at HQ during my time. My involvement in elections began with the 1987 Federal election. Who could ever forget “By 1990 no Australian child will be living in poverty” which delivered Bob and the comrades an historic third term in office. I worked on a number of State by-elections, the 1988 State election, and the 1990 Federal elections during this time. This indeed was Labor’s high watermark in Victoria. In many regards I was very lucky to be working with such committed and talented people. The strategies, the decisions, the policies, the campaigns, the direct mailing to voters, the push polling, the advertising, the polices, the bull dust, and mostly the committed people the ALP had. All this provides proud memories of my involvement. The Libs never had a chance during this period and its not hard for someone like me to understand why. Even the 1992 Kennett landslide which proved to be my final involvement at Drummond St had some positives that I will talk about later.

Whilst I have not had the full Liberal HQ insights and investigation there are plenty of things I have noticed. Again my tips about the enemy have not even been given any sort of consideration. No returned phone calls and no real interest. I find it a little bemusing given the crucial nature of the Federal marginal seats (of which I worked in plenty during my time) in Victoria; and the disastrous 1999 and 2002 State election results. In simple terms the wrong people are employed at Liberal HQ.

This is so blatant to me coming from the other side. I am huge admirer of the Treasurer so hope he gets to read this along with Michael Kroger who was Peter Batchelor’s foe during my time. Kroger, despite the successive losses of the Libs through the 1980’s was a real trier and easily the best opposition we saw from an administrative point of view. He was prepared to copy the ALP in pre-selection processes to ensure getting decent candidates in, and copied the ALP in many campaign strategies. To many he was probably ahead of his time. But I do rate him as equal as Batchelor as the two best political party Secretaries/Directors I have seen. Others may tell you Andrew Robb (Libs) or Stephen Loosely (ALP) were better, but not me.

Now the analysis of my observations comparing the two camps. As mentioned the insights are more with the ALP but the basics of administration and campaign strategies can be measured equally. I hope all those inefficient people at Liberal HQ involved in those last two State campaigns read this, and read it well. It’s probably a bit disappointing that its me that has to inform many of the party faithful of this.

Membership

We used to joke at Drummond St in Carlton that “4 members of the Libs are not worth one member of the ALP”. Well now I totally believe that having been there done that. For mine the Liberals still lack the volunteers for guts and hardness.

I fondly recall the Young Laborites in a by-election in 1988 in North Ballarat. The ALP candidate was an unknown, likeable bloke by the name of Steve Bracks. The Young Labor camp was magnificent. Hell it was the bloody middle of July in the coldest place outside of Antarctica! And they came by bus from Melbourne! This was a safe Liberal seat afterall. But while the Labor kids were there to help on this one winter weekend in Ballarat; I suspect the Young Liberals were at Mt Buller doing some winter skiing. This is not fiction but true criticism. Granted it’s a long time ago but I cannot forget this. The efforts the ALP put into Ballarat Nth saw the Government gain a 0.5% swing. This was something which was unheard of to a Government in its second term. It helped that in one case the Libs did not have someone handing out how to vote cards in the booth I worked in for 2 hours! Even more they did not have scrutineers in some booths. This was unheard of in critical seats for the ALP.

Low and behold the champers was popped at HQ that night. And why wouldn’t it be? A swing to John Cain in that August meant an early election. “Bring it on, there is gold in Ballarat tonight” we said. That by-election was regarded by many as the catalyst for the Cain government’s third term. I tend to agree. Thanks again to the Libs.

The members at the few Liberal meetings I go astound me. Not that an ALP branch meeting is anything exciting but they are more than your average wine and cheese night. Furthermore the Libs must try to recruit some youth the fray. That branch meeting of mine in Kooyong may as well have been held at a retirement home given the age of the members!

And that Young 500 club launch I read about in the newspapers is not going to help. They are all mostly the yuppie types trying to network for business. Whilst they can make a few bucks for the party they are not the hardened types we now need in the Liberal party. In fact I wonder how many of them would hand out how to vote cards in the rain? Probably none if my past experiences are anything to go by. Compare this to the robust Uni students, teachers, union employees, etc for the ALP and then you really see how far the Libs are behind the eight ball when it comes to contributions at election time. The Libs need to work harder on getting the faithful out and about – rain, hail, or shine. Trust me it works!

Elections and Strategy

Whoever was involved in that disaster (for the Libs anyway) election of 1999 ought to be shot! That would never have happened in my time in the ALP. Although Jeff needs to accept most of the blame the Administration should have done better. God oh mighty! Our golden rule in the ALP was always fighting to the finish line. Whilst the polls had King Jeff miles in front in the city, some bloody idiot at HQ forgot about the bloody bush! Polls in the country papers showed people were prepared to register a protest vote. Just like my old days; the ALP seized this information. They listened to the local members in the country and rounded the troops. An advertising blitz in the bush was on, the main campaign television address was held in Ballarat, resources deployed to Bendigo, get some more people on polling day to hand out how to vote cards in Stawell, etc, etc.

The rest as they say is history once the independents jumped in bed with Labor. Seats like Ripon, Seymour, Gisborne, and Bendigo East all fell. Labor cleaned up all seats in Geelong and Ballarat as well. This was a disaster that should have been avoided. Oh my, if just someone had polled the bush – or even listed to the local members; or dare I say it someone like me.

Its pretty hard to blame Robert Doyle too much for the Bracks wipeout in 2002. However, again there is no way known that someone like Peter Batchelor or even Michael Kroger would have let any sitting member stuff up his electoral roll address. Granted Robert Dean was a complete idiot; but what do you pay the bloody clerks at HQ to do?

But I like to compare the Kennett landslide of 1992 with the Bracks landslide of 2002. What needs to be remembered here was that the Bracks landslide was a government seeking its second term. The Libs lost safe heartland seats like Mt Waverly, Prahan, Gembrook, Narre Warren North on top of just about losing everything else. Even Hawthorn and Caulfield went to preferences that night.

However, this did not happen in 1992 for the ALP. The rules were simple. “Any seats under 8% buffer is pretty much gone… Lets shore up the heartland” said HQ. We did this by not losing one single heartland seat. Richmond, Brunswick, Footscray, Sunshine, Keilor, Altona, etc, etc – they all remained with the ALP. This was an achievement in itself; and I give Joan Kirner some begrudging respect for carrying these seats. There is simply no excuse for the Libs to lose those seats I mentioned.

Furthermore it’s not just Victoria where I get my evidence. In Queensland the Libs there are pathetic winning just 5 seats in the State Parliament (By golly, the Qld ALP have got it easy up there it would seem). They cannot even win Clayfield from the ALP. This seat is the equivalent of the ALP holding the seats of Nedlands (WA), Mossman (NSW), Malvern (VIC) – it just should not happen.

Despite 3 terms of Bob Carr, the NSW Libs can hardly land a blow on him and his rather incompetent government. As for the rest of the States I don’t really care, but I do know that the ALP is in government in all of them.

The great 1988 triumph

My greatest memories for the ALP were the tally room in the 1988 State election. The comrades were really up against it and the Libs only needed some 1600 votes in 4 seats to take office. The ALP party machine was critical again. I remember telling Cain a week before polling day that Warrandyte, due to demographic changes was going to be very tough to hold and would most likely fall to the Libs. That meant one seat already gone. Bentleigh, Mentone, Ballarat Sth, Geelong were priorities that needed to be held. However, the focus also was on the Moorandah Hwy. The agreement amongst the comrades was that if we held Box Hill, Mitcham, Ringwood, Wantirna, and Monbulk in the Eastern Suburbs then this election would be won. How right we ended up being. Again, in some of these seats I could not help but notice the lack of resources from the Libs at certain times. Where were the advertisements? Hell, John Elliott was Federal President of the Libs at that stage so there must have been some money around. Where where the Young Libs? Where were the scutineers? I say to this day that if the Libs were as well oiled as the ALP was that year then they may well have had Jeff on the
green seats a term earlier. Oh well kept me in a job for another 4 years I guess.

Entering the 1990s

In early 1990 our Federal polls from Drummond St were not good. We kept most of this from the sitting members but we were staring down the gauntlet and most probably going to lose 6 Federal seats. This would have been enough to get Peacock within striking distance of the lodge. However, it was getting worse. By this stage the Cain government was really on the nose following the VEDC, Tricontinental Bank, Transport fiascos, etc, etc.

On election night the ALP lost not 6 but 9 seats in Victoria! A couple like Corninella and Dunkley were real gains for the Liberals which required of 7% swings to get them. Kroger and to a lesser extent Petro Georgiou had run a brilliant campaign. Its seems they had learnt from the ALP. Good candidates like Costello and Kemp were put into safe seats. Traditional marginal seats outside the 5% range were gunned for and won by the Libs (leveraging off the Cain administration fiascos). Ballarat, Benidgo, McMillan, Deakin, Aston, La Trobe, Dunkley, and Corinella – it was like a bowling alley! However, despite the ALP decimation in Victoria, the ALP held true in Queensland and Tasmania and managed to pick up a few seats. Whilst this denied Peacock going the to lodge; it was certainly no fault of the Victorian State Libs.

The ‘Guilty Party’ campaign from the Libs in Victoria is to this date their best effort. Whilst Osama Bin Laden could probably have lead the Libs to victory in 1992 that campaign from Kroger and the forces was nothing short of brilliant. In fact that advertising lasted so long they used it again in 1996.

From there on end its been pretty ordinary.

2000 and beyond

1. Kroger is no longer in charge. Can’t say I really blame him given the coin he is making in merchant banking. But he is sorely missed.

2. The membership is still ageing faster than the national average age.

3. The State Liberal parties are all in opposition (some are pretty short on numbers as well)

4. The close elections still seem to be won by Labor (I am not sure why this is so, being in Victoria – 1985, 88, and 1999)

5. The State Liberals do not seem to have much of clue at HQ. How many of them have any political smarts? Does not seem to be many from my experience.

6. At election time the Libs still don’t have the resources and the strategies. Sure, the Libs do not need to have Batchelor “Nunawading’ how to vote card sagas but there is nothing wrong with perhaps checking out your other candidates from time to time and, perhaps doing a preference deal once in awhile.

7. The State Liberals having been been decimated at the last State election to the extent their parliamentary meetings could be held in a phone box! Need to clean out the cupboards and blood some youth. Many are in their 60s now. Michael, this is where you were brilliant. Remember Roger Shipton, Ian McPhee, and others? Well its time to sharpen the axe again.

8. Fund raising. The ALP not only gets union donations and business donations; but also raises money further. How about some more raffles? What about more businesses donating more than the token amount that they also give to the ALP. Granted we have not got Turnbull or Walker to ourselves but surely someone with connections has an interest to raise a few bucks for us?

These are just some of the changes this outsider can suggest. All is not lost. The great man, Johnny Howard has delivered a great period of economic growth and healthy government for the last 8 years. Australia will benefit from this for many years to come. Whilst many other parts of the world are wallowing in recession (probably not one that they “had to have”); Australia is motoring along. Many are writing him off. However, I know from experience the ALP will not be doing the same. Hopefully Peter Costello will be PM one day to deliver more to the Victorian Libs. My article is more to do with the Victorian Libs; and I hope the powers that be take some note.

As mentioned my beliefs have certainly changed. Any of the old comrades who think they now who I am, and wants to say hello; or any Liberal with some clout and recognition of these problems can email me at [email protected] for further suggestions and information.

But for the wider reading I suggest you send anything else directly to Crikey.

Sadly for me these days; with my hand on my heart I still have to say that Labor definitely does it better.

The Liberal Comrade

Peter Fray

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