Two contrasting ALP state election reviews have been launched in the last week and the difference between them is stark, and for the NSW party a tad embarrassing.
During the NSW ALP state conference on Saturday delegates were handed hard copies of their post mortem, produced by ex-deputy premier John Watkins and Queensland State Secretary Anthony Chisholm. The document — which until now has not been online (click here) contains some amusing rhetoric — the government in NSW was “toxic” the election result “shocking” — but the report is broadly absent of the swat-heavy data and research produced by federal Member for Bruce Alan Griffin in Victoria.
As Griffin notes in his introduction, amid a virtual library of shelved and ignored ALP reports, it is important to defer to the evidence, rather than “apportion blame or advance theories for the loss based on commentary or a pre‐disposed view of the reasons.”
The Victorian review weighs in at a hefty 88 pages, compared to Watkins and Chisholm’s slimmed-down 25 and is freely available on the state branch’s website. In the one area where the NSW report consults the data, it makes the bizarre suggestion that “the decision of the Greens not to preference Labor in the vast majority of seats made a significant impact.”
(In the examples given, it seems that only the seat of Oatley could have conceivably be won by Labor if the Greens decided to allocate preferences, even given NSW’s non-compulsory preference rule).
Griffin, by contrast, shows that Green preferences changed nothing.
And while NSW suggests voters perceived Labor to be too close to the top end of town, Griffin says that fiscal rectitude permitted Victoria to invest record amounts in infrastructure, law and order and hospitals.
To be fair to NSW, the situation there was dire and the circumstances in Victoria redeemable — hence the reports’ contrasting flavours. But Griffin’s obsession with analysis permeates the text. Perhaps his most salient criticisms — and ones that have been to date ignored by the media who have bizarrely homed in on the Greens preference non-issue — is the year zero approach of the party’s administrative wing to the years of expensive research conducted by former state secretary Stephen Newnham.
While Newnham “had commissioned approximately $500,000 in market research to help prepare messages and plan the 2010 campaign strategy, there is little evidence that this research base was utilised by his successor. Instead a new research program was constructed from scratch using a newly commissioned research company,” he writes.
The problem was compounded by the revolving door at the top of the state branch, which is permanently beholden to shifting factional alignments. The installation of relative party cleanskin Nick Reece by John Brumby in late 2009 might have shored up the apparatus’ connection to the premier’s office, but the fallout, according to Griffin, was felt in an attenuated research and communications spend.
“Considering that the research program and the resultant media buy runs into millions of dollars and consumes the lion’s share of the Party’s financial resources, this can have significantly adverse consequences for the overall campaign effort.” (In the years prior, former favourites Auspoll were ditched by the party and replaced by UMR and Tony Mitchelmore).
Nevertheless, Griffin also notes that the Mike Kaiser Review, conducted in the wake of Newnham’s reign, found that the research base was in a shambolic state and a proportion of the voluminous data produced was duplicated by the national secretariat.
Another angle ignored by the handful of reports so far has been Griffin’s merciless skewering of the media itself, with the former minister even including a helpful table that examines the front pages of the major papers for bias.
It shows that when The Age and the Herald Sun bothered to train their gaze on the contest, most of the stories seemed to slant towards the Tories.
While the Hez banged on and on with its CBD nightclub crime obsession, Griffin reserves special opprobrium for The Age “which seemed to give a platform to almost any individual or group that had an issue with the government.”
The former veteran’s affairs minister also picks up on a point that Guy Rundle raised recently on Q&A — that it is the progressive deregulation of the gas and electricity sector that has contributed — alongside exploding house and rental prices — to the increased cost of living and voter unease. The removal of the energy minister’s power to intervene on prices in 2008 was, according to Griffin, pivotal.
“The reserve power of the Minister gave consumers some comfort that price changes were reasonable and government was an advocate for consumers. The removal of the price determination power, coupled with an escalation in energy prices left the impression that the government was no longer willing to intervene as a defender of working people.”
Still, according to senior party sources that had a hand in the report, the most devastating take-out — which is partially masked by Griffin — was that the decision by Labor to run a presidential-style campaign was always going to fail because the public didn’t like John Brumby. As the Liberal two-party preferred vote grew, Brumby became more unpopular. The research base for the flawed assumption of Brumby’s omnipotence could equally be put down to the power of incumbency.
“Basically, and probably unfairly, Victorians thought John Brumby was a c-nt. They reckoned he had a fragile ego and a glass jaw which was why Stephen [Newnham] was spending so much on research. Success has many fathers, but defeat is an orphan,” the source said.
Griffin prefers to put it like this:
“If our leader does not have a massive lead as preferred Premier, or high levels of public approval, or significantly differentiated positive traits compared to the Opposition Leader, then an undue emphasis on leadership carries with it some risks.”
If Daniel Andrews is to avoid 8 years in the wilderness, it seems the Griffin prescription will need to serve as a regular port of call.