Samantha Maiden’s Party Animals, out today, is a brisk and highly readable account of the lead up to Labor’s legendary achievement of losing 2019’s unloseable election.
It’s a great look behind the curtain at the dark arts of an election campaign.
Here are some of Maiden’s biggest revelations:
Days between policy and announcement
One of the recurring themes of the election’s post mortem is that Labor had so many big policy announcements, all clustered together, that it was never able to adequately explain them.
The book gives one example of how this was able to happen.
Labor’s $4 billion plan to provide free childcare to families earning under $69,000 per year was taken to shadow cabinet a mere four days before it was announced.
As such there was no time to put together any kind of serious marketing explaining the policy to those most affected.
The policy had been added at the last minute because of fears Labor wasn’t sufficiently easing cost of living by failing to match all of the Liberals’ tax cuts.
The dirt units
Maiden looks at the teams digging up dirt on opposition players, detailing the techniques Shorten’s dirt unit used to break at least two scoops any news hound would be proud of.
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In 2017, the team cracked then-health minister Sussan Ley’s efficient combining of her official business with a spot of house hunting.
Both scandals resulted in Walkley-winning news stories, and all without the public realising it came from Labor.
Lest we think this is solely the domain of the ALP, Maiden gets a confession from a Liberal party hack:
‘Remember, right at the beginning of the campaign, that donation scandal was sparking off?’ [Liberal party staffer John] Macgowan said.
‘That night, we had video on TV of Huang Xiangmo’s wedding with Shorten sitting there.’
Where did they obtain the damning vision? From all the other Liberals who attended.
‘There was a whole table of Liberals there,’ he laughs.
Brian Burston changes history
In case you’ve forgotten him, Burston was for a brief time the George Harrison of Australia’s shitty Beatles, One Nation’s 2016-18 Senate team.
In June 2018, Burston cashed in the “massive falling out” token that everyone receives when they commence work with Pauline Hanson, leaving a cloud of acrimony and, later, a trail of blood.
Burston defected to Clive Palmer’s moribund United Australia Party, in return for the promise he would receive legal protection from his furious former employer. This kept the UAP alive and saved the mining billionaire the trouble of proving he had 500 grassroots members.
Thus, Burston allowed Palmer’s election-shifting ad spend of $60 million (Palmer, typically, claims he spent more than that).
‘Deep Throat’ and the scandal that wasn’t
The Shorten team noticed something in the early stages of the election campaign, something most people didn’t.
Apropos of nothing, Prime Minister Scott Morrison made references to a very particular period in Shorten’s youth.
To Shorten’s team it seemed like Morrison was priming the ground for something; the relitigation of a longstanding (but now dropped) allegation of rape against the former opposition leader.
It only happened a few times and would take the hyper-sensitive ear of political staffers desperate to avoid scandal or bad press to pick up, but they took it very seriously.
There were fears the tabloids would interview his accuser and the issue would detonate during the campaign. Those fears about how to handle the issue consumed the Shorten campaign … Staff talked about the constant threat of exposure of the rape allegations …
Apparently the information that the story was going be reignited was passed on by a known Liberal insider, grandly styled as “Deep Throat” in his ALP file.
Whether the information was genuine or a double bluff intended to plant baseless stress in the opposition leader’s head during the campaign is unclear.
Regardless, Labor says it derailed the campaign.
Labor’s treasury spokesman Chris Bowen would later claim that ‘some idiot’ had told Shorten that News Corp was about to run the rape claim 10 minutes before the disastrous press conference on 17 April, when he clashed with Ten Network reporter Jonathan Lea over the cost of his climate-change polices.”