It is clear from the review that Labor was saddled with both an unpopular leader and unpopular policies. It might have been able to succeed with one or the other but not both.
Labor has a fundamental issue with wanting to be both a progressive party appealing to city voters, while also being able to simultaneously appeal to the battlers in the suburbs and regions where economic concerns are paramount.
How does it reconcile the demands of both of these demographic groups, that is the challenge.
The fight over climate change and the Adani coal mine became the prism through which this issue was best exemplified.
Adani personified this intractable problem. Labor wanted to be seen as being progressive on climate change in the cities, while Queensland coal miners in particular saw this as Labor selling out their jobs.
It also sent a broader message. In vacillating over Adani, Labor could not say that they supported blue collar jobs that potentially any new development would bring.
For a party founded on giving a political voice to workers, this was deadly. It is no surprise then that Labor’s primary vote in Queensland was 28% and Labor holds only 6 of 30 Federal seats in that state.
A key point that the review makes is that the ALP should avoid becoming a grievance-based organisation. No political party can be all things to all people. In taking a stand on issues, a party will inevitably please some and upset others.
While wanting to ensure that minority groups have a voice in the political process, it does not mean that Labor can adopt every minority group with a grievance. For Labor that means in some cases simply saying ‘No’.
The review also makes clear that Labor needs to reposition itself as the party of economic growth and reform, job creation and rising living standards.
This is quite a common-sense recommendation, but how will Labor give meaning to this.
It is clear that since the election both Anthony Albanese and the Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers in major speeches have changed Labor’s narrative in regard to the economy.
As an example, they have dropped the derogatory term “big end of town” in recognition that both small and large businesses both make significant contributions to economic prosperity.
Labor need to develop a credible narrative on the economy supported by policies that will give substance to that narrative. The Opposition will need to demonstrate how they will grow the economic pie and with that increase living standards and wages, as opposed to just having polices dedicated to slicing up the economic pie.
And the target of these policies have to be those in the outer suburbs and regions. As Jim Chalmers said, “There’s no path to victory that doesn’t travel through the ring roads and growth corridors of outer metropolitan Australia. You can’t have a strong national economy without good jobs and rising living standards in the suburbs.”
Its two and half years until the next election so Labor have time on their side. The review findings provide a potential roadmap. Will they follow its directions or get lost along the road?
A major indication will be next year when Labor hold its National Conference, one year earlier than usual where it will settle on its national policy platform.
This document will go a long way to demonstrating whether Labor will indeed be a party of economic growth and reform or a grievance-based organisation!!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jody Fassina is the Managing Director of Insight Strategy and has served as a strategic adviser to MedTech and pharmaceutical stakeholders.