Hello dear reader!

It’s been a very long time, my website is terribly out of date and I haven’t written anything in years. Things are not great are they? A lot has happened since I last graced your eyeballs with my brain words. Scott Morrison won an election, everything promptly caught on fire, then flooded, then the plague hit, then Morrison lost an election and we got the all new, all improved(?) Albanese government that pledged, hand on heart, that they would continue just like the previous trainwreck of a government.
I finally found the motivation to write about the ways the ALP is strategically failing in the vain hope that they will come to their senses and actually do something useful rather than try and gain the Coalition’s credibility for not addressing issues. Today I will outline the key components of the ALP’s strategy and why they’re disasters.

The “Small Target” Strategy

The ALP went to the election with a “small target” strategy. This means they picked a small number of issues to focus on and not deviate from with the intent to make them unassailable, as these policies are electoral winners and difficult for the Coalition to argue against. This makes sense on paper if you are just a brand running a marketing campaign for your product, rather than a government. The reality is that your opponents are under no obligation to stick to the topics you want to talk about and can make up whatever they like in the huge voids you leave with this strategy.The problem with making a small target is that your opponent can just paint larger ones to hit. Now, the ALP would say the strategy worked, as they are now the government, but I would disagree.

The ALP’s primary vote declined compared to the previous election they lost. Their small message didn’t win people over, what happened was the Coalition, specifically the Liberal Party’s vote collapsed. No one was listening because years of endless lying and switching out the leader any time they were about to lose left them with no tricks left in the bag. It would be very hard for the ALP to lose that election, if their strategy had worked they should have seen a massive majority, instead they limped over the line, barely forming a majority against a party who had completely lost the trust of the public. This should have immediately set off alarm bells to the ALP that they were on the wrong track, instead they’ve stayed the course at huge cost to their political capital. At a time when Australians demanded urgent change, the alternative (now actual) government offered more of the same and nearly lost because of it.

This also played into the disastrous referendum on a First Nations voice to parliament. Filled with confidence after their near defeat, the ALP strategists pushed a cunning small target referendum. Effectively asking the public “Do you agree with a Voice in principle” to which all polling suggested the answer was a resounding yes. However, running with a strategy of “we’ll work out the details later” runs into a very obvious hurdle that absolutely anyone who had put even the slightest thought into the strategy could have told you: The question that comes up will be “but what does that actually mean?”

The official “Yes” strategy was to say “we will have those discussions later, that’s not the question being asked” leaving yet another huge void to be filled in the question “but what am I actually voting FOR?” Predictably the Coalition’s leadership ran a campaign of painting targets instead of trying to hit the small target. It worked, people who in principle support a voice became confused and unsure as to what was on the table, what they would actually be supporting and if First Nations people even supported it. The answer to the latter question was that the majority of First Nations people did, in fact, support a Voice.

The Greens had warned the government that their strategy would fail; that “Voice, Truth, Treaty” was the wrong order, that you MUST have Truth first in order to have the conversations needed to bring about Treaty and Voice. I agree, in order for a referendum to succeed on something like this, first the general public must be made to come to terms with the realities of our past and present. Until then a compelling but comforting lie will always be enough to confuse an issue like this.

Albanese’s obsessive hatred of the Greens

Of course, Albanese didn’t listen to the Greens, whatever the Greens say, no matter how constructive or objectively true is consistently met with contempt and vitriol from the Prime Minister, who has a long history of this sort of behaviour when interacting with the Greens. The most obvious reason for this is that in Albanese’s seat of Grayndler is a competition between ALP and GRN, though Greens have no real prospect of claiming it any time soon. Where the Greens should be a natural ally of ALP progressive policies (somewhat lacking under this government), the ALP sees them as a threat to their base. You see it regularly in ALP rhetoric about Greens contesting seats “why are they trying to steal a Labor seat and not a Coalition seat?” demonstrates that the ALP feel entitled to those votes regardless of what the public actually wants. Moreover, the Greens contest every seat and put their resources into seats where they have support. There’s no actual rational or moral argument the ALP can make against the Greens, it’s simply outrage that they would dare challenge the ALP.

The Greens are currently the only party in Parliament that uses evidence based policy as the standard and material results as the measure of success. The ALP likes to characterise this as “idealism” or “not serious because they don’t have to be in government”, but in the end a policy does what it is supposed to do or it doesn’t and pretending that not actually addressing an issue is pragmatism is not sincere. Which brings us to our next topic.

Inconsistency in message and policy

The ALP are terrible at messaging and choose terrible messengers. If Bill Shorten offered someone dying of dehydration water in the desert, the ALP strategists would somehow get that person to refuse to take that life saving water, if they even remembered Shorten spoke to them moments after he offered it. Shorten lost two elections that should have been impossible to lose. Granted, Abbott being replaced by Turnbull was a disaster for ALP, as Turnbull is articulate and respectable as well as much more sane than Abbott. So perhaps it’s unfair to blame Shorten for that one. Shorten vs Morrison however is a different story. By that stage the campaign should have easily been able to push a known Shorten vs an unknown Morrison. They couldn’t because Shorten’s “leadership” style was to have no inflection and no personality. I’ve heard that this was the idea of ALP strategists and not Shorten’s genuine style, though I can’t confirm it.

Confusingly, ALP claims to have run a “positive campaign” and a “large target” strategy but it was neither of these things. ALP ran a negative campaign against the “top end of town” which given rising inequality should have had some resonance, unfortunately Australians see themselves as temporarily embarrassed billionaires and will accept no responsibilities to be made of the wealthy.

But the huge, glaring flaw in Shorten’s strategy was that he was using policy announcements to attempt to keep the Coalition on the back foot, which could have worked had the ALP ever wrangled control of the conversation, however given that Shorten could give the most important speech ever given and everyone would forget it the moment he stopped talking, this was not the position they were in. They would announce something, refuse to explain it, then walk away. How is this anything other than a small target? Stick to message and say nothing else.

In the end two major issues ended up boiling over against the ALP; their failure to explain their franking credit policy while the Coalition ran around running spreading fear about it and a death tax policy that didn’t even exist. Now surely ANYONE can see that if you’re losing on policies you don’t even have and minor policies you weren’t even focusing on there is something very wrong with your communication strategy.

Come the next election and all the ALP’s policies they didn’t lose over were gone, scales back or replaced with something nominally addressing the same issue but just a Coalition policy painted red. You ask a senior ALP person why the ALP abandoned all their actual policies they point to the previous election and say the people rejected them.

Did they? Or did you fail to communicate?

But there’s a more important aspect to this reversal of policies. If you argue a range of policies are important, evidence based and practical and then you abandon them all instead of sticking to them, what message does that send about how important you ACTUALLY think they are?

One thing about the Coalition apart from not actually standing for anything except election is that when they lose they don’t say “we were wrong”, they say “we failed to communicate” in their case that’s nonsense given their policies are almost entirely made up on vibes to win elections and have no actual effect unless it’s sponsored by some donor or they will directly profit from it. This is not so for many of the abandoned ALP policies, these policies had clear evidence bases, supported by and constructed by professionals in the relevant field. They did not become the wrong solution because they lost an election (often not even on that policy).

The ALP would do better to stick to their guns on important issues and continue to push for an evidence based solution rather than starting again every election cycle with a weaker policy than before.

“The Coalition are always right”

This brings us to the next point about ALP messaging where they eagerly saw off their own feet to win the race against the Coalition. When the ALP lose, they turn to the most insane of wedges: Adopting Coalition policy and talking points.

On everything from climate to taxation the ALP has shifted from offering an alternative policy to offering us a spin on a Coalition policy in order to make it more difficult for the Coalition to criticise it. This is absurd for multiple reasons;

-Coalition policies are almost always substance free talking points, not a material solution to the issue

-This is a variant on small target, the Coalition will simply target some other area of policy

-It legitimises the Coalition’s position as “the natural party of government” by asserting, yes, actually the Coalition’s deranged thought bubble is very sound policy, we were wrong, they were right, we’ll adopt their policy. It also fundamentally undermines the case for change that is so urgently needed on so many issues.

-Coalition “do nothing but look busy” politics has a short shelf life. Issues begin to pile up, they become costly both economically and politically. By sticking to these policies you’re just sitting on political landmines waiting for them to explode under you.

This is a matter for SOMEONE ELSE!

Now that ALP is in power, we’re seeing an alarming amount of Morrison’s “that’s not my job” from Albanese. When asked a question about a complex policy area he will say “that’s a matter for the States/Courts/Reserve Bank” to say “that’s not my job” He’s really trying to say “I’m not going to overstep separation of powers because I am a responsible leader” which is what Morrison was also trying to do, but the question is not “who is responsible?” the question being asked is “what is being done to address this crisis?”

“That’s not my job” is not the answer to the question being asked. In fact, often it is actually being used precisely in the way people interpreted Morrison’s “I don’t hold a hose” – to deflect responsibility onto someone else. We see this with the inflation crisis with Albanese and Chalmers gleefully jumping to “that’s the Reserve Bank’s responsibility” which is not actually true. The RBA has a single lever. Interest rates.

When Frydenberg was treasurer, the RBA governor quite rightly pointed out that actually there is a whole range of matters that are entirely within the government’s remit to manage with responsible policy, not the RBA’s. The treasurer stared him down and bullied him into silence, much to the relief, it appears, of the current government, who continue the Frydenberg line of absolving themselves of responsibility and blaming the RBA.

False respectability

Along with fake “positive campaigns” the ALP prides itself on not stooping to mud slinging and keeping it’s criticism of it’s opponents mild. By doing so they enable some of the worst, most outrageous behaviour from the Coalition, particularly the front bench that should not be at all acceptable. Gross misconduct and incompetence, if not outright corruption are given a free pass but the ALP out of “respect”. While the Coalition is acting irresponsibly the answer can not be to treat them as a respected, honorable colleague but must be to have no tolerance of that behaviour. The Coalition gets away with it because the ALP refuses to turn their appalling behaviour and mismanagement into an issue. Dutton’s track record as a minister is ABYSMAL, it is full of costly mistakes and incompetence. The ALP should be out there every day discrediting him because he is legitimately not fit for public office. False respectability only harms our democracy. If he wants a seat at the table he should respect the parliament and his position rather than playing populist tricks and false outrage.

This also goes for the media. So often we see the media fixated on drama rather than policy outcomes or evidence and they should be held to account for this. The media is so easily distracted by the latest air grabbing attempt from Dutton and spends all their resources covering empty words that are just the same thing rearranged over and over rather than focusing on anything of substance happening. The Chaser highlighted this years ago when Tanya Plibersek was health minister making an announcement about a health policy at a hospital. There was not a single question about the policy asked. Not a single question about health. Every one was about leadership speculation. This is not serving or informing the public.

Labor’s place in the two party system

There is a reason other than “going the high road” that the ALP spends so much time and effort propping up the Coalition. They are defending the two party system as the primary vote of the major parties continues to decline. Albanese sees the ALP’s fate tied to the Coalition’s and so he will defend the bad practices of the Coalition to the (political) death.

This is why the ALP has such a vitriolic response to the Greens, who they see as upsetting their status quo and their dismissal of the Teals. They’ve been able to keep this fairly low key thanks to having majority government, also because they would rather work with Teals than Greens as the Teals all took Coalition seats.

The ALP is currently trying to shift the two party paradigm to make themselves the party of default government rather than the Coalition, thus denying their role in the two party system. The way the system actually works is that your average disengaged voter prefers the Coalition not for any real ideological reason, but because they don’t actually do anything most of the time. People are afraid of change and it takes a lot to get them on board, even when there is an appetite for change, fear of the wrong change can derail it. So the Coalition’s “small government” approach of mismanaging the economy and running everything into the ground looks safe and comfortable to most people for a couple of terms. Then the impact of all that neglect starts to be felt and people start wanting change. What they expect from the ALP is repair. Fix health, fix education, fix infrastructure, but all of that involves change, which makes people restless, so within a few terms they switch back to the “safe” party that won’t do anything much. When either party gets overly ambitious ideas about changing things, even when those changes are necessary, it takes a lot of work to gain acceptance and usually takes multiple terms, something the ALP largely ignores in their “abandon everything if we lose” strategy.

By attempting to become the default government, the ALP is upsetting the balance – and expectation of them and will damage their reputation. The ALP can not affect the change they’re after in the two party system, they can, however, hold onto long term government if they embrace the paradigm shift rather than fighting it. The ALP should embrace minority government. There are many reasons why, here’s just a few:

-The ALP won government with a primary vote of around 30%. That means that 30% of the population decided that on the whole they’d prefer ALP’s policies over anyone else’s. That doesn’t even mean they agree with them, just if it’s that or something else, they more likely will take the ALP’s over anyone else’s. This may not be true of every ALP policy, but on average that’s what they picked. This means that if the ALP perfectly, smoothly, enacts 100% of their policy agenda, they can only guarantee, at best 30% satisfaction. You might swing some, but you’ll also probably lose some.

-Diversity doesn’t speak with one voice. Australia is a diverse place, there are many different sets of values and priorities in play. The Coalition understands this, which gives them a huge advantage having a whole other party, the Nationals, advocating different priorities for rural and regional Australia while the Liberals represent suburban Australia. Labor’s internal compromises are never going to satisfy a broad range of groups and it’s this internal inflexibility that is so costly for the ALP.

-The ALP/GRN coalition in the ACT has been very successful. The Gillard government was also highly successful, brought down not by policy, but by internal politics undermining their capacity to get a message out while the media focused on the drama of leadership, leaks and 3 word slogans from the opposition.

-The ALP’s constantly fighting against the Greens using evidence as the standard undermines ALP’s capacity to address issues, forcing them to flail around to find a way to do something without “capitulating to the Greens” as the major party primary votes continue to fall, this will become an increasingly difficult problem for the ALP to manage, as blowing up every solution that you didn’t come up with first is just going to leave you with no workable solutions with an increasing number of crossbenchers there because they want to see real, substantive action, dismissing them all as “not serious” (a favorite line of Albanese’s) is not going to cut it.

And so, as we conclude this essay, dear reader, I hope that I have articulated to you that the ALP is aggressively burning all their political capital in order to cling to a failing system when they don’t have to. They could be part of a long line of collaborative governments that work constructively to resolve issues rather than propping up a toxic and dying status quo that puts political games before the people of Australia. A large and diverse crossbench in both houses is much more suited to debating and resolving issues in a way that garners more support from the public by representing a wider range of views. The parliament belongs to everyone, not just one party, not just one view and it should reflect that in the policy making. This is what Australians have made clear they want, and it is up to the ALP to either make this transition smooth or turbulent. They do so at their own peril if they choose the latter.