Campaign Director's Address

Thank you very much for that introduction, Laura.

I’ll start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land that we gather on today – the Ngunnawal people – and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

I extend that respect to all First Nations people here in attendance today.

Thank you to the National Press Club, to Laura and to Maurice, for the invitation today to discuss the 2022 federal election.

On May 21st the Australian people voted decisively for a change of direction and elected a Labor Government led by Anthony Albanese.

For only the fourth time since the second world war – and the fifth time in a century – Labor won government from Opposition.

That achievement is a testament to Anthony’s leadership, the electorate’s confidence in his character, and his assessment that above all else Australians wanted something better.

In the final analysis Labor won the election because we talked about the future and we offered the country an alternative to more of the same.

After two years of COVID and nearly a decade of Coalition neglect, Labor offered Australians the chance to elect a Prime Minister who would show up, who would take responsibility and would work with people to solve problems.

An opportunity that Australians took.

Voters gained a clear sense over the course of the campaign of what a Labor government’s priorities would be.

Getting wages growing. Investing more in Medicare and healthcare. Working with business to bring back manufacturing.

And investing in renewable energy to reduce emissions and face up to the challenge of climate change.

This was the first core objective of our campaign: to cultivate, elevate and stoke a mood for change.

We also had to account for a group of voters who held out until the very end, those who would describe themselves in their own words as ‘sitting on the fence’.

The biggest barrier Labor had to overcome was not voters’ evaluation of our proposition or a counter-offer from the Coalition.

It was a widespread and deep sense of fatigue, anxiety, and aversion to risk after some of the most difficult years that we’ve endured.

Normally, these sentiments would drive fence-sitters decisively back to the government of the day and weigh heavily against an effort to build a majority for change.

Yet we had a powerful argument.  

We asserted that the alternatives at this election were not ‘the devil you know’ or ‘a leap into the unknown’.

Instead it was a clear choice between a better future under Anthony Albanese, and three more years of a Morrison Government.

This was the second core objective of our campaign –

To ensure that for anyone still sitting on the fence, the spectre that haunted them into the polling booth was three more years of Scott Morrison.

We did this having formed an assessment that the Coalition would do some work for us – that all they had to offer was more of the same.

More record low wages growth, a cost-of-living crisis, billions of dollars in waste and rorts, and nothing to show for a trillion dollars of debt.

In the 18 months leading up to polling day the Coalition’s refused to talk about the future and refused to put forward anything resembling a positive case for their own re-election.

In fact, I’m not sure they put forward a single idea until six days out from polling day.

And when the votes were counted our arguments prevailed.

Before any discussion of the results what I’d like to do is spend some time examining the events that produced the 2022 electoral environment.

I doubt any Labor supporter will ever forget the crushing sense of disappointment they felt on election night in 2019.

The critical point about the 2019 experience is that the Labor Party held its nerve following a difficult defeat and focused on learning the lessons so that we could be competitive next time.

2019 has been analysed to death which I won’t add to – but I must thank the ALP Campaign Review panel chaired by Dr Craig Emerson and Jay Weatherill for their work.

Their findings and recommendations were an essential guide throughout the term.

As was a landmark speech on the economy delivered by Anthony Albanese in Perth in the week before the review was delivered to the National Executive.

That speech reframed the climate change debate as a contest to take advantage of the opportunities that will be created by the global shift to renewables.

Australia’s policy settings under the Coalition have barely acknowledged climate change – let alone sought to shape the change that is coming to enable Australians to benefit.

Two weeks later a state of emergency was declared in NSW – with Sydney, the Hunter and the Illawarra all facing catastrophic fire danger.

As the bushfire crisis escalated Scott Morrison went missing in action, took a holiday to Hawaii, lied about it via the Prime Minister’s office, told 2GB he doesn’t hold a hose, and tried to turn the distress of bushfire victims into a photo opportunity for himself.

The template for Scott Morrison’s unique approach to leadership was set – and none of his ministerial colleagues quibbled with it or sought to correct it.

Moving into 2020, in January the ANAO released a report into the Community Sport Infrastructure Program, exposing the rorts that became a hallmark of the Coalition’s time in government.

And then COVID arrived.

From March onwards the pandemic overwhelmed discussion of every other issue.

Incumbents dominated the conversation and the share of public attention available to the Opposition was much smaller than usual.

Public appetite for political conflict was at an all-time low, particularly in the first few months – the period when Labor fought and won the Eden-Monaro by-election.

The significance of victory in Eden-Monaro cannot be overstated.

A first-rate candidate – Kristy McBain – backed with creative advertising and an innovative campaign that organised our way through the early stages of pandemic.

The result built confidence across the Party that the project of rebuilding our campaigning machinery after 2019 was underway.

Unlike other oppositions, Federal Labor’s strategy throughout 2020 was to offer broad support for the public health response and stand up for people left behind by the Coalition’s economic response.

This was appreciated by the voters and helped Federal Labor maintain a sound position – especially in states where the Liberal opposition took an alternative approach and behaved and looked like wreckers.

Throughout this period voters were, as Lynton Crosby told the Sydney Morning Herald in September 2020, "willing governments to succeed".

This was a moment when the Morrison government had the chance to rise above partisanship and, in Sir Lynton’s words, ‘inspire and innovate'.

That’s why it was odd, and then galling, to watch the Liberals commence an all-out assault on state & territory Labor governments in the second half of 2020 over the COVID response.

This began with the passive cynicism of Morrison reducing his daily media appearances as second wave outbreaks in NSW and Victoria took off, leaving it to the Premiers to front the bad news.

It started at the top but this strategy was pursued with enthusiasm by the entire coalition – let not just by Morrison but by the whole of the Cabinet.

No Victorian needs to be reminded of the Liberals subsequent attempts to undermine the public health response to the second wave in Melbourne, led by Josh Frydenberg and the lamentable Tim Smith.

This was followed by Morrison’s recklessly partisan misrepresentation of the Andrews Government’s roadmap to COVID-normal – a moment which the political and media establishment outside of Melbourne misunderstood in my judgement.

Morrison’s cynical criticism of the Palaszczuk government’s border closure in the lead up to the Queensland state election was beneath any Prime Minister.

And of course, the Liberals backed Clive Palmer’s failed High Court challenge to the WA border closure.

At the heart of this behaviour were two impulses that the Liberals seemed incapable of controlling – hubris and mindless partisan tribalism.

Too clever by half, by September 2020 we identified that the Liberals’ efforts to put distance between the Federal government and any problems with the COVID response cut both ways.

Voters developed a default association of the successes and failures of Australia’s encounter with COVID with the State Governments, the health system and the wider community response – not with the federal government.

That said the ‘rally around the flag’ effect still applied, and at the time Morrison enjoyed approval ratings in Newspoll in the mid-60s.

Perhaps this explains the glimpses of hubris in some of the backgrounding emanating from the Prime Minister’s office at the time.

In a very well briefed feature in July 2020, the Financial Review profiled the network of cabinet ministers and advisers shaping government policy on everything from the bushfires and the pandemic response to the Australia-China relationship.

And it was a network.

Apart from the triumphalist tone of the briefing, what was notable about this story was that of the 14 figures named, 13 were men.

I offer no criticism of the individuals from the public service and business named in the story, but this was far too narrow a base to draw upon in any circumstances, let alone a crisis requiring a whole-of-community response.

Two days after the publication of that story the Morrison government put an end to free childcare, and early childhood educators and carers were excluded from JobKeeper on July 20.

Women suffered the most during the pandemic yet the Liberal response demonstrated either a lack of awareness or a lack of interest.

Scott Morrison’s strange inability to comprehend life outside his own experiences had already been on display during Eden-Monaro when he told Parliament that his solution to a lack of maternal health services in Yass – which left a woman giving birth by the side of the road on the Barton Highway – was to upgrade the highway.

That October the federal budget crystalised awareness that the Coalition were blind to gender inequality – notwithstanding that according to the Morrison PMO “no one credible” agreed with this view.

And Anthony Albanese’s Budget Reply commitment to cheaper childcare laid down another important plank for our campaign and made the case that improving childcare is a fundamental economic reform.

As the 46th Parliament passed half-time attention turned to the next election.

We established our Campaign Committee, chaired by our National President Wayne Swan, and I want to thank all of the members of the Campaign Committee, which has set a template for successful Labor campaigning that draws together the Parliamentary wing, the union movement and the party organisation.

Our internal polling showed Labor drawing even with the Coalition by November 2020, then opening a small yet stable lead by the end of summer.

Yet the dominant sentiment we encountered in our qualitative research at the beginning of 2021 was a sense of “change fatigue”.

For many the last few years had already seen too much turmoil, capped off by the pandemic.

More than anything else voters were hoping that 2021 would bring a return to stability and certainty.

The first quarter of 2021 was dominated by the reckoning around workplace culture and bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault in Parliamentary and political workplaces.

These are serious topics which require ongoing examination, reflection and action across the Parliament.

I am not here to offer partisan conclusions about the culture of Parliament House but in the context of the 2022 federal election I make this observation:

Two of Scott Morrison’s comments from this period continued to come up in our research right until election day as indicative of his failure to understand women.

First; that it wasn’t until he considered these issues as a husband and a father that he was able to reflect and listen.

And second; that women who marched outside Parliament house were lucky not to be met with bullets.

After Easter it became clear that the Coalition wanted the option of a Spring election off the back of the 2021 federal budget.

Their behaviour throughout 2020 meant they couldn’t enter that contest from the position of strength enjoyed by the State & Territory governments who already sought re-election during the pandemic.

By now voters were wary that whenever things got hard Morrison refused to take responsibility and none of his colleagues stepped in to fill the gap or suggest otherwise.

They worried that beating COVID during 2020 had been down to the states and now the Federal Government was “playing wait and see” on the virus and on the economy.

Ultimately the prospect of an early election would depend on the success of the vaccine rollout.

And the truth is that the Coalition’s refusal to secure a variety of vaccine deals had left Australia dangerously exposed.

World’s best practice was to secure between up to six vaccine deals, yet Australia was too late to do a deal with Pfizer, too late to do a deal with Moderna, and placed too many eggs in the AstraZeneca basket.

In February the vaccine rollout commenced – slowly – but momentum stalled when ATAGI updated their advice in response to safety concerns around AstraZeneca in April.

Problems with specific vaccines were inevitable.  

Unfortunately in mid-2020 when the Coalition were giving themselves a big pat on the back for the early stages of the COVID response, they were also failing to do basic due diligence.

This isn’t the wisdom of hindsight – Chris Bowen pointed out the urgent need to invest in a range of potential COVID vaccines in July 2020.

Liberal failure to do so was the context for Morrison saying three times in one day in March 2021 that the vaccine rollout was not a race and it wasn’t a competition.

The bungled rollout wasn’t something that happened to the Coalition – it was a direct result of their dangerous complacency.

And the failures on vaccines was paired with their refusal to establish a safe and effective national quarantine system as an alternative to hotel quarantine.

These chickens came home to roost this time last year as we entered winter.

Demand for vaccines massively outstripped supply, and leaky hotel quarantine led to repeated COVID outbreaks.

By July the Delta variant was on the loose and half of the country was locked down.

In our polling Scott Morrison’s net competence score fell by 14 points in two weeks between late June and early July.

By September Morrison was in a neutral position on a measure that had been his core strength throughout 2020 – and the prospect of a 2021 federal election was all but gone.

In our research, voters now regularly referred to Morrison and the Liberals as “mishandling things”, “making too many mistakes” and “stuffing things up”.

The judgement the electorate arrived at had been first articulated by Mark Butler in April:

“Scott Morrison had two jobs this year, a speedy effective rollout of the vaccine and a safe national quarantine system.”

One final point about 2021.

In June Barnaby Joyce returned as Nationals Leader and Deputy PM.

One of the catalysts for Matt Canavan’s motion to spill the Nats leadership was right-wing opposition to Net Zero.

In the lead-up to the COP26 conference the Liberals begged the Nationals to commit to net zero by 2050 – then released a vacuous pamphlet that maintained Tony Abbott’s 2030 targets.

I recall some reporting in late 2021 suggesting that the Liberals believed the Net Zero commitment would see off any threat from climate-oriented independents.

All I can say based on our work is we never saw any evidence that Morrison persuaded anyone of his commitment to the climate, which is hardly surprising given the empty and desperately political nature of where he landed.

By the end of 2021 the political environment that the election would be fought in was becoming clear.

As I stated earlier, after 2020 voters were seeking stability and certainty.

Following the crushing experiences of 2021 – whilst they still sought stability and certainty – now they were also looking for some hope for the future.

Australia was ready to contemplate a change of government, but their aversion to risk remained a powerful force.

Our research showed that if change looked too risky, enough voters would stick with the Coalition.

Whilst an overwhelming mood for change had not taken hold, there was a desire for renewal.

The prospect of putting COVID behind us and leaving the disorder of the last few years in the past would be a clear winner.

On December 5 Anthony outlined Labor’s campaign theme: A Better Future.

A positive and aspirational case for renewal rather than revolution, that brought together the practical plans Labor had developed over the previous two years.

In the same week Anthony and Chris Bowen set out Labor’s Powering Australia plan – which took the principles outlined in October 2019 in Perth and made them real.

Powering Australia is one of the most detailed and ambitious plans for economic reform put forward by an Opposition.

Investing in renewables; upgrading the electricity grid; making electric vehicles cheaper – a plan to reduce Australia’s emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 and put us on the path to net zero.

After a decade of division and failure Australia was at the back of the pack globally – and the federal government was leaving it to business and the states & territories to show leadership.

Australians were ready to vote for a plan that would bring people together and take the country forward.

Being serious about the climate was critical to Labor gains in Bennelong, Chisholm, Higgins and Boothby, and being serious about jobs drove swings towards Labor in the Hunter and central Queensland.

Over that summer the failures of the vaccine rollout were repeated when the omicron wave arrived and the shortage of rapid antigen tests ruined the Christmas holidays.

This period did denied Morrison his summer reset and reinforced his weaknesses – ignoring warnings, refusing to take responsibility, going missing and then blaming others.

With most of the population now vaccinated and aware that omicron was less likely to cause severe symptoms, a degree of fatalism about catching COVID had settled in.

For the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, COVID no longer dominated voters’ thinking about the election.

Instead cost of living became the number one issue across the board – and remained so until election day.

The weeks leading up to Saturday May 21 were colourful and dramatic but for me, three issues stand out.

First – the debate about China’s increasingly assertive behaviour and Australia’s relationships in our region.

The night before the first leadership debate the ABC reported that China and the Solomon Islands would proceed with a security pact.

The Coalition’s response was irresponsible and immature – assertions that the Chinese Communist Party were backing Labor, warmongering rhetoric on ANZAC day, talk of ‘red lines’, and failed attempts to suggest Labor opposes the AUKUS arrangement.  

This followed February’s Manchurian candidate silliness, which left the minority of the electorate who are not dedicated fans of psychological thrillers featuring Frank Sinatra scratching their heads.

Within a week Labor released our detailed plan to restore Australia’s place as the partner of choice for countries in the Pacific.

The contrast couldn’t have been clearer, and voters reached the inescapable conclusion that the Coalition had completely dropped the ball.

Second – the economy, wages and the cost-of-living crisis.

It’s no surprise that cost of living was the top election issue when Australians were facing rising interest rates, spiralling inflation and declining real wages.

The March CPI data, the Reserve Bank’s decision to increase interest rates, and the argument over the minimum wage were the catalyst for this becoming an election-defining issue.

Over the course of the campaign Labor’s economics team, led by Jim Chalmers and Katy Gallagher, set out an agenda to boost productivity, boost wages growth and fix the budget.

We campaigned consistently on the need to boost wages growth – it was in our TV ads. And we pointed out there were plenty of things the federal government could do.

Supporting minimum wage cases.

Investing in TAFE and training.

Boosting workforce participation through cheaper childcare.

Giving workers more job security.

Investing in industries that will grow and provide employment opportunities into the future.

The Liberals argued that Australia was already enjoying a strong recovery, but only a returned Morrison government could secure that recovery.

Yet whenever the question was the real experience of working people the Liberals said that everything was beyond Australia’s control.

Anything to avoid admitting there’s a role for government.

Until Anthony Albanese said that he’d welcome the Fair Work Commission increasing the minimum wage to match headline inflation.

Then the Liberals claimed the sky would fall in – undercutting their campaign assertions about the strength of the recovery.

This wasn’t just incompetent, it was incoherent.

Third housing.

As I noted, it wasn’t until the final six days of the campaign that the Liberals offered a new idea.

But when they did, it was a desperate attempt to make the superannuation system a new front in their ongoing culture wars.

This final week surprise fell flat because voters saw it for what it was – bad policy that would undermine the superannuation system and push up house prices.

In our final week research we struggled to find a friend for the Liberals’ superannuation-for-housing policy.

And it’s since been reported that the Liberal campaign knew it was an idea that wouldn’t withstand scrutiny, which is why they pushed out the timing to so late.

Even that didn’t work.

If there is a common thread to these three issues it is that the Liberal Party of 2022 is defined by nastiness and incompetence.

The eight factors that lead to their defeat were:

  1. A pathological refusal to take responsibility for anything, which comes from their small government mindset.

  2. Incompetent management of the federal government’s responsibilities during the pandemic.

  3. Cabinet-wide partisan attacks on state & territory governments throughout COVID, which particularly alienated voters in Victoria and WA.

  4. Incompetent budget management.

  5. An incoherent and incompetent response to the cost-of-living crisis.

  6. Incompetent engagement with our allies and our region.

  7. A lack of awareness or interest in women’s experiences across the economy and society.

  8. A decades-long failure to take climate change seriously.

Scott Morrison may have come to personify these failures, but they are institutional and collective, not individual.

They were actively prosecuted by senior cabinet ministers and all Coalition leaders, including the two men then seen as the only likely successors to Scott Morrison – Josh Frydenberg and Peter Dutton.

My final observations deal with the result.

Labor gained 10 seats from the Coalition and every Labor incumbent who was under threat from the Coalition retained their seat, enabling the ALP to form majority government.

That said there is clearly a message in the result for both major parties: we still have a major challenge in front of us to rebuild trust in our political institutions and restore confidence in the Parliament.

I would always like to see more voters record a primary vote for Labor, and Labor to win more seats.

Our primary vote remains in the low 30s – and it needs to grow.

Queensland was one of only two states where the Labor primary increased – but we didn’t gain any seats and we lost Griffith to the Greens.

And there are challenges for Labor in Tasmania that the Party needs to thoroughly examine.

These are amongst just some of the issues that we need to examine, and today the National Executive appointed Greg Combet and Lenda Oshalem to review our campaign.

On behalf of the Party organisation I thank Greg and Lenda for agreeing to take on this important task.

Just as we did after 2019, we will listen to the message from the voters, learn the lessons and apply them over the next three years.

A related comment about how people voted – for the first time more than half of the votes cast in this election were cast before polling day.

During the campaign our research showed that Labor voters were much more likely to get the job done before May 21 through early voting and postal voting than they had been at any previous poll.

So as we all experienced on election night, local booth results from election day suggested a much tougher result for Labor than the ultimate outcome.

For this reason booth-level analysis, such as that touted over the last week making claims about the relationship between wealth and voting behaviour, is not worth much.

The fact is that at this election Labor won amongst full-time workers,

We won amongst voters trained at TAFE,

We won amongst renters and mortgage holders,

And we won amongst voters in low-income households – that is households earning less than $50,000 per annum,

And we won amongst voters living in medium household incomes – incomes between $50,000 and $150,000 per annum.

And some of our biggest swings were recorded in outer suburban and regional electorates.

In seats we hold like Greenway, Macquarie, Eden-Monaro, Dobell, Dunkley and Corangamite.

In seats we gained like Robertson, Hasluck and Pearce.

And in seats we didn’t gain but will continue to campaign in and fight for, like Flynn and Deakin.

Before concluding I would like to thank several people across the Party and the campaign team without whom a Labor victory would not have been possible.

ALP National President Wayne Swan – Wayne has helped steer the Party organisation through one of our most challenging periods and has been a tremendous source of support and advice to me over the past three years.

Jen Light, Labor’s Assistant National Secretary and the director of a Target Seats Unit that made the difference.

The State & Territory Secretaries of the ALP, and all of the officials and organisers who worked on the campaign.

The ALP National Executive, with a personal thank you from me to those members I have worked most closely with over the last 8 years – Linda White, Gerard Dwyer, Michael O’Connor and Tim Ayres.

In the National Secretariat: Bernie Shaw and Sandy Rippingale

Dennis Perry and Heather Watkins.

Our digital director Kate Ryan and deputy digital director Ross Caldwell.

Our launch team, led by the Federal Labor Business Forum’s Kate Dykes.

The Leader’s office, especially those we worked with daily: Tim Gartrell, Katie Connolly, Liz Fitch and Jeff Singleton.

Our research operation –

At YouGov, Campbell White and his team.

At Essential Media, Tony Douglas, Gavin White and Alissa Clement.

At Talbot-Mills, David Talbot and Stephen Mills.

And in the Secretariat, Bryce Roney and Lachlan Poulter.

Our lead creative Dee Madigan and her team at Campaign Edge.

Darren Moss and his team at the Moss Group.

And our advertising director David Nelson.

Everyone who worked in Campaign HQ – with a particular acknowledgement from me to Lidija Ivanovski, Tim Watts, Ben Rillo, Jenny Mason, Georgia Goldsworthy, Rueben Ray, Houston Ash and John Olenich.

And lastly – the Labor Party’s membership and the mighty trade union movement.

This truly was a collective effort, and I want to thank every single Labor supporter and union member who joined a phone bank, knocked on a door, handed out a how-to-vote card or donated to support the cause of Labor.

Winning is exhilarating, but it isn’t long before the real work takes over.

The Labor Party would do well to remember three things.

  1. You are never as good as your last win.

  2. You are never as bad as your last loss.

  3. Elections are about the future, not about the past.

At the next election we won’t be fighting Scott Morrison – although we will be up against some of his nastier and more incompetent enablers.

Before then, over the next three years this Labor Government has a chance to demonstrate that the better future Australians voted for is possible.

Thank you for having me.


Laura Tingle:

Thanks so much for your speech. You gave us a really interesting insight into your internal polling and focus groups, but mostly about what they thought about Scott Morrison and the Government. I was wondering what they were saying about Anthony Albanese and what policies cut through because one of the big debates during the campaign was about whether Labor had differentiated itself enough. Some people – true believers – said there were really big policy differences but other people said you were just trying to minimise the target. What did cut through from the Labor message in those groups?

Paul Erickson:

Thank you very much, Laura. First on Anthony - what was very well understood by people was that Anthony is down to earth, very much in touch with the typical Australian and someone who was seen, I think, as very experienced and a safe pair of hands. Ultimately I think the success of Anthony's leadership and of our campaign was that when people came to cast their vote, they could imagine Anthony as Prime Minister. Indeed I think he's made a really strong start and had a really successful first three and a half weeks in the office. And the fact that we won in my view is a function of the fact that people could imagine Anthony doing the job.

On what policies we prosecuted over the three years that cut through the most - I would say that what was clear to us at the end was voters - when we asked voters what would be different under a Labor Government? – they imagined more action on climate change and investment in renewables, more investment in health, and more support for working people.

Anna Henderson:

Anna Henderson from SBS World News and the director at the National Press Club. Thank you for your address. Labor was accused during the election campaign of misleading voters in relation to the Cashless Debit Card and paid advertising suggesting it was going to be expanded to all age pensioners. On reflection, was that a lie? And do you think it's time and would you back a truth in political advertising laws?

Paul Erickson:

Thank you, Anna. Absolutely it was not a lie. We campaigned against the Cashless Debit Card and pointed to the Liberal Government and Anne Ruston, the former Minister's, own words and we have now taken steps as we committed to abolish the Cashless Debit Card.

Anna Henderson:

I think the Fact Check from a number of outlets it was misleading, though. Do you accept that?

Paul Erickson:

Well I don’t agree. No, I don't. In terms of truth in advertising, I think there are a number of issues relating to electoral law that the campaign and the election result will give rise to a very interesting debate about. After every election, the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters conducts an inquiry into the election and we always make a submission. Generally, we'll go along and appear before the Committee and offer our reflections on the campaign.

I'm not going to from here today make policy, that's the job of the Cabinet who are meeting up in Gladstone today, of course. But after the last election, Jay Weatherill and Craig Emerson's review of the 2019 campaign pointed to some of the debates that arose over the course of the 2019 campaign and encouraged the Labor Party to consider support for truth in advertising laws.

I'm sure that that debate as well as many others will play out through the electoral matters committee's review of the election and will be an active participant in that.

Phil Coorey:

Thanks Laura, hi Mr Erickson. Phil Coorey from the AFR. Your speech, you gave a very comprehensive, sort of, view how Scott Morrison lost the election and wasn't so much how Labor won it other than exploiting the various missteps which you outlined guided by polling and so forth and you also noted yourself Labor's low primary vote and that you won't have Scott Morrison next time or a lot of the factors that got you over the line this time. What is it in your view that Labor needs to do over the next three years to get that primary vote up and to win it in your own right without the factors that helped you last time? And what is the new minimum primary you think for holding on to power given all the variables now in the system?

Paul Erickson:

Thanks very much, Phil. We did win in our own right.

Phil Coorey:

No, I'm not disputing you didn't.

Paul Erickson:

I’d say the minimum primary for holding on and winning again in our own right is probably 32.58%.

Phil Coorey:

You can do it again?

Paul Erickson:

And I don't agree with the proposition that my speech or my remarks have made an argument that we didn't win it and they lost it. I think in my remarks I set out how we thought about the election and that we felt that we had two arguments we had to make.

First - how would Australia be different under a Labor Government led by Anthony Albanese? And we set that case out. We set it out in principle in terms of Anthony's leadership style and we set it out in detail on issues like climate, child care, health, wages and the cost of living.

Second - the second argument we had to make was that the country couldn't afford three more years of Mr Morrison.

I think that we start – and Anthony starts – in a very strong position in terms of the next three years and he has an opportunity to be a successful Prime Minister, and the electorate will form their own judgement in three years on how we have gone.

As I said in my remarks, Anthony's leadership style is to bring people together and work hard to fix problems and create opportunities. Over the last four weeks, I think people have already seen that in action and I think the Australian public have really warmed to that as a new approach.

Of course we have taken office at a very challenging time. As the Treasury Secretary said last week, we are facing the most complex international environment in 70 years, but I don't think that Anthony or anyone in the Cabinet will be complacent for one second.

And the scale of the challenges that we face are also an opportunity for the new Labor Government to reshape the country and to deliver that better future that we campaigned on. I think that's the task that's in front of the Government for the next three years.

Greg Brown:

Greg Brown from The Australian. Again on primary votes – do you think there was a peculiar reason at this election that the primaries of both major parties were so low? And was this do you think a bit of a one-off? Or do you think we're heading to a future where the major parties will have lower primary votes and will have to increasingly form coalitions and multi-party governments?

Paul Erickson:

Thank you very much, Greg. We will set out at the next election to form Government in our own right just as we did in this election and we were successful in doing so.

There is a long-term trend around the world where the traditional major parties are coming under pressure and Australia is no different. I think that at this election perhaps some of the stresses and strains in the community after the events of the last two years and the very big steps that governments had to take to deal with the pandemic played out in some parts of the country and you can see that in the swings.

But we will just continue to campaign for...

Greg Brown:

But the days of 40% primary votes, are they over?

Paul Erickson:

No, no, I think there's lots of examples around the world and through Australia's history of a government like this one coming to office in circumstances like this and then building its support through good government and by delivering on what it promised.

The Ardern Government in New Zealand is a good example in terms of looking at their result in 2017 and then their re-election, and there have been examples at a state level here in Australia in the recent history of state Labor Governments.

That's the challenge that's in front of us. But, no, I don't accept that we here in some new epoch or new era where everything is different.

David Crowe:

Thank you Laura, thanks Mr Erickson. David Crowe from the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age of Melbourne. I really enjoyed your speech. Thank you for setting out exactly what happened in the last term. To be honest some parts of your speech seem like ancient history and I can barely remember them. They seemed so long ago. But thank you for the context. I can't help but wonder about your reflections on the campaign itself because that is still top of mind, fresh in our thinking, and surely there were moments in that campaign where you thought, "Oh, oh, hang on a minute, this isn't looking quite so good." On reflection, were there moments in the campaign where you thought, "Sorry, look, we just got that wrong.” You had to pick yourself up and the team and press forward? What's your reflections on the mistakes, if any, in that campaign?

Paul Erickson:

Thanks very much, David. No campaign is perfect. The experience of every campaign is the challenges are constantly thrown at you and things go wrong. The test is not whether you can run a mistake-free campaign. The test is how do you respond when new challenges emerge, when events throw unexpected dynamics at you, or when mistakes happen.

Throughout our campaign we always tried to maintain with clarity a real focus on our strategy – always go back to what we were trying to achieve, always go back to our message and just move through all of the currents as the six weeks expired.

It was even more so the case in this campaign because of COVID. We were constantly having people get sick – I missed a week, the Leader missed a week, the President, the Assistant National Secretary, I think around half of the Cabinet. It was just constantly coming at us.

The way I think to deal with that as a campaigner is just to maintain that focus on what is your strategy, what are you trying to do, and that's how we dealt with and grappled with challenges as they came along.

David Crowe:

Did mistakes stand out to you?

Paul Erickson:


Laura Tingle:

Is that because you can't remember it?

Paul Erickson:

I’ve still got brain fog.

David Crowe:

I can't help but ask?

Paul Erickson:

Yes. If they did, then I'll be having that discussion with Greg Combet and Lenda Oshalem.

Laura Tingle:

One statistic that you can’t remember either by the sounds of things.

Andrew Brown:

Andrew Brown from AAP News Wire. We saw a bit of a fundamental shift on election night with a lot of voters ditching the major parties and instead choosing independents and minor parties. Given what happened to what many people saw as very safe Liberal seats in areas that would never be taken by an independent, what part of Labor strategies going forward would you think would have to change to make sure that safe Labor seats, particularly in inner city areas, don't suffer a similar fate?

Paul Erickson:

Thank you very much, Andrew. I think the lesson is that there's no such thing as a safe seat. We're in an era where you have to campaign for every vote and you have to campaign thoroughly and properly in every electorate and indeed the judgement that the electorate are going to form on election day is as much a function of their experiences and their observations over the three years as it is of what happens in the final six weeks.

For us, there's a lot there for us to reflect upon about how we govern, about how people do their jobs as representatives over three years and then how we campaign.

In a sense what we saw at this election was an acceleration of some long-term trends which means that we just need to be reflective and look at what it means for us and then think about first: how does that inform strategy over three years? And secondly: what does it mean for campaign development as we think about the next campaign.

Paul Karp:

Paul Karp from The Guardian, thanks very much for your speech. Labor won a majority but the Greens and the independents increased their representation by promising even greater ambition on climate change. I note the seats that you had climate swings to you, Bennelong, Chisholm, Higgins and Boothby. Only one of them had a high-profile independent and none of them were top tier Greens targets. So my question is - how worried are you that those will be the next to fall to a growing crossbench if Labor doesn't lift its ambition on climate?

Paul Erickson:

Thank you very much, Paul. I'm not going to make policy from the podium today. Policy is obviously the domain of the Cabinet and the Parliamentary party. We have a very ambitious plan on climate change and I talked about that in my remarks. That's what the Albanese Government will be putting forward to the community and in the Parliament.

I'm confident of the four members that were elected in those seats – they'll do an excellent job over the next three years.

I think if we look at the teal seats, the issues that were in play in those seats were the electorate's dissatisfaction with Mr Morrison's performance as Prime Minister, and anger at the Liberal Party over climate, over the treatment of women and over integrity.

So the 2022 election and the contest between the Liberals and the Teals played out with those issues and on the terms that we saw.

I don't think that you can extrapolate from that much, if anything, about what the next election might look like and what it means for the Labor Government.

I think that the next three years will play out on their terms.

On the Greens, there's no doubt that the Greens are an effective campaign machine and they do have a very successful strategy that they have honed over 20 years.

Which is to always position yourself two steps to the left of Labor, minimise our successes, give zero credit for any of the progressive gains that Labor Governments make, constantly criticise and seek to divide Labor's base in a manner that doesn't help progressive politics.

That's what Adam's entire adult life has been about.

The fact is, it was a very long campaign, it was a no-holds-barred contest and the Liberals ran very effective negative advertising against Labor and that depressed our vote at the end.

(However) the Liberals were unsuccessful at persuading the electorate to return to them.

So it's not surprising that other parties and candidates benefited from the late swing.

Unlike the Liberals who have spent the last month attacking the voters for electing teal candidates, we're not going to criticise the electorate for the judgement that they arrived at.

We're going to continue to make our case that the only way to achieve progressive change in this country is through a majority Labor Government.

And we're going to examine the results and think about and reflect on what happened in the campaign, learn the lessons and apply them for the next time.

Laura Tingle:

You mentioned the importance of the treatment of women in the teal seats and you also gave us a bit of a rundown on what groups had swung to Labor. I was wondering what you can tell us about the gender breakdown for the vote of Labor? Did you win a lot of women voters and in particular income groups?

Paul Erickson:

What we found in our work was that there was a swing to Labor – or a swing away from the government and to other parties, which depending on the electorate we're talking about, Labor was the beneficiary of – amongst women for some of the reasons that I talked about. But there were also a swing to Labor amongst men.

Time will tell in terms of what analyses out of the Australian election study that the ANU does and other work that might come out about whether there was a greater gender gap at this election than in the past elections.

I'm not suggesting you’re doing this, but I think it would be a mistake to reduce our analysis of the swing purely down to those terms and to not also recognise that there was a swing to Labor amongst men as well.

Also, we did not see the sort of class or education divide that some people have applied in their analysis to that reaction to and response to the Liberal Party and Morrison not listening to and not engaging with women.

I think it was much broader than the old-fashioned cliched idea about doctor's wives.

In fact, I wondered whether that sort of thinking might have been a mistake that was made by some players who didn't quite comprehend the breadth of the reaction across the community.

Mark Kenny:

Mark Kenny from ANU and the Canberra Times. Thanks, Mr Erickson. I wonder if you could talk about another fairly unique situation in this election where the Prime Minister literally couldn't go to a number of the safest seats of his own party. That must have been an extraordinary situation for you. Did it affect the way the Government was able to campaign? Did it keep candidates like Josh Frydenberg in their electorates rather than being able to move around? I noticed Frydenberg, for example, did not travel to the flood region when Morrison was COVID-affected, so no senior government person seemed to take leadership in the early days of those floods. I'm just wondering how did you read that dynamic at the time? And just a final cheeky one - you mentioned the safe seats are dead. Is the helicopter candidate also dead as a concept?

Paul Erickson:

Thanks very much Mark. Dealing with the first question - in a sense, that's a question for the Liberal Party and for the Government rather than us.

What we did observe was there were a lot of seats on our target seat list that we were campaigning hard in that the Prime Minister couldn't go to because he was not an electoral asset for the Coalition to put it politely.

And that was across-the-board. He was as unpopular in Hunter as he was in Higgins.

When we were observing their behaviour, we felt that there was a bit of a tendency for Morrison to go to places that they weren't much chance of losing or weren't much chance of winning. And there was a whole narrative that was propagated over the campaign about this red wall of Labor seats that was going to fall over and we never saw any evidence in our work that that was a real live threat.

Which meant that either we were getting it wrong and our research was missing something, or it was not the case and the election results proved that it was the latter, not the former.

On your second question - you're talking about Fowler.

So to address that issue.

First thing I'd say is I think it is a great shame that Kristina Keneally was not elected and will not play a role in the Labor Government.

I want to pay tribute to Kristina’s service over 20 years in the New South Wales Parliament, the Federal Parliament, and over the last three years as a member of the leadership group.

All that said, we're not going to disrespect the verdict of the voters. To the extent that there are lessons there is for Labor, that's something that the review will have to work through. I think that the headline lesson from it is that there's no such thing as a safe seat.

Andrew Tillet:

Andrew Tillett from the Financial Review and board member here at the Press Club. You mentioned in your speech, Paul, about the war mongering talk with China hurting the former government with the voters. There's been some commentary around how areas with a high Chinese-Australian population swung towards Labor. I'm just wondering if you can give us some thoughts on what you actually saw there, how strong that swing actually was and is it something that has - has the Coalition and probably specifically the Liberal Party lost perhaps a generation of Chinese-Australian voters with that rhetoric that you talked about?

Paul Erickson:

Thanks very much, Andrew. Well, I can only comment on what happened at this election. I won't cast forward. But at this election, there clearly was a significant swing away from the government amongst Chinese-Australians. You can see that just in the results in those electorates where there are very significant populations of Chinese-Australians.

The feedback we got was that for Chinese-Australians, there was a perception amongst those who switched their vote… the feedback that we got was that there was a view that the Government's response to the more aggressive and assertive behaviour of the Chinese Communist Party and the Government in Beijing came across in the community actually at times as an attack on Chinese-Australians or rhetoric that licensed racism in the community.

I'm not here to speak for that community but that was the feedback we got and it drove a swing.

In terms of what happens now going forward, well that's really a question for Peter Dutton.

Nicholas Stuart:

On the night, it wasn't until right at the end that we found out that when the WA votes came in that you had won. One of the core things about WA is that it doesn't have a Murdoch-owned newspaper. To what extent do you think… you gave eight compelling reasons to vote Labor… why wasn't it a more forgone conclusion? To what percentage do you think that News Ltd – and ABC Media Watch has done analyses of negative headlines in News Ltd papers to Labor – to what extent did that keep a curb on Labor's victory? 1%? 2%?

Paul Erickson:

Thanks very much, Nick. There's quite a bit there. Let's start with election night. The reality of elections now, because the counts take so long and where people vote and how they vote in terms of early voting and postal voting versus on the day is now much more disparate, that the old days of the local booths getting counted and you having a sense of the primary vote for 80% of the community by about 8 o’clock on 9 o’clock are just gone.

We're just in a world now where the count takes hours, if not days, if not weeks, and you can have quite a decisive outcome in an election, but the journey over the evening is very different.

That was the experience of election night. As it was for us in Eden-Monaro and as it has been in some of the recent state by-elections.

On Western Australia - I want to pay tribute to the campaign that the Western Australian branch ran. They made a very, very effective and compelling case against the Morrison Government and for Labor.

For the need for a partner in Canberra that will work with Western Australia and against Mr Morrison and the Liberals, particularly over some of the decisions they made during the pandemic which very much alienated the community in Western Australia.

A result of our experience with COVID, with borders being closed and life becoming much more local, is that at times over the course of the last two years community sentiment was very different around different parts of the country to an extent that we haven't seen over the time I have been involved in with politics.

Campaigns had to really be tailored, had to respond to that.

Things started to coalesce back towards middle in the last six months as some of the dynamics I talked about came into the equation, but the result in WA really has a lot to do with the campaign that we ran in partnership with WA Labor which really appealed to people over there. It's a testament to all of their efforts.

I don't think that the coverage of any particular media organisation or masthead or outlet ended up being decisive, and I certainly don't think you can quantify the impact that any one media organisation might have had.

Ella Hodgman:

Thanks Mr Erickson. Ella Hodgman on behalf of Sabra Lane. During the 2019 election, both leaders agreed to establish an independent Debates Commission during the final leaders debate here at the Press Club to remove the politics and needless back and forth over debate format, location and timing. Labor, however, did not agree with the model put forward by the previous government. Why didn't you agree with it? And are you now committed to establishing a Commission in the first term?

Paul Erickson:

Thank you very much, Sabra via Ella. We are supporters of a Debates Commission. The model that was put forward on a take-it-or-leave-it basis by the Morrison Government was not acceptable to us. We were up-front about the reasons for that.

It required an absolute consensus on the Commission Board in order for debates to be agreed, which would have given any member of the commission a right of veto over arrangements.

And in the event that the commission didn't agree under those rules the parties would be bound to defaulting back to one debate, with two sit-down interviews back-to-back defined under the Commission's rules as a debate.

Our view was that that was essentially a proposition that was put forward to kill off the idea of a Debates Commission.

The debate about the debates is painful enough. Having a debate about the debates about the debates didn't feel like it would be a particularly useful application of my time, or of anyone else's.

We're very open to discussions about a Debates Commission and do think it is an idea with merit.

One observation I would make though is that it really is on the broadcasters and the media organisations to commit in principle to a Debates Commission or not.

We have the debate between the parties but there's also the debate between the broadcasters that is actually more willing.

That's the challenge that's in front of us if we want to stand up an Independent Debates Commission that can endure and perform the function.

Julie Hare:

Thank you for your speech. Julie Hare from the Financial Review and also director of National Press Club. The annual digital media report was released this morning. The University of Canberra, my colleagues over here, did the Australian chapter of that. One of the key findings is that trust in the media is declining again after a brief boost during COVID. It describes news fatigue especially around reporting on politics and COVID. It also makes the finding that readers want journalists to do journalism and not commentary. Could you talk about the intersection of big personality journalists, media calls with political leaders and election strategy?

Paul Erickson:

Sure. Thank you very much, Julie. I'll make three observations about media during the election campaign.

First – this connects back to Nick's question. I do think it would be a mistake for progressive Australians and for Labor supporters to fall into the routine and the habit of interpreting difficult questions or even hostile media coverage towards Labor politicians or the Labor Party as an expression of a fundamentally anti-Labor perspective, always and all the time.

That is starting to creep into the debate about the media a little bit and I do think that that would be a mistake.

Secondly - I agree with Mark McGowan's comments about some of the dynamics we saw in terms of how the media pack engaged with the Opposition Leader and for that matter with the PM over the course of the campaign.

There was behaviour that I think was beyond the pale. It reminded me of 2020 when the Premiers, whenever there were COVID outbreaks that required serious public health responses, would do daily media conferences which were broadcast live on television.

For many voters, it was the first time that they had ever seen the dynamic of the media pack engaging with the political leader.

I know this anecdotally from being down in Melbourne at the time and talking to friends and family, but we also picked this up through our research: people were quite shocked at the interpersonal engagement and at the way that journalists spoke to political leaders.

I think there is a signal there for people to reflect upon.

Thirdly - throughout the campaign, there were some issues that were running, or constant lines of questioning, or themes that were pursued by the media pack that weren't just priorities for the voters. There was a bit of group-think there where they got into a mindset and were pursuing agendas that just didn't matter much to the electorate and weren't where the debate should have been.

But the Labor Party's got enough problems.  

We're going to do a review of our own.

That's up to the media to reflect on what it all means for you.

If you want help working out how to do a review, we do that a lot. We can help out. But I think there's a lot there to reflect on.

Laura Tingle:

Just on that point, and I agree that there is a lot for us as the media to reflect on, but one of the issues that often comes up and that's come up in quite a few campaigns I have been involved with, is the increasing control by the parties of the day-to-day events.

For the people who are covering them, there isn't a lot going on that's spontaneous, not scripted.

Do you think that's got to a point where it's actually working against the leaders - the fact that you get this strange bubble dynamic going on and that if you sort of let 1,000 flowers bloom and let members of the public interact with your leaders it might be a bit less staged?

Paul Erickson:

Well, I think there's issues there without a doubt, but I don't think that it's gotten to the point that it is counting against political leaders or political parties in the campaign in terms of the judgement that the public are forming.

It causes tensions between the politicians and the parties and the media and that played out in this campaign, so I have now had firsthand experience of some of the very robust feedback that you get.

When we take a step back and look at the bigger issues that we're confronting about trust in politics and faith in the institutions, the more that we can do to generate real, genuine engagement between political leaders and politicians and the public the better.

But as campaign director, I would not be attracted to the idea of just letting 1,000 flowers bloom over the course of the campaign, and allowing complete chaos to reign and then seeing where it lands.

Laura Tingle:

Ladies and gentlemen, please thank Paul Erickson.