Labor’s loss is devastating and could lead to a total rethink for the Opposition. Picture: Kym Smith
Labor’s loss is devastating and could lead to a total rethink for the Opposition. Picture: Kym Smith

What happened? Inside Labor’s mess

As the country wakes to the realisation that Labor and Bill Shorten lost the unlosable election, attention will turn to what went so wrong for the Opposition.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his government defied years of opinion polls, political pundits and betting markets to scoop a stunning victory yesterday, which no one predicted.

Not even the Coalition itself believed it could win, but in the end Labor was crushed under the weight of its own ambition, an unlikeable leader and ineffective messaging.

TOO BIG AN ASK

Labor couldn't be accused of lacking vision for the country, regardless of one's personal views on their individual policies.

Mr Shorten took an ambitious raft of reforms to the electorate, from taxation to healthcare, but that could've been his downfall.

Franking credits. Negative gearing. Top bracket tax. Climate change.

On their own, just one of those contentious and big ticket policies would've been difficult to explain to voters and justify.

University of Melbourne academic Adrian Beaumont said the next Labor Opposition will almost certainly "pursue a 'small target' policy".

"The lesson will be not to take big policies, such as a strong climate change target or abolition of franking credit cash refunds, to an election where they can be mercilessly attacked by (their opponents)," Mr Beaumont said.

There was a survey midway through the campaign that found one-third of voters were concerned about the franking credit plan.

That's significantly more than the proportion of people who'd be actually impacted by it.

Ask any average punter what it's actually all about and they probably couldn't tell you, such is the complexity of it.

It's unlikely even Scott Morrison expected to be standing as victorious last night. Picture: AAP
It's unlikely even Scott Morrison expected to be standing as victorious last night. Picture: AAP

Negative gearing was also poorly sold and seemed like an outdated policy, given the significant decline in house prices in most capital cities over the past two years.

Warnings from economists about the impact on values and rents did little to help and in the end Mr Morrison positioned the plan as just another tax.

Labor's plan to strip high-income earners of the government's planned tax cuts, to divert the savings to services investment and a tax break for low-income earners, also became problematic.

Mr Shorten's constant reference to the "top end of town" was a message probably crafted in the wake of the banking royal commission, in a hope there'd be a backlash against big business, greed and the wealthy.

But it felt more like a divisive 'us versus them' approach, as well as punishing people who've worked hard and done well.

Bill Shorten’s approach was to focus on battlers and a fair go, attacking the “top end of town” to pay for it. Picture: AAP
Bill Shorten’s approach was to focus on battlers and a fair go, attacking the “top end of town” to pay for it. Picture: AAP

Mr Morrison wheeled out an attack line early in the election that was effective in summing up the Opposition's entire platform: "Labor's plan will cost $387 billion in new taxes."

In his concession speech last night, Mr Shorten said that there had been nothing more to give - he had said everything he wanted to.

"At 6pm when the polls closed, when the final votes were cast, I wanted to be able to look at myself in the mirror and say there was nothing more that I could have done," he said.

"No more ideas that we should have expressed."

SHORT ON DETAIL

The whole point of Mr Shorten's campaign was Labor's expansive vision for Australia.

But when he was asked for detail, he seemed unwilling or incapable of providing it, clashing with the press pack over fair questioning.

Vision of Mr Shorten sparring with a reporter when he wouldn't say how climate the emissions reduction target would cost was damaging.

It reinforced the idea for many that not only he not be trusted, but that his ideas were dangerous.

Scott Morrison positioned Labor’s franking credits policy as an attack on retirees. Picture: Alex Coppel
Scott Morrison positioned Labor’s franking credits policy as an attack on retirees. Picture: Alex Coppel

David Crowe, political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald, said the Prime Minister had masterfully made the race all about scrutinising his opponent.

"Morrison was sharp and effective in this election campaign by making himself a small target and turning every question into a personal contest against Shorten," he said.

Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos put it best last night when he described Mr Morrison as acting more like an Opposition Leader than a PM in the campaign.

And political commentator Michelle Grattan wrote for The Conversation that the Coalition campaign was stronger than people expected.

"Labor had thought it would get over the line right to the end, although ALP sources had become increasingly nervous in the last days of the contest, as the Coalition scare campaign over the ALP's policies to clamp down on negative gearing and franking credit cash refunds increasingly had its effect," Grattan said.

A MISTRUSTED LEGACY

Ask the average punter in the street what Labor is known for, and many would be likely to have the same answer.

They spend and spend until there's nothing left.

The Labor party still left a bad taste in some voters' mouths. Picture: AAP
The Labor party still left a bad taste in some voters' mouths. Picture: AAP

Former Treasurer Wayne Swan was given the title of being the best at his job in the world, having successfully steered Australia through the global financial crisis.

But the cost of that incredible achievement was the spending of a huge banked surplus and wracking up enormous debt.

Mr Morrison drew attention to this legacy countless times while spruiking his forecast achievement of returning the Budget to surplus next year.

THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT BILL

After six years as Opposition Leader, Mr Shorten remained unlikeable up until the very end.

For all of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's fault, he remained the preferred PM in successive opinion polls.

And Mr Morrison, who had just eight months in the job before taking the Coalition to the election, also outpolled him on that measure.

 

The majority of voters felt there was just something about Mr Shorten that they didn't like.

His role in the knifing of two Labor leaders - Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard - gave him the ominous honour of being seen as a backroom dealer and factional plotter.

His often stilted demeanour in front of the cameras was also off-putting.

A PERIOD OF REFLECTION

This loss is devastating for Labor.

It has spent six years deciding to be a party of big ideas and unapologetic leadership, willing to make tough and unpopular decisions for the sake of the country.

That could now change, as it seeks to set itself up for the 2022 election.

A leadership contest will now take place, with frontbencher Anthony Albanese expected to put his hand up.

Anthony Albanese’s speech to supporters last night sounded more like an audition monologue.
Anthony Albanese’s speech to supporters last night sounded more like an audition monologue.


Whoever clinches the role of Opposition Leader will almost certainly be a likeable retail politician who doesn't take big risks.

Whether or not that's food for Australia and democracy? We'll find out over the next three years.


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