“The answer to reconnecting with working people is not to walk away from a robust policy agenda, it’s to better connect our policies with their hopes and fears about the state of the world, the state of the economy and their future.
“I don’t think the lesson from the election is not to believe in things, or not to seek a mandate for things,” he said.
“You can certainly debate that maybe we announced our tough measures early and some of our good measures late – like our dental plan.
“I don’t think there’s much evidence that individual policies themselves cost us votes.
“The swings against us were in areas that benefited from our policies and the swings to us were in areas where you could argue that people were being asked to make a greater contribution.”
“What is the point of the Morrison government?”
The remarks in an interview come ahead of the inaugural Keating Lecture in the Sydney suburb of Bankstown on Thursday night, where Mr Bowen will deliver a detailed critique of Labor’s performance to an audience including former prime minister Paul Keating.
The speech includes a denunciation of Prime Minister Scott Morrison that compares the six years of Coalition government since 2013 with the first six years of Labor in power under Mr Keating and former prime minister Bob Hawke.
Mr Bowen will argue the Coalition has nothing comparable to show for the Hawke government’s actions over six years in floating the dollar, deregulating banks, creating Medicare, reaching the Accord with the unions, passing the Sex Discrimination Act and introducing the fringe benefits and capital gains taxes.
“Everyone knew what the Hawke-Keating government was about, but the question is: what is the point of the Morrison government?” he asks in the speech.
Mr Bowen, who entered Parliament in 2004 and represents McMahon in western Sydney, rejects the repeated call from conservatives for Labor to embrace the Keating legacy on their terms, arguing it is not a “pallid version of a Liberal government” but a battle to improve the lot of workers.
In the speech, he cites advice from Mr Keating to fight for workers who have fallen behind under Coalition policies.
“The other thing he regularly reminds me of is the need to be indignant,” Mr Bowen says.
“To be angry on behalf of the people we represent. And to tell them they are right to be angry.”
Mr Bowen said the blame for this year’s defeat should not be all on the shoulders of former leader Bill Shorten and he took his “fair share of the responsibility” and accepted that key economic policies should be reviewed.
“A long-term decline”
But he said the challenge was bigger than those policy questions given the Labor primary vote had fallen on average by 1.3 percentage points at every one of the last ten federal elections.
The fall to a 33.3 per cent primary vote was in line with that trend, he said, and this reflected the desertion of traditional Labor voters to parties including Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party.
“This is happening to parties in the centre left around the world and there’s been a long-term decline in Labor’s primary vote,” he said.
Mr Bowen relied on “inescapable” conclusions from the results in each electorate showing that people in low socio-economic areas swung against Labor while those in high socio-economic areas swung towards Labor.
This was part of an international phenomenon and showed that some voters did not believe Labor represented their values, on issues such as religious freedom or support for coal mining, when those same voters stood to gain from Labor tax policies.
“In many senses, these were the people our policies were designed to help, but they didn’t have confidence in us,” Mr Bowen said.
“People were concerned about the economic situation but they found that Pauline Hanson and Clive Palmer spoke more compellingly to those concerns than the government did or we did.”
Asked if this meant ordinary workers felt Labor was out of touch, Mr Bowen said: “I think if we’re to be clear-eyed, that’s the conclusion to reach: they felt that way, even though that wasn’t our intention or our belief at the time. We didn’t win their support.”
David Crowe is chief political correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.