Labor review finds Bill Shorten’s ‘unpopularity’ hurt party’s election bid, tax policies didn’t

“No one of these shortcomings was decisive but in combination they explain the result,” it found. “Indeed, Bill Shorten led a united party, saw off two Liberal prime ministers and won all three campaign debates.”


It warned working people experiencing economic dislocation caused by technological change would “lose faith in Labor” if they do not believe the party was responding to their needs, instead being preoccupied with issues that didn’t concern them.

“Care needs to be taken to avoid Labor becoming a grievance-based organisation.”

The review conducted face-to-face or telephone interviews with more than 120 individuals, including MPs, former MPs and candidates and has addressed party forums in every state and territory. A call for submissions yielded more than 800 from ALP members and affiliates as well as members of the general public.

“Low-income workers swung against Labor. Labor’s ambiguous language on [Indian coal giant] Adani, combined with some anti-coal rhetoric, devastated its support in the coal mining communities of regional Queensland and the Hunter Valley,” it found.

It found people of faith did not desert Labor, but the party “lost some support among Christian voters – particularly devout, first-generation migrant Christians”.

“There is no compelling evidence the election loss was an adverse reflection on Labor’s core values: improving the job opportunities, security and conditions of working Australians, fairness, non-discrimination on the basis of race, religion and gender, and care for the environment.”

It said Labor should retain those values and its policies could be “bold” but be limited in number and be “easily explainable, making them less capable of misrepresentation”.

It reinforced calls by a series of senior MPs in recent weeks that Labor should position itself as “a party of economic growth and job creation”.

“Labor should adopt the language of inclusion, recognising the contribution of small and large businesses to economic prosperity, and abandon derogatory references to ‘the big end of town’,” the review said.

Care needs to be taken to avoid Labor becoming a grievance-based organisation.

It also warned the modern party “cannot neglect human-induced climate change”.

“Labor needs to increase public awareness of the costs of inaction on climate change, respect the role of workers in fossil-fuel industries and support job opportunities in emissions-reducing industries while taking the pressure off electricity prices.”

Ahead of the report’s release, Mr Shorten conceded he should have “gone bigger” with personal tax cuts for millions of workers. “Were the universe to grant re-runs, I would campaign with fewer messages, more greatly emphasise the jobs opportunities in renewable energies, and take a different position on franking credits,” he said in a statement.

The scale of the criticism of Mr Shorten is a source of division within the Labor caucus, with his supporters warning against any attempt to “scapegoat” him while his critics argue he should accept significant responsibility for the failure.

More to come

with David Crowe

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