EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The Liberal Party of Australia commissioned a review of the Party’s 2019 federal election campaign to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the campaign and learn lessons that could be applied in future campaigns, particularly the 2022 Federal Election in two and a half years.

Liberal Party President Nick Greiner invited Senator the Hon Arthur Sinodinos AO and the Hon Steven Joyce to conduct the review. Mr Joyce was a senior minister in the John Key and Bill English New Zealand governments, and the New Zealand National Party Campaign Director for the 2005, 2008, 2011, 2014 and 2017 general election campaigns.

There were very low public expectations that the Liberal/National coalition would win the 2019 Australian federal election. Pundits, opinion polls, bookmakers and the Labor Party, all predicted a Labor Party victory and a change in government.

The actual result was the reverse of that. The Coalition won the two-party preferred vote by 51.5% to 48.5%, picking up three seats in the process to hold a slim majority of 77 seats in a 151 seat House of Representatives.

It was a narrow path to victory. The coalition parties largely held the line in New South Wales, Western Australia and South Australia. In Victoria two seats were lost as expected, following boundary changes in the state, while Chisholm was recovered.

The states that performed most strongly were Queensland and Tasmania. In Tasmania, the Liberals picked up two seats they’d lost in 2016, while in Queensland the Liberal National Party achieved a record two-party preferred vote of 58% and picked up a further two seats to hold 23 of the 30 available seats in the state.

The Senate vote was also successful for the Coalition, which increased its representation in the upper house from 31 to 35 seats.

The lead-in period to the election campaign was dominated by the change of the Party’s leadership from Malcolm Turnbull to Scott Morrison in August 2018, the subsequent Wentworth by-election, and the Victorian State Election in November.

Given the events of 2018, the Review was impressed with the advanced state of development of the Party’s Campaign Strategy by the Federal Secretariat by January 2019, and its consistent and successful application right throughout the pre-campaign and campaign periods.

The Liberal’s strategy of profiling Scott Morrison as the best choice to lead Australia, and the Liberal Party as the party with the strongest economic plan, was a positive contrast to the policies and plans of Bill Shorten’s Labor Party. The strongest single message of the 2019 campaign across all voters was Bill Shorten was “the Bill Australia can’t afford.”

The Federal Budget was a key turning point in the Party’s electoral recovery, and the successful prosecution of the campaign by Party Leader Scott Morrison was a standout feature.

The successful election result was achieved through sheer grit and determination from the top of the Party, laid over a clear political strategy, with the help of a Labor opposition that made many missteps. It is important not to overlook that the margin of victory was very small.

This Review believes there is no room for any complacency in the Liberal Party following the 2019 election campaign. There is much work to do to strengthen the Party and its processes to enable it to successfully campaign for the Coalition to be re-elected again in 2022.

Candidate selection processes need to be improved. Ten Liberal candidates had to be disendorsed in this election campaign. Each State and Territory should adopt best practice candidate vetting processes and complete them before candidates are pre-selected.

The Review proposes that candidates for marginal seats should be pre-selected ten to twelve months prior to the election, with the balance selected by six months out. It recommends candidate colleges or academies be set up to identify and train potential candidates for public office, in advance of pre-selection.

It also recommends that the Liberal and National Parties work together to minimize three-cornered contests in marginal seats.

While the election campaign itself was successful, pre-campaign preparation across state divisions and electorates was highly variable. The Review recommends a much greater focus on pre-campaign planning at state and electorate levels to boost on the ground campaigning, including providing electorate campaign manuals and regular volunteer training sessions, and professional campaign field officers to support the standing up of marginal seat campaigns from around ten months out from election day.

Fundraising is another area that requires attention, with the review recommending that all levels of the Federal Party be enlisted in a three-year fundraising programme, including for a Liberal Party Victory Fund to support both the national and state-level federal campaigns in 2022.

In the campaign itself, the Liberal Party runs a well-oiled machine. The Review makes a number of operational recommendations about the chain of command, further development of the Party’s effective digital campaign, and campaigning to ethnic communities.

The Review supports the Party’s submission to Parliament to shorten the pre-polling period to two weeks prior to election day, and recommends measures to improve behaviour around polling booths, including restricting campaigning activity to people supporting candidates standing for election.

The Review makes a number of specific recommendations about strengthening the Party for the 2022 campaign.

It highlights the importance of delivery and unity in Government, as a precursor for any further success. It recommends a membership and volunteer drive to strengthen the Party base. The Party organization risks being out-campaigned on the ground in marginal seats, and it needs more campaign workers

The Review recommends a particular focus in Victoria, and to some extent, New South Wales. Unless the Party rebuilds and recovers lost ground in Melbourne and surrounding areas, its path to victory in each election will remain worryingly narrow.

In New South Wales the Party needs to convert its voting strength into additional MPs. In 2022 there is an opportunity for winning further seats, with eleven of Labor’s 25 marginal seats now located in Australia’s largest state. Making further progress in both states will require early work and more resources.

There is also a need for the Liberal Party to assist the Country Liberal Party in the Northern Territory to help it be ready to campaign strongly in Solomon and Lingiari in the next federal election. Finally, the Review recommends a focus on updating campaigning methods in inner-city seats and those held by independents.

In order to win the next election in 2022, the Liberal Party will need to seek to gain seats rather than just hold the ones it has. This Review seeks to provide a plan for the hard work required to prepare for the 2022 election.


RECOMMENDATIONS

Campaign Strategy

  1. The Federal campaign team led by Andrew Hirst be acknowledged by the Party for the highly professional way in which they developed and applied a clear evidence-based campaign strategy despite turbulent political conditions, that laid the foundations for a successful election campaign.
  2. The Federal Budget was a very significant turning point in the election, helping to close the gap with the Labor Party and underlining the Coalition messages about building the economy, balancing the budget and delivering a plan for Australia.
  3. The Prime Minister’s personal campaign was a core element in the success of the wider campaign strategy, successfully underlining and amplifying the campaign’s key messages on a daily basis, and providing a strong, positive contrast to the prospect of a Bill Shorten Prime Ministership.
  4. It required a flawlessly executed campaign strategy and a poor Labor Party campaign for the Coalition to turn a six point poll deficit into a victory in less than a year. A much stronger performance in government and a stronger starting point will be needed to repeat the victory in 2022.
  5. The Federal Secretariat engage with polling companies between now and the next election to learn and apply new techniques and best practice to maximise the accuracy of the Party’s quantitative research for the next election, particularly but not limited to inner city metropolitan seats.

Candidate Selection and Vetting

  1. The Liberal Party commit to pre-selecting and announcing new candidates in marginal seats 10 to 12 months prior to the likely General election date, to ensure candidates have sufficient time to obtain a strong personal profile to contest the election.
  2. The Party commit to selecting candidates in safe and fairly safe Labor seats not less than six months before the likely General Election Date.
  3. The Liberal Party acknowledge the downside risks of three-cornered contests in marginal seats and work with the Nationals to minimize their number by agreement at each election, so that the Coalition parties together maximise their representation in Federal Parliament.
  4. States and Territory Executives should review their state-wide candidate approval processes and, if they don’t already operate one, adopt a formal and thorough applicant review process for every prospective candidate, to be conducted by a duly appointed candidate review committee on behalf of the state leadership of the Party.
  5. The Federal Director to lead a process on behalf of the Federal Executive with the States and Territories to ensure agreed national application forms are required to be completed by all prospective Liberal candidates for Federal Election, covering their citizenship status, pecuniary interests, professional relationships and digital histories.
  6. The comprehensive impartial candidate vetting process must be timed to be completed before candidates are pre-selected and endorsed to stand on behalf of the Liberal Party at federal elections.
  7. States and Territories set up candidate colleges or academies to identify, develop and train a pipeline of prospective candidates for federal, state and local office.
  8. Each State Executive consider, after exceptionally close races, appointing just-defeated candidates as a spokesperson for the electorate, to maintain their profile and the Party’s profile in the electorate in the period prior to the pre-selection for the next election campaign.

Campaign Preparations

  1. The State and Territory secretariats prepare formal plans for the pre-campaign period (from around ten months out from election day) as well as for the campaign period, and provide a higher level of resource at HQ including dedicated campaign staff and field officers for the pre-campaign period as a stepping stone towards the full campaign.
  2. The Federal Secretariat work with State secretariats to prepare an up-to-date written electorate campaign guide in plenty of time for the 2022 federal election, which provides a step by step operational plan for setting up and running a successful electoral campaign.
  3. In order to broaden the base of campaign skills within the Liberal Party, the Federal and State Executives hold regular campaign planning and training sessions for volunteers alongside all major state and federal meetings and conferences of the volunteer party.
  4. State Executives provide sufficient professional support for candidates, including media training and coaching, during the pre-campaign period to allow them to engage appropriately with the public and media in their electorates leading up to and during the campaign.
  5. All electorates should be encouraged to run three-year fundraising campaigns so that the Party can maintain a steady flow of income over the electoral cycle regardless of immediate political conditions.
  6. The Liberal Party should set up a “Liberal Party Victory Fund” which is shared between the Federal and State secretariats to help fund the national and state campaigns at each election. Electorates should be set annual fundraising target amounts to pay into the fund, which will be a proportion of their own fundraising, and that the amounts raised and paid into the fund should be reported on periodically, by electorate, across the Party.
  7. The Liberal Party petition the Federal Government to provide nationally consistent rules for fundraising for federal election campaigns, that apply to all parties and all donors fundraising for a federal election campaign supervised by the Australian Election Commission regardless of the state jurisdiction they are located within.
  8. The Federal Treasurer be provided with a professional resource based at Menzies House to coordinate and enhance fundraising activities at all levels of the Liberal Party.

The Campaign Operation

  1. Liaison officer positions in CCHQ be maintained for future federal campaigns, and that officers be recruited that have personal campaigning experience in the jurisdictions they are representing at CCHQ.
  2. Key decision processes, and the appropriate referral points for electorate campaign decisions, should be documented in the Campaign Guides, so all parties know ‘who goes where’ for sign-off and official advice on particular issues.
  3. The Liberal Party undertake more comprehensive post-election surveys of the most effective media in each campaign, be it federal or state, general election or by-election, and apply that knowledge to adjust the weighting of different media in future campaigns and keep ahead of changing media use patterns.
  4. Invest in video ‘stage sets’ with professional lighting, backdrops, cameras and a videographer, for recording interviews and pieces to camera from senior political leaders, MPs and candidates. These should be located in CCHQ, and at the Campaign HQs of the larger states; so that professional quality video can be cut and used at any time.
  5. Get the digital team involved earlier with marginal seat candidates, so they can assist them with their digital presence and advertising before the campaign begins.
  6. Design all digital advertising, the campaign websites and associated activity for “mobile first” to reflect the increasing dominance of mobile technology for digital media users.
  7. The Party and the Parliamentary Wing coordinate a high level of ongoing digital activity through the electoral cycle both to sell the Liberal Party’s messages in Government and build up social media networks and email lists for the 2022 Liberal Campaign.
  8. State Election HQ’s, especially NSW and Victoria, recruit cross-city and cross-state groups of volunteers from different ethnic communities to reach out into those communities in relevant electorates, and to provide translation, canvassing and campaigning help to State Headquarters during election campaigns.
  9. In future campaigns the Liberal Party extend further the national polling programme to cover 25 seats through the election campaign, rather than the current 20, to ensure greater visibility of the vote movements occurring in individual seats.

Pre-polling and Election Day

  1. The Liberal Party recommend to Federal Parliament that the pre-polling period for federal elections be reduced from three weeks prior to two weeks before election day (starting the Monday twelve days before election day).
  2. That addressed postal voting mailouts remain a core party of the Coalition’s election campaigning and that all Liberal Party and affiliated state organisations operate a clear postal vote application campaign, including for all Labor marginal seats, at each federal election.
  3. The Federal, State and Electorate Campaign Plans should expressly consider and record how they are adjusting their campaign plans to cater for the likely situation of half of all Australian voters casting their vote ahead of election Day in 2022.
  4. All How to Vote printed material to be presented in a consistent and officially branded manner, and all volunteers be required to distribute only official Liberal Party How-to-Vote material.
  5. The Party invest in developing and marketing a “Liberal Party How-to-Vote App” for the 2022 Federal election, in addition to the provision of supporting printed material and the current website-based online tool.
  6. The Liberal Party submit to the federal parliament options for moderating and controlling boorish behaviour around polling booths that makes the act of voting an ordeal for some voters, including limiting the presence of volunteers to those linked with a particular candidate.
  7. The Liberal Party undertake analytical work to determine the opportunities and risks of a move to optional preference campaign for Federal elections, before making any decision to request such a change.
  8. The Liberal Party recommend to Federal Parliament the requirement for voters to present an approved form of ID when casting their vote, and electronic rolls to ensure voters cannot vote in more than one location in one election.

Strengthening the Party for 2022

  1. The Party federally and at state level maintain accurate checklists of formal political commitments made at electorate and state level, particularly those without local members, to ensure the commitments from this election are kept and none are overlooked during this electoral cycle.
  2. The Party embark on a membership and volunteer drive at electorate level over the next two years, with the aim of substantially lifting its membership and local capability. The drive should be led and supported by the Party’s federal leadership, and suitable targets and methods be put in place to ensure success.
  3. The Federal Secretariat, working with the Federal Executive and the State divisions, compile an agreed list of strategic seats around the country, that are targeted either as winnable marginal seats in the next election, or winnable over two election cycles, based on both electorate history and the swings required.
  4. The Party place professional campaign field officers in identified key seats to help FEC’s build membership and their volunteer base and prepare for the next election, paid for by both a reallocation of professional resources from other roles, and a specific fundraising programme for the purpose.
  5. The Federal Liberal Party to assist the Victorian State Party to rebuild the Party’s operations over the next two years, particularly in obtaining new and returning members and volunteers in a significant number of key strategic seats. The Victorian Party to adopt measures to further empower ordinary members in the operation of the Party at electorate level, including for candidate selections and the local campaign.
  6. The Federal Secretariat and the NSW state division to agree on eight to ten strategic NSW seats to target over the next two elections, and together provide professional resources and assistance to those seats so they are built up to be able to conduct strong electorate campaigns.
  7. The Federal Liberal Party to partner with the Country Liberal Party to source and co-fund an experienced Campaign Director with local knowledge for the Northern Territory election campaign next year, and that the Liberal Party provide close policy support for the CLP in that campaign, so as to help rebuild the CLP to be ready to fight for both Federal seats in the 2022 Federal Election Campaign.
  8. The Liberal Party set up a small and informal grouping headed by the Federal Deputy Director to update its campaigning methods in inner-city seats in Melbourne and Sydney.
  9. The Party put together a small taskforce of experienced professionals and volunteers to evaluate the best approach to campaign in 2022 in seats formerly held by the Coalition and currently held by independent MPs.
  10. The Patron Senator Programme be re-invigorated nationally by co-ordination between the Leader of the Senate, the Federal Director and the relevant State Director with clear responsibilities and accountabilities for the programme in each Lower-House seat.