It almost doesn’t matter what Andrew Robb has found. His internal review of the Liberals’ performance at last year’s federal election shows a party seemingly unprepared for modern politics – underequipped, unaided by research, outclassed on the ground.
But the issue is not how close the Coalition came to losing the election. The issue is how little they have done since winning it.
Robb’s review was delivered to the party executive on Friday. It is deeply critical of the campaign. It reportedly complains the Coalition was unable to define its opponents and had little clear policy to define the “jobs and growth” slogan on which the election was staked.
There was no clear rebuttal of Labor attacks, especially on Medicare. Experienced people were lacking. The technical side of politics – the data analysis, the micro-level insights – was totally inadequate.
Blame went back to Tony Abbott’s win in 2013. Too little money was put into research at this point. The disastrous 2014 budget was prepared with no testing.
That budget is largely responsible for the malaise in this country’s politics. Its combination of meanness and unchecked ideology began the collapse of Abbott’s prime ministership. But much of what it contained is still with us.
Abbott’s loss of the leadership did not give this country a new politics. It gave us the old politics with a new face that didn’t believe in it.
The stubbornness of that fact led the Coalition almost to defeat, but that seems only to have persuaded the government more of the rightness of these policies. Instead of seeing the government’s terrible opinion ratings as a rejection of its strange politics, the Coalition seems convinced these polls mean it must cling ever more firmly to its unpopular ideology.
This is the thinking that sees the rigor mortis of our climate change policy. It is the thinking that allows whole weeks to be lost to negotiations over the right to be a racist in this country. It is the thinking that, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, continues to argue for trickle-down economics.
As a political machine, the Coalition is in poor shape. As more of the Robb review is leaked, there will be more about which the government will be embarrassed.
What is already reported of the review shows a political party operating without any of the sophistication of the modern world. This should be no surprise: the same party often makes policy without any of the sophistication of the modern world.
The review should be a reminder that what the Coalition is doing is not working. Malcolm Turnbull’s approval rating before he took the leadership was about the fact that he promised to do something else. Many of the policies that most damage the Coalition, and which he now defends, he had earlier argued against. It’s not so hard to imagine the answer to this problem: get on with doing that something else; lead the country as it wants to be led; govern for the public, rather than for a small wing of the party.
Reviews like this are time for searching in politics. This one is not just about a government that came close to losing; it’s about a government that is lost.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 8, 2017 as "Review mirror". Subscribe here.