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The Labor Party officially launched their campaign on Sunday, unveiling new policies and making their most comprehensive pitch to voters so far. But the policy offering remains slimmer than it was three years ago, which is part of what has been described as the party’s small target strategy.

The Vote: What are Labor actually offering?

Read Transcript

The Labor Party officially launched their campaign on Sunday, unveiling new policies and making their most comprehensive pitch to voters so far.

But the policy offering remains slimmer than it was three years ago, which is part of what has been described as the party’s small target strategy.

So what is Labor actually offering? And who are they targeting with these election promises?

Today, national correspondent for The Saturday Paper, Mike Seccombe on the Labor Party’s policy platform and the demographic data that shaped it.

 

Guest: National Correspondent for The Saturday Paper, Mike Seccombe.

 
Read Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

From Schwartz Media and 7am, I’m Ruby Jones and this is The Vote.

The Labor Party officially launched their campaign on Sunday, unveiling new policies and making their most comprehensive pitch to voters so far.

But the policy offering remains slimmer than it was three years ago… part of what has been described as the party’s small target strategy. 

So what is Labor actually offering? And who are they targeting with these election promises?

Today, national correspondent for The Saturday Paper, Mike Seccombe on the Labor Party’s policy platform and the demographic data that shaped it.

It’s Tuesday May 3.

[Theme Music Ends]

Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese:
“Vote for an Australia that believes the doors of opportunity should be open to every Australian, no matter where you live, who you pray to, or who you love. Vote for hope and optimism, not fear and division. Vote Labor so together we can build a better future, a better future for all Australians. Thank you very much.”

RUBY:
Mike Labor has just officially unveiled its election platform at its campaign launch. So what is Labor, what is Anthony Albanese offering? What is the vision for Australia?

MIKE:
Well, it's a somewhat smaller vision than it was at the last election. That's the starting point here, I guess. 

Labor is of course campaigning on social policies, quality of life issues. 

Foremost amongst them: housing health, education, aged care, childcare, and climate and the environment. 

So that’s pretty typically what Labor campaigns on because that's where Labor's advantage lies. 

Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese:
“Labor will train Australians up. We will revive a university sector that this government has wilfully and wantonly smashed…”

Archival Tape -- Jason Clare:
“This is targeted at people who are giving up on buying a home and looking like they're going to have to rent for the rest of their life because they can't afford the mortgage…”

Archival Tape -- Amanda Rishworth:
“Labour's childcare policy will reduce those cost pressures on families, saving an average family $1,600 a year…” 

MIKE:
But it's a smaller target strategy. I wouldn’t say small target, because there’s lots of detail in the policies if you go and look at them. But what they’re doing is, they’re focusing much more heavily on a number of sort of headline issues.

RUBY:
And that narrowing in focus, Mike, that's because of Labor's 2019 election losses and because after that happened Labor did a lot of soul searching and everything was reframed, and the promises and now a bit smaller, and the messaging is simpler.

MIKE:
That's right. Last time around, there were over 150 policy announcements. For example, they were promising a $100 billion over ten years and all funded by these tax cuts, and it was tremendously complicated and there was a big picture there, but the punters just didn't see it, I think. So this time they've definitely slimmed it down. 

If you go into the detail of the policies, there's still quite a lot there. But what Labor's done is decide to run hard on a relative few things. So the message doesn't get confused as it did last time about the sheer bulk of stuff that was coming at people. 

So more specifically, the tax changes in 2019, you know, winding back negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions and closing a loophole on franking credits; in the party's view, that served to scare off voters. And that view is in large part, I guess, based on instinct or gut feeling, because as Craig Emerson, one of the people who did the review of Labor last time, he told me they couldn't find any evidence that any individual tax measure cost Labor the election. What it was was the size and the complexity of the whole tax and spending deal that was put in front of people that was, as he put it, very frightening. 

The curious thing about this, though, is that the results in 2019 and the key to understanding Labor's policy emphases in this election is in the demographics of those who were frightened from voting for Labor at the last time, and those who were not.

RUBY:
Right. Okay. So can you tell me about that, Mike - in the end, who did and who didn't vote for Labor in the last election, who was put off by the 150 different policies and by the tax changes that would have, I suppose, allowed Labor to pay for those policies?

MIKE:
Well, this is very interesting to see who was and was not frightened. And it's not who you might instinctively think. 

So even though Labor had these measures like franking credits - tax write offs for people who have investment properties, that sort of thing - it was not those people who were particularly scared off. 

When you disaggregate the results by electorate, electorates that had large numbers of people receiving franking credits or making use of negative gearing on rental properties, who would have been negatively affected by the changes - they actually swung to Labor. Turned out they were more concerned about other things like climate change. 

Also electorates with a high proportion of tertiary educated voters, people earning more than $100,000 a year. Inner city seats in general swung towards Labor. 

But on the other hand, Labor lost votes, the review found, from those living outside of cities, also in coal mining communities, certain ethnic communities, particularly Chinese, practising Christians, and Queenslanders; Queenslanders overall. 

The most concerning thing I think though for the Labor Party was that it continued to lose support amongst a section of its traditional base of what were described in the report as ‘lower income, economically insecure workers living in outer metropolitan, regional and rural Australia who have lost trust in politicians and political institutions’. 

So essentially this low information cohort of voters used to vote for Labor, now they've just turned off or shifted and they can't be relied upon by the Labor Party anymore.

These ‘low information’ or ‘low engagement’ voters - as the political scientists call them - they're essentially the same cohort of people who swung to Donald Trump in the United States and to Boris Johnson in Britain and to right wing populists elsewhere in the world. The political right has benefited hugely by frightening these voters at election time and Scott Morrison and the Liberal Party - but particularly Scott Morrison, because he's such a master negative campaigner - he just made easy meat of the ALP's tax policies.

Archival Tape -- Ad:
“Labor's billions of dollars in higher taxes will impact everyone. Their retiree tax and take money from those who've worked hard to save”

MIKE:
You know, the proposed franking credits reform was rebadged by him the ‘retiree tax’ and that cut through labour proposing broader tax reform. He called ‘the bill you can't afford’ a playing of Shorten's name. 

Archival Tape -- Ad:
“And who will be left to pick up the bill from Labor's spending spree? That's right. A generation of young Australians.”

MIKE:
So the Coalition parties campaigned relentlessly against the tax proposals Labor was putting up and also, I might add, against tax changes that Labor was not proposing, such as the so-called ‘death tax’ that never actually existed but was used to scare a lot of people. 

And in the end, Labor concluded that it was all just too confusing for these low information voters. There was too much coming at them from Labor in the policy sense, and as one Labor MP put it to me, the scare campaign worked against Labor in seats where people had the least to lose by the new taxes, the most to gain by the promised spending, and it wasn't, as he put it, a rational backlash.

And so, you know, Labor had to look a little bit at the demographics of who was voting for it and who wasn't and make adjustments accordingly.

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RUBY:
Mike, we’re talking about Labor's current campaign to try and get elected in 2022 - they’re focusing on what you call ‘quality of life issues’. So what are Labor’s major promises? What are they offering?

MIKE:
Well, on aged care, they're promising to have a registered nurse on site at all times of the day. They’ve also said that staff will be required to spend at least 3 hours and 35 minutes with each resident. There's also a pay rise in the offing, and they've promised to abide by that. 

On housing, they’ve put up a 329 million dollar initiative, to fund 10,000 home purchases per year - for people who earn low and middle incomes – and the commonwealth will basically take an equity stake in the homes they buy. So what this means is the government would cover the cost of up to 40% of the purchase price of a new house, and up to 30% for an existing home for people who make the cut financially.

On childcare, Labor would also raise the minimum subsidy rate to cap it at 90% for the first child in care. And their longer term goal - emphasis on the world goal - is to provide a universal 90% subsidy to all families. 

RUBY:
And who are these promises targeting, Mike, why are they focusing on these issues?

MIKE:
Ok, now when we go to the demographics, because Labor is making these promises on the back of analysing available voter data. I went to something called the Australian Election Study. What I found out was that men were ten points more likely to vote conservative than women were, which was a big change from a couple of decades when women tended more conservative. And that suggests, for example, why Scott Morrison is so often seen kitted out in his high vis and his hard-hat because he's essentially trying to reinforce the ‘bloke vote’, because the bloke vote is caught in the Liberal constituency these days. 

And conversely, Labor is seeking to reinforce its advantage with female voters. So after all, it's women who are more likely to be concerned by aged parents, or the education of their children, or childcare, or getting themselves and their family members to the doctor, these sorts of things. So you can see very clearly why certain priorities are directed at certain demographic groups and men and women among them. 

The other thing Labor is focussing on is solidifying their vote in the cities, and keeping what they have in the inner cities, and hopefully picking up a little bit of outer suburban support. So I spoke to one frontbencher about this and he sort of created a mental picture of, you know, an old fashioned school compass. And you draw circles with radius ten, 23 and so on, kilometres out from the GPO in each of Australia's big cities and what he says is that Labor's vote is going up in the first 20 kilometres of those radiuses. So if Labor holds its vote there and also holds and perhaps picks up a little bit in the radiuses out to 30 and 40 kilometres from the GPOs, this bloke says, we win, we win the election on the back of Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth.

RUBY:
Okay, so that data tells us a bit, Mike, about who Labor is targeting in the policies they're putting forward. But there is one thing that I think is quite muted in Labor's pitch at the moment, particularly if you think about campaigns that run in the past and that's action on climate change. I mean it's there, but it seems to be at the the end of the list of things that are being promised. So can you tell me about the climate platform? What does it actually consist of?

MIKE:
Well, you're right, it has been revised back a bit. 2% is the only difference between the emissions targets last time and this time. But what's more interesting to me is actually the way they're selling it. They're not selling it as a planet saving measure. They're selling it as a money saving one. 

Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese:
Today I want to talk about five areas that my Labour team and I will focus on as we build a stronger, more productive and more resilient economy. The first of these is our ‘Powering Australia’ plan, which will drive investment in cheap, renewable energy. [00:00:22]

MIKE:
So there is not a policy that's headed climate and environment. There's a policy that's called ‘Powering Australia’. 

Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese:
It will mean cheaper power for homes and businesses. We will end the climate wars. 

MIKE:
Which effectively is an environmental policy, right, because it's about providing more infrastructure to give us more cheap power. 

And this is a policy to which Labor is committing some serious money, I might add - they’re throwing big bucks at various forms of renewables. 

Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese:
Contrary to the fiction being peddled by the Liberals and the Nationals, tackling climate change and creating a strong local economy go hand in hand.

MIKE:
So the point, I guess here is that, yes, they're not shouting it from the rooftops. Yhis time they're just, you know, soft pedalling a little bit and reframing it.

RUBY:
Hmm. Okay. Well, tell me a bit about what that reframing actually means, then. What are the policies that Labor has that they're they're framing under this sort of Powering Australia agenda?

MIKE:
Well, I guess the big one is this offer of $20 billion of low cost financing to build new grid infrastructure, which Labor says will spur $76 billion in total investment and create 600,000 jobs and reduce annual power bills by $275 a year by 2025. 

So as one shadow minister told me, power is very big. And he said, “We spent an awful lot of money to make sure the numbers were rock solid”. They don't normally commission modelling from Opposition but decided, he said, that this was so important that, you know, after the scare campaign the Government had run against them at the last election, they had to have something that was, you know, “unimpeachable”, as he put it. 

So they commissioned modelling, and from quite a respectable firm. And this was considered necessary of course because at the last election the Government produced modelling so-called claiming Labor's emissions targets would cost average Australians money. I might add this modelling was pretty comprehensively debunked later by just about every other credible modeller in the field, but anyway, it did its work at election time. 

Another thing Labor has done is it's set out a plan for gradual reduction of emissions by Australia's biggest greenhouse polluters. Which I might add, builds on something that’s already policy of the government, but it just gives it more teeth. 

And the other thing, it's done - last election, Labor suffered by trying to deliver different messages to urbanites concerned about climate change and to regional voters, particularly in Queensland, who are concerned about their jobs - this time the message is consistent and it is that Labor will support fossil fuel projects so long as they stack up economically. And this infuriates people who are strongly in favour of better action on climate change, but it relies on the fact that the likelihood that the private sector will not finance any new coal mines. So what their argument is that they don't actually have to say stop, the private sector or say stop for us, so why create a fight. 

So, you know, no doubt it's a bit of a cop out, but it's one that might placate voters in coal seats.

RUBY:
Right. So the Labor strategy, Mike, clearly is here's a few key things that we think that the people who are likely to vote for us will be interested in so that things like health care and childcare and at the same time we've neutralised the things that that made us a target. So that would be anything that could be seen as an ambitious climate policy and any kind of major tax reform, if that is the plan here. What are the risks, Mike, to this approach? Could it still backfire? 

MIKE:
Oh, of course it can. 

I mean, another thing the report noted was that Labor has previously lost elections for small target strategies and lost elections with big target strategies and vice versa. So it's no surefire winner. And one shadow minister acknowledged this to me and he said, and I'm quoting again, “sure, we're not offering them a big policy vision, but on the other hand, if we keep this election as a referendum on Scott Morrison, we get in. And the strategy pays off”. So that's what Labor wants to do. They want to keep the focus on the fact that Australians don't like Scott Morrison. They think he's made a mess of things. I mean, that's it in a nutshell.

The risk of this, he says, is that something happens that makes Labor the issue, like Albanese's day one stumble over what the jobless rate was, but imagine something worse than that happening in the home straight. And at that point, this bloke says, people might be tempted to say, ‘Well, we don't like Morrison, but we don't know what that other guy stands for.’ And then the small target backfires, right? 

But so far, of course, it seems to be breaking Labor's way. You know, even Albanese's forced absence from the campaign trail due to COVID 19 has, in the view of the party, done not any great harm,  because it's allowed others in the team to shine.

The bottom line here is we'll know in a few weeks. Right. But the indication right now is that Labor remains well on top. And as Craig Emerson said to me and I think he's right, ‘my sense is that the Australian people are up for changing the government, now they just want to be reassured that it's a safe change’. 

And I think that's a very pertinent observation. And I'd finish with just one more observation, which is that at the last election, Morrison, that had that killer slogan against the big policy package. ‘It was the Bill you can't afford’. This election, I think Labor has the killer slogan given the economic circumstances, which is that ‘everything's going up except your wages’. And I think that's going to cut through.

RUBY:
Hmm. Mike, thank you so much for your time.

MIKE:
Thank you.

[Advertisement]

RUBY:

Also in the news today…

 

Qantas has announced it will begin direct flights from Sydney to London and New York from 2025.

 

The new routes will be able to complete the journey in just over 19-hours… making them the longest non-stop passenger flights in the world

 

And, Energy ministers from European Union countries held emergency talks on Monday, after the Russian government demanded that European buyers pay for Russian gas in roubles or face their supply being cut off.

 

Russia, which is the single biggest supplier of gas to Europe, cut off supplies to Bulgaria and Poland last week after they refused to meet its demand to effectively pay in roubles.

 

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am, see you tomorrow.

 

Host

Ruby Jones is an investigative journalist and host of 7am.

Guest

Mike Seccombe is The Saturday Paper’s national correspondent.

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