Labor tragedy laid bare in election review

Katina Curtis, AAP Senior Political Writer
Labor's election post-mortem has found the party offered voters a bewildering array of polices

Labor's 2019 election campaign was in almost every respect the opposite of the way Cleaver Greene approached politics.

The antihero lead of television legal dramedy Rake ran for election on a whim, refused to have any policies whatsoever, and never expected to win.

Labor, on the other hand, thought it was well-prepared for government, had more than 250 policies and was convinced, along with punters and even many of its opponents, that it was headed for victory.

But both lacked strategy.

The post-mortem of Labor's election failure, released on Thursday, paints a dismal picture of a party that had too much to say and didn't know how to say it.

Party elders Craig Emerson and Jay Weatherill and their review team are critical of almost every aspect of the campaign.

They couldn't find anything to show the party's leadership - in parliament or outside of it - had a detailed plan on how to win the election.

Imagine launching into a mammoth project like the effort required to get Labor - the party that has won 14 out of 46 elections - into government without having a clear plan!

The review found the campaign lacked an overall strategy, a new strategy specific to "daggy dad" Scott Morrison and the threat he posed upon taking over from Malcolm Turnbull, a strategy to boost Shorten's personal standing, and any clear advertising strategy.

And it even lacked flexibility in what strategy it did have.

"Unsurprisingly, the Labor campaign lacked focus, wandering from topic to topic without a clear purpose," the review states.

During the election, as an outsider watching closely, Labor seemed to have a structure of weekly themes.

This is the cancer week, this is the climate week, this is the education week.

But then - bang - all in a single speech leader Bill Shorten announced nearly $7 billion spending for childcare, aged pensioners and dental care.

With three big announcements in one hit, what's the story?

And the details of the childcare announcement, in particular, were so complicated media were still trying to get to the bottom of it two weeks later.

It was the same thing with the campaign launch; my notes on the day said Shorten's speech frequently devolved into laundry lists of policies.

At the same time, Morrison's message was simple: how will Labor pay for it? They've got that $387 billion in taxes!

The line was so effective the government continues to use it even though there are more than two years before Labor can even think about getting its rear ends on the Treasury benches.

Weatherill and Emerson dwelled on this policy overload on Thursday.

"We presented a public policy agenda that paradoxically frightened the very people we were trying to support," Weatherill said.

While the party shouldn't shy away from policy boldness, it must simplify its offerings and make sure they all fit a coherent story.

The third element of the loss identified was Shorten's unpopularity.

While the leader campaigned solidly and could not be marked down for effort, the public never warmed to him.

That was compounded by Morrison making the election a personal contest and Clive Palmer's yellow-wash of "Shifty Shorten" ads.

The review wasn't the hit job some Shorten's allies appeared to anticipate, as they sought to get out ahead of its release.

But it was still clear-eyed about the leader's failings.

The report sets out the challenge for new leader Anthony Albanese.

To win in 2022 he has to hold all Labor's current seats - including its many marginals - and win five more while combating a dropping primary vote.

While the review sets out ways to improve the campaign apparatus, it doesn't cast judgment on particular policies.

It even says when the party's conference sets out its national platform, it should focus on values and principles and leave policy detail to the parliamentary caucus.

Albanese is hoping the post-mortem's release will give him clear air and put all the recriminations of the shock loss behind him.

He may find that hope is in vain with the factions left to fight over the merits of policies each holds dear.