One month ago, on a polling booth in Labor’s Victorian inner west heartland of Gellibrand, about an hour before closing, I saw the first exit poll come out and my heart sunk. At 6.00pm, I cut down our Liberal banners, packed up the signs and leftover how to vote cards and drove them over to another volunteer’s house. Fellow party members were also coming in from other booths – we were cold and tired and resigned to the defeat the exit polls spoke of. This election it would be more than just a Coalition loss, it was what was to come under a Shorten government. We were confronted with what the new dawn would bring: the impact on our families, our finances, our security and our freedoms. Not just for us as individuals, but for the whole nation. We felt like we had just not woken enough people up yet to see through Shorten’s rhetoric.
No matter what the polls indicated, my dad had the whole time said that we would win. As my husband, my three kids and I watched the election coverage unfold at home over greasy Thai takeaway, I jumped on the phone to my dad and he said, ‘See, I told you. You have to have faith.’ My father has run his bottle shop for over 30 years. He’d been talking every day to his customers about politics and would tell all of them how bad Shorten would be. That is when it became clear – Shorten had forgotten us! He had forgotten the migrant family with the three little kids in the suburbs who were feeling the pressure from their electricity bill. He had forgotten the local small business owner who was afraid of increased taxes and what he would do if he could not keep all of his employees on. Labor had never spoken to us and they certainly did not speak for us.
In all of the post-election analysis, no one can put their finger on the magic bullet. Labor’s own analysis has been the most bizarre of all – maybe people are just stupid and ignorant, and maybe Labor was too honest with the people about their policies. Really? You think honesty is a bad thing? So your new strategy will be to hide your policies from the people before an election?
This kind of arrogance is exactly what cost them the election. To presume that Australians are prone to groupthink and can be manipulated into class war ideology is patronising. The fact that Albo has no idea and had to actually go to Queensland to find out what went wrong shows that nothing will change under his leadership. Ordinary Australians are the sensible centre. If Labor think they are going to have any chance of winning with a hard-left leader like Albo, chosen by the faceless men and not a vote by their membership, they have learned nothing.
What will always stick with me on election night is watching Penny Wong commentating. As the seats fell to the Coalition, she seemed to me to be disheartened but composed. After Shorten’s concession speech, her jubilation was apparent to me. She looked to be busy texting on her phone and you could not wipe the smile off her face. In those moments, we appeared to have been given a brief glimpse into the real modern Labor Party. It seemed that Labor does not really care about people, they care about how those in the Party machine can serve each other’s self-interests as they climb the greasy pole.
As my father had said, I should have had faith that the Australian people would wake up and see Labor for what they really are. And they did, but there was no magic bullet to it. Plain and simple, after flirting with repositioning ourselves towards the left and going after the inner-city vote (where shirking community responsibility to look after our neighbours and our environment by putting it all on government is preferred, and trying to ‘get ahead’ are dirty words), the Liberal Party finally went back to first principles. It is those principles that made Sir Robert Menzies the longest serving Australian Prime Minister and when we deviate, it is always to our detriment.
ScoMo’s Prime Ministership, and every policy he announced during the campaign, were all firmly rooted in Liberal Party philosophy as espoused by Menzies. It was more than symbolic that ScoMo’s first speech was not in some CBD five star hotel, but in the country town of Albury – the very place where Menzies held the meeting that established the organisation and constitution of the Liberal Party. Why? ‘To come here and pledge to that legacy, to that heritage, as a ritual. To show the things that we believe in today are the things that he believed in then and the things we will always believe in as a Liberal Party’, ScoMo expressed in that speech.
ScoMo went on to say, ‘Robert Menzies said this in Albury: “No party seizes the imagination of the people unless the people know the party stands for certain things. And we’ll fight for those things until the bell rings.” Well, we’re here today to affirm ourselves to those beliefs that I’ve just outlined, and pledge ourselves to them until the bell rings. Until the bell rings. Just like Robert Menzies did, and his team, and they went on to do great things for Australia.’ These were not token words but the blueprint for the election campaign, the framework for each policy and the driver to speak into the lives of every ordinary Australian.
After Shorten’s concession speech, I was in disbelief. I did not dare to think that we had won until ScoMo delivered his victory speech. Once again, he invoked Menzies’ forgotten people who our party fights for. ‘These are the quiet Australians who have won a great victory tonight’, ScoMo triumphantly said. ‘Tonight is not about me or not about even the Liberal Party. Tonight is about every single Australian who depends on their government to put them first.’
When we are brave enough to stand and fight for our unadulterated principles as a party; when we stop buying into Labor’s false labels of being from the big end of town, of being out of touch, of being from a bygone era; when we stop trying to appeal to small but very loud special interest groups at the expense of quiet Australians; when we back Menzies’ ‘salary-earners, shopkeepers, skilled artisans, professional men and women, farmers and so on’, they back us.
Karina Okotel is a federal Liberal vice-president and chair of the party’s advisory committee on federal policy.
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