Lack of detail and failure to attract ‘soft Green’ voters identified in Libs’ election post-mortem

Dominic Giannini 1 April 2021 44
Alistair Coe making an announcement

The Canberra Liberals have released a post-mortem on their 2020 election loss. Photo: Supplied.

Candidates not knowing their own political messaging, inadequate research on the Greens and a failure to land “any effective political punches” on Labor contributed to the Canberra Liberals’ election loss, according to the party’s election postmortem.

It further identified a need to initiate a whole-term election plan to win government, including boosting the profile of the leader, positioning local MLAs as highly motivated members and a refined message.

The Liberals were also unable to attract ‘soft Green’ voters who turned to the party for environmental reasons but may not have supported “the radical side of the Greens’ agenda”, which the report identified as having an “anti-small business bent, or soft law and order policies”.

Ironically, many ACT voters thought the centrepiece of the Liberals’ environment plan – to plant one million trees – was Greens policy.

The review panel, consisting of former Chief of Staff to Prime Minister John Howard, Grahame Morris, former Canberra Liberals MLA Vicki Dunne, and former Canberra Liberals director and 2016 campaign manager Daniel Clode, found that campaign work began too late and preparation for the election was not fast or mature enough.

The campaign ultimately resulted in the Liberals losing two seats and experiencing a 3.1 per cent swing against them.

Apprehension about voting for then Opposition Leader Alistair Coe were amplified by opaque policy costings, while evidence of patchy cohesion between existing Liberal MLAs also created a distraction.


READ ALSO: How the party room battle defeated Liberals’ chances of winning an “it’s time” election


Mr Coe was repeatedly asked how he was going to pay for his policies without spending any more money or cutting any services. He repeatedly said the Liberals would “grow the pie” and entice more people to live in the ACT but rarely offered answers on costings.

The autopsy report found that the lack of detail around some policies invited voter cynicism about achievability and a failure to answer questions about substance then “looked like a campaign tactic to avoid detailed answers”. This was exacerbated when members could not agree on a policy position, which led to backflips on light rail policy during the election.

Canberra Liberals MLAs

The Canberra Liberals were reduced to nine members following a swing of -3.1 per cent against the party.

“The self-inflicted injuries on [light rail] suggested there had not been policy clarity nor policy stress testing and that there was a lack of conviction in setting a direction,” the review said.

A lack of a standout local issue to galvanise voters, such as light rail at the previous election, further scattered the Liberals’ chances.

However, despite internal shortcomings, the review also identified the challenge of facing an incumbent government during COVID-19.

Fiscal policy and messages about the economy were stripped away with the increased spending from governments, and arguments about the increased cost of living were ineffective due to increased spending and supplements.

“The year 2020 was a terrible time to be in Opposition, let alone trying to run a winning election campaign,” the report said.

“The massive spending by all governments in Australia and around the world to combat the Coronavirus meant that traditional economic management issues, tax and spending levels and many hip-pocket appeals, were not as potent in this unusual climate.


READ ALSO: Public service jobs bubble being squeezed as pandemic demands end


“Cost of living issues had some resonance with Canberrans in tighter economic circumstances, but public spending during the lead-up to the election … ensured that large parts of the electorate remained very comfortable.”

With COVID-19 dominating the news cycle for most of the year, announcements were delayed, which consequentially resulted in a “machine gun-like release of policies”.

Not only did candidates not have enough time to sell the message, but voters had already cast their ballots before some policies were released due to the focus on early voting during the pandemic.

“Almost every candidate said the policies were released so late and so scrunched into a short time frame that there was little opportunity to promote them properly on the ground,” the review said.

Signing of ACT Parliamentary Agreement

The Liberals will focus on strongly linking the Greens with the government. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

But an upset in the Territory is not beyond the party if the Canberra Liberals nail the right strategy and consistently works on its execution, the review said.

“There is an old, somewhat clichéd saying that you can’t fatten the cow on market day,” it said.

“Input from those close to the campaign … indicate that work that should have been done in the three years prior to the election either had not been done or not done adequately.

“Work should start immediately on campaigning for 2024.”

The Liberals will now target the “ethical shortcomings” of the government as it tries to entice Canberrans to separate from a government that has been in power for more than 20 years.


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44 Responses to Lack of detail and failure to attract ‘soft Green’ voters identified in Libs’ election post-mortem
Charlie Karmenu Flask Charlie Karmenu Flask 7:46 pm 04 Apr 21

And they needed a post mortem for that?

jorie1 jorie1 10:40 am 04 Apr 21

I’m always shocked that ACT voters give such low priority to health care and education standards, when these are the two main grounds on which a society is judged. Do the citizens have access to good health care and good education. The ACT has the absolute worst healthcare and education in the country, and this is solely due to the abhorrent Labor/Greens coalition. I would describe the ACT as a marxist little town, which prioritises terrible left wing extremist ideas, and yet fails to provide the basics for its citizens (terrible education, terrible healthcare, high rates of homelessness, terrible transportation – the list goes on and on). Sadly, those who align themselves with left wing extremists fail to acknowledge the disaster they have created. They live in a little bubble, espousing the virtues of marxism, while lining their own pockets with taxpayer money. The hypocrisy is beyond belief.

    Maya123 Maya123 2:21 pm 04 Apr 21

    Re the worst healthcare in the country. I have in the last few months taken a sick person to hospital several times, and each time they have had prompt care. Plus lots of tests. (Can’t rave about the food though.) Also, I’m guessing you have never lived in country towns that can’t attract a doctor. Or had two doctors, but one was struck off and the other regularly had nervous break downs and had to go away for a time. With no other doctors to take over. My experience.

    You need to give statistics for your claims, to be taken seriously. Otherwise it’s just a rant, and you being upset that your choice of party lost.

    jorie1 jorie1 6:54 pm 04 Apr 21

    @Maya, I have been to the hospitals many times and waited hours. Also the elective care list is years long. Please acknowledge the problems in our community, that need to be fixed, instead of ignoring the issues, and just aligning with your choice of party. Insulting people because you refuse to acknowledge there is a problem is not helpful. As you requested:
    1. Canberra health wait times worst in the country (Feb 2021) -(ABC):https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-02-01/act-plans-to-reverse-emergency-wait-times-within-nine-months/13106742
    2. ACT worst in country for aged care accreditation (Feb 2021): https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/7093774/its-very-concerning-acts-aged-care-standards-worst-in-nation/
    3. ACT worst healthcare and lowest bulk billing in country (Australian Medical Association). https://ama.com.au/articles/ama-public-hospital-report-card-2019
    4. ACT education system – worst performer: https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6001367/the-act-is-the-worst-performer-in-naplan-and-its-getting-worse/
    If you are genuinely interested in these issues, you just have to google the issues in ACT healthcare and education for the last few years, and you will see this is an ongoing and systemic problem. Plus the ACT rates and taxes are the highest in Australia, yet the basic services that need to be provided (healthcare and education) are woeful (when they should be of a high standard). Where is all the ACT taxpayer money going and whose pockets are they lining?

    Maya123 Maya123 10:18 pm 04 Apr 21

    Yes, I read those statements all the time. And I have personally experienced the long weight when I was brought in by ambulance after an incident, but that’s triage. However, how does Canberra actually compare, to other cities, and to country towns; big and small? You made the statement; give the actual statistics, not just statements.

    I am not saying we couldn’t do better, but real figures are more enlightening and would make your point better than just a statement.

    jorie1 jorie1 7:53 pm 05 Apr 21

    I provided evidence and the references that support my statements. If you disagree with the evidence and statements provided, you can contact the Canberra Times, the ABC, or the AMA, if you are suggesting they are not correct, or if you want additional information/numbers on the articles and topics they write about.

    I’d love to get more solid statistics, for example, on ACT public housing, but the ACT government is denying FOI requests regarding public housing in the ACT, and won’t release any information under FOI (see today’s CT article on the terrible public housing system in the ACT and how the ACT government won’t provide information to the public). So the statistics you demand, are often dependent upon the government being willing to release and provide the information. The bigger question is: why won’t the ACT government be transparent and accountable? Why won’t they willingly release information to the public? Why is the ACT government so secretive?

    Dan41 Dan41 3:57 pm 06 Apr 21

    From the report referenced in the education rankings article by The Canberra Times:

    “ACT students are, on average, more socio-economically advantaged than students from any other state or territory. Once this relative advantage is taken into account, the ACT trails the nation”

    They give no further information about how they weight for ‘socio-economic advantage’ or what the unweighted rankings are. Or the academic justifications for said weightings.

    In other words, absolute garbage.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:11 am 04 Apr 21

David Chadwick, if Canberra’s voters are well educated and politically savvy they are unlikely to be intolerant and ignorant like you as you describe Zed as “a far right religious puppeteer on the hill”.

I have known Zed for 30 years and he is a decent citizen who is serving Canberra well. He has values and views that may be different to yours, so what? Just because that doesn’t fit with your narrative doesn’t mean you have the right to smear him with remarks that are close to hate speech.

David Chadwick David Chadwick 8:20 am 04 Apr 21

The assessment failed to mention the fact that Canberra's voters are well educated and politically savvy. Canberra voters also know that the Canberra Liberals are mere pupetts to their far right religious puppeteer on the hill. Canberra Liberals need to cut Zd's strings. They need to work independently for Canberra not for his far right mates in Federal parliament.

Canberra Liberals are tared with the Morrison, Dutton brush.

mattm mattm 12:48 am 03 Apr 21

The ACT is being ruined by the Labor/Greens coalition, who can’t even mow grass properly. But progressive-minded Canberra voters couldn’t bring themselves for the country’s most conservative Liberal branch, so what hope is there. An undeserving government got back in because of tge likes of Giullia Jones. Canberra is starting look like Detroit, and will soon be just as broke, but there seems to be no alternative. So, so sad!

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 8:08 pm 02 Apr 21

A strategy which boils down to saying “vote for us because we reckon we can do a better job of managing the status quo” is never going to work for the ACT Liberals because the majority of Canberra voters will always give the benefit of the doubt to the Labor/Green side – even when there are very good grounds for serious doubt.

What the ACT Liberals need to do is put some large, “smart” (to use an over used adjective) policy bombs under a very smug, very comfortable governing elite in the ACT and give voters a sharp choice. If they cast a wide enough net around Australia and overseas, they will find the ideas and can then adapt them for local use.

Rather than wasting their time with “soft Green” voters (whose voting softness tends to evaporate around election day) there should be a much sharper focus on small businesses of all sorts – that is potentially fertile ground, and is also of broader importance in a future where heavily indebted governments will struggle to maintain spending, and thus employment, levels in this town.

Nicole McGuire Nicole McGuire 6:16 pm 02 Apr 21

How about responding to their constituents’ concerns? You know, for something different.

Michael Ilsley Michael Ilsley 1:15 pm 02 Apr 21

Coe gotta Go!!

Jason Ezra Jason Ezra 10:39 am 02 Apr 21

‘Grow the pie’. Don’t treat the ACT electorate as simpletons who can’t understand how you propose to fund your policies in future...

Paul Totterdell Paul Totterdell 10:28 am 02 Apr 21

"Soft Green" eh?

Are these the sort of voters that have been slowly realising over the last few years, that they need to vote in politicians that care about the health and sustainability of society and the environment that supports it? People affected by the never ending, not so natural disasters that society is facing?

Yes, they are a problem for you. All you need to do is work out exactly what mixture of self interest, greed and fear can convince these "soft green" voters to go back to not caring.

Rob Calvert Rob Calvert 8:09 am 02 Apr 21

Even more clueless and only slightly less repugnant than their federal colleagues. Hopefully the Canberra electorate will not be dumbed down and will continue to see through these frauds.

Mark Dawson Mark Dawson 12:09 am 02 Apr 21

We only needed to watch the ACT Libs media conference in the North Curtin horse paddocks to understand exactly how little they know about governance. They promised to prevent the area being used for Embassies without seeming to comprehend that the land was resumed by the NCA and their Federal Colleagues. The Barr Government to their credit was able to get the Acton foreshore in exchange yet this was all spun by the ACT Libs as some underhand deal rather than making the best out of a no win situation.

Jim Donaldson Jim Donaldson 11:14 pm 01 Apr 21

1 million trees 🌲 that was meant to be their greens policy? 🤣 How about they were going to deliver better social services all round, which few believe they believe in anyway, and then do it all for less taxes at the same time. Magical thinking!

franky22 franky22 9:50 pm 01 Apr 21

Here’s a novel idea – how about preselecting some articulate, intelligent people particularly ones that have actually achieved something & who don’t believe in magic men in the sky.

Mark Chapman Mark Chapman 9:43 pm 01 Apr 21

Thinking like that will keep the Libs out of office for the next 20 years. Having a Tony Abbott wannabe as the alternative Chief Minister had NO effect on the outcome, of course 🤪

Kerri Hallas Kerri Hallas 9:30 pm 01 Apr 21

Johnathan Davis MLA - Member for Brindabella They really don’t understand do they Johnathan? Glad you are with us!

Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 9:24 pm 01 Apr 21

Wow, the Liberals really did get the Greens wrong.

dolphin dolphin 9:16 pm 01 Apr 21

the liberals consitently lose for two reasons main reasons

firstly canberra voters are far to intelligent to fall for the ridiculous culture wars that the liberals continually promote. the standard liberal tactic of fearmongering, attacking those unable to defend themselves, religous conservatism and narrow nationalism does not appeal to signifcant numbers of canberrans

secondly, soft labor voters always have an alternative in the Greens, who do a great job in keeping labor honest – in every sense of the word

At this particualr election the libs totally screwed up thier economic costings. most voters howled with laughter when Coe told us that they could increase spendng, not raise taxes and pay for it by attracting more people to live here. (as an aside promising to significantly expand the canberra population probably lost them a chunk of the traditional older conservative vote who hanker for the days wnen canberra was a boring country town).

Danny's Bakery Danny's Bakery 8:42 pm 01 Apr 21

We love Elizabeth Lee. A genuine centrist

Capital Retro Capital Retro 7:37 pm 01 Apr 21

Who exactly are you labelling as “hard right churchey”, Sol?

I know a lot of ultra-Christian Labor and Liberal voters but as a conservative voter all my life and a former Liberal member for many years I have never met any of these “hard-right churchey” people that you and your side of politics have labeled, apparently to scare people.

The Liberals have totally lost the plot and while lamenting they lost votes to “soft Greens” they have ignored the real reason why thousands of people like me don’t support them anymore that being they have wandered away from conservative values and they look like they “are a hundred miles offshore and still drifting”.

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