18 October 2020

Stunts and slogans: Coe's campaign was just a house of corflutes

| Ian Bushnell
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Alistair Coe and Nicole Lawder

The election result is a pie in the face for Canberra Liberals leader Alistair Coe. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Make no mistake, the ACT election result is a disaster for the Canberra Liberals, and one that has to be sheeted home to the leadership of Alistair Coe and the campaign strategy of his federal reinforcement, Josh Manuatu.

Both of them insulted the intelligence of Canberra voters and were rightly punished.

Slogans and stunts do not make up for a lack of detail and policy substance, at least not in the ACT.

By the last week of the campaign, the Liberal cause descended into vaudeville with a series of visual stints lifted shamelessly from the Boris Johnson playbook, only serving to invite ridicule and confirm that Mr Coe and his party were unfit for government.

Boris Johnson and Alistair Coe

Alistair Coe seems to have borrowed from the Boris Johnson playbook. Photo: Twitter.

Despite his enthusiasm, Mr Coe proved inflexible and robotic, constantly falling back on nonsensical rehearsed answers when quizzed on policy matters.

From his National Press Club appearance a year ago, the inconsistencies in Mr Coe’s tax and spending approach were plain, and he never reconciled those differences.

Former Leader Jeremy Hanson blamed the defeat on the pandemic and the advantages of incumbency, but the Liberals’ decisions to, in effect, try to undermine the health advice was mystifying and only further diminished their standing in the electorate.

From accusing the government of secret deals without evidence to callous indifference to businesses, Mr Coe attempted to make political capital out of a health crisis that the Labor government was managing, with the right advice, to great effect.

Mr Coe tried to broaden the party’s appeal to blunt attacks that he was a hardline right-winger out of touch with the ACT’s progressive culture by taking up the cause of battlers and the environment, but it just came across as tokenism.

The million trees promise grabbed a headline but was obviously under-costed. Mr Coe said he supported the ACT’s climate change actions and offered a pragmatic approach but voters weren’t buying it.

It’s not as if the Liberals didn’t have something to run on. Health, planning and development were all fertile grounds but, if anything, voters have trusted the Greens to be more effective in those areas.

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

Oppositions need to actually do the work, not rely on the ‘it’s time’ factor or a flashy media strategy that in the end was a house of corflutes.

Mr Coe saying in his concession speech that it was the most professional campaign he had ever been associated with was just another example of the denialism that pervades the Canberra Liberals.

The party has a poor relationship with the media, fails to engage positively and remains defensive and suspicious.

If the Canberra Liberals seriously want to return to government in the ACT, they need new leadership, broader appeal and stronger candidates.

But the signs are Mr Coe will try to hang on, and is already fighting the ‘real’ battle to maintain the Right’s grip on the party. Mark Parton, if he wants it, and Elizabeth Lee deserve a chance to dig the Liberals out of its hole, backed by a root and branch review.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr called the victory humbling, and he meant it. It has been a tough year and a more mature Mr Barr has come through it as a genuinely responsible leader.

But he still has problems, particularly in housing, planning and development. Mick Gentleman may have got back easily, but the planning portfolio needs someone who has the confidence of stakeholders and the ability to sort out the ongoing issues there.

Mr Barr must also ensure that the Canberra Hospital expansion starts and is completed on schedule. Then there is the thorny issue of light rail stage 2 and delivering that, especially the more problematic leg over the lake to Woden.

Now surely that is an issue that can now be put to bed, along with Labor’s tax reform program.

Labor maintained its vote, but it’s the resurgent Greens that are cock-a-hoop. Their influence – already an important factor in government in transport, energy and climate change areas – will only be strengthened. Depending on the final count, another Greens minister is on the cards.

The election result could be seen as strong vote for the environment and climate change action, in the wake of the Black Summer. But Greens leader Shane Rattenbury has also put inequality and housing on the agenda.

It will be an interesting discussion when Mr Barr and Mr Rattenbury sit down to divvy up the spoils.

Cabinet needs new blood and Labor’s Tara Cheyne deserves her chance with a strong showing in Ginninderra and a solid performance behind her.

Overall it was a good night for women, with Emma Davidson (Greens), Rebecca Vassarotti (Greens), Marisa Paterson (Labor) and Leanne Castley (Liberals) likely new faces in the Assembly.

But Liberal supporters should be angry at a leadership that has got it so wrong.

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Capital Retro4:12 pm 21 Oct 20





HiddenDragon8:10 pm 19 Oct 20

Noting that the ACT commentariat now treat light rail and the stamp duty/rates-land tax trade-off as articles of faith in a state religion (and apostates will be hunted and hounded), the basic options facing the ACT Liberals are to say “vote for us and we’ll administer our opponents’ policies better than they do” – or to be very, very brave and offer something different.

Aside from stunts and attention grabbing which, as this article reminds us, do not go down well in an electorate which tends to take itself very seriously, seeking votes through offering “something different” will basically amount to embroidery at the edges of a progressive/left policy cloth and, maybe, some hints at more effective delivery of basic services – which, however coy, would trigger shrieks about “slashing and burning”.

Not a lot of room to move in all of that.

There is plenty of room to move and a reasonably directed campaign based on cost of living pressures could be successful if it wasn’t completely based on non-sensical economics like the Liberals attempted here.

But the clear and obvious problems the Liberals had is the leader and some of their candidates who are too out of step with a large proportion of the electorate. They’ve significantly damaged their brand because of it.

They need a moderate leader who focuses on small “l” liberal policies.

HiddenDragon6:43 pm 20 Oct 20

So what are your examples of cost of living policies which would have gone beyond the short-term, tokenistic, narrowly-targeted, measures offered by the Labor-Green government and not have been open to attack on the grounds of “where’s the money coming from”?

Any examples of “small “l” liberal policies” in other areas which wouldn’t have been dismissed as pale imitations of the real thing (i.e. Labor-Green policies) and thus no reason for any decent Canberran to change their vote?

Hidden Dragon,
Firstly i’ve said that the main problem is the leader and the dominant conservative factions of the Liberals. It’s an inherent disadvantage that already makes it difficult for them to win. So that is the first thing they need to change. A moderate would already have done better.

Secondly, the economic position of the territory during this pandemic means that we are going to be in deficit no matter who is in power.

So the sensible message from the Liberals should have been that yes, we are going to have to borrow more in the short term but we have a longer term plan to bring the budget back to balance and create efficiencies that will lower costs for residents over time.

They could have simply pointed to the ALP’s record over the last 10 years for evidence of waste and that things could be improved.

The could have promoted new infrastructure projects but only when they have rock solid business cases (which would also wipe out future stages of light rail without being overtly hostile to the project).

Their position on rate “relief” should have been tempered with the recognition that the money to run government needs to come from somewhere.

They could have promoted housing affordability by outlining where they would make new Greenfield land releases as well as better targetted infill with increased public green spaces.

They could have avoided getting involved in major discussions on social issues because their leader wouldnt be as open a target.

And if they did this, they still could have run with some of their blatant attempted vote buying policies but balanced with the fact that they were more economically restrained than their opponents.

There is a sensible middle ground, just won’t happen with the current conservative dominance.

I think the libs mistake was going too progressive… They need to forget trees, wellbeing and all these other snowflake causes and stick to the real liberal prioroties like god, mining, politicising science and stoking culture wars.

Yes more Australian flags and a lump of coal

Capital Retro10:24 pm 19 Oct 20

Nailed it. Many of us still believe in those aspirations and values.

Also, Canberra Libs need to talk in billions of dollars like their Federal colleagues because millions of dollars just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Look at Barr, chalking up billions of dollars in debt to be repaid by newly created million dollar home owning Canberrans who still voted for him, ignoring the reality that they won’t be able to afford to live here either by the end of the next electoral term.

Captain Retro I think the post was sarcasm.

But getting to reality think the problems with the Libs is summed up by your somewhat bitter post. They don’t understand the MAJORITY of ACT residents and what they want and what they are willing to pay for.

Those people have spoken and the biggest message it would appear was directed squarely at the Liberal party.

Capital Retro7:32 am 20 Oct 20

You may mock coal according to the alarmists’ narrative but without it Australia would still be a global back block stranded by the tyranny of distance in a failed British Empire.

We used to make things with the natural resources we have but thanks to the false notion that coal is dirty we have adopted a double standard whereby we export it now and all allow other countries to use it and produce stuff for us to buy, on credit.

You are probably also one of the people who claim Australia is a wealthy country but in reality we are hugely in debt with no prospect of ever paying back what we owe. We cannot trade our way out of this mess like other indebted countries can and our main export industries (tourism and higher education) which compliment coal and iron ore exports have abruptly stopped, probably never to return. The future of the former industries is doubtful too following China’s threats to stop using our coal.

Meanwhile, China builds hundreds of new coal fired electricity generators. How about you mock them also?

Some one once called Australia a “smart country”. Maybe that was true at the time but we have replaced that with a lot of dumb people.

You really aspire to stoke the cultural wars CR? 😛

And the Libs were talking in billions…. more than a billion in promises with no way to fund them.

As for your rant about coal, not sure what that has to do with the ACT seeing we have no mining.

And its an absolute fallacy to suggest ‘we are hugely in debt with no prospect of ever paying back what we owe’. That is utter tripe and you know it. We’ve had far higher debt ratios previously and paid it back.

As always, its all complaints and little actual suggestion of what to do better….

you believe in culture wars and politicising science? and you comment on debt is just plain silly

you are right about coal – it has undoubtedly contributed to Australia’s economic growth and development. without coal there would have been no industrial revolution. but the reality is that the era of dependence on fossil fuel for energy is now coming to a close. electric vehicles will slash the demand for oil and renewables will replace fossil fuels in electricity generation. There are simply cleaner and cheaper ways of producing power. Like all conservatives you are living in the past – hankering for things that no longer exist instead of getting on a embracing the future.

Capital Retro4:35 pm 20 Oct 20

The “rant about coal” was in response to kate11’s comment. It involve Australia, not the ACT and I don’t recall Coe committing to any one billion dollar project.

Regarding “stoking culture wars”, there are at least two sides in a war.

Capital Retro2:28 pm 21 Oct 20

In case you are confused, it is the left trying to cancel conservative culture. Up until this happened, conservatives were tolerant of the left. In other words, they started it.

My comment on debt is based on my life long career as a money lender. My first job in that industry was in the collections department. The logic was that when we were aware how hard it was to recover money as the result of poor approval one progressed to the acceptance department where knowledge and experience in the collection area became applied wisdom in approving, conditioning and rejecting new business
offerings. No sign of those values these days.

Like the dumb people who think simultaneously stating coal ‘isn’t dirty’ while also encouraging people to mock China for committing to new coal fired power stations?

The reason I didn’t mock China was mainly because they didn’t run in the ACT election, which was the topic of the thread. But now that you’ve brought it up, it would be hypocritical to mock China’s climate policy before Australia’s when they have more ambitious targets than we do. They have commit to net zero emissions by 2060, whereas Australia hasn’t commit to anything.

Hope that clears it up and I hope you enjoy outsiders on sunday morning!


Coe and his mob tried a catch all approach to some of the key issues. It would have been better to articulate who in particular had become ‘worse off’ by Labor’s policy implementations over the years.

Rates rises hit people financially harder if they ‘were still living’ in the same house that they had paid Stamp Duty on before the switch. If they’d bought and sold after 2012 they were probably roughly even.

The Bus Network changes were better for those who lived near a rapid transport line, but likely worse for those who didn’t live near the R Rapid network or those who had their local stop removed.

There will be similar examples to articulate through Health, Public housing and Education where you can give actual examples of who is worse off.

BUT you can’t just claim a general grab bag of financial and services based issues and expect smart Canberrans to vote for you.

its true that rate rises to replace stamp duty hurt those who haven’t moved house for a long time. Isn’t this kind of the point? why would you have a tax system that puts a higher tax on those that move house more often compared to those that don’t? that makes no sense.

In the interests of a healthy democracy those of us keen to see some form of viable opposition party should all feel just a little sorry for the Canberra branch of the Liberal Party (or whatever is now masquerading as the Liberal Party) and help them recover with a new slogan. How about:
Coe Has Got To Go.

And replaced with who? Parton? Get him and they might win, but it would end up a 3 ringed circus like other places (looking at America) where popularitst politics have dominated the past 4 years.

Hanson? Return to the hollow past. Lee? Maybe, just maybe.

But really the core issue isn’t leader but policies. When your policy for the past 20 years is to oppose and say your are going to do the opposite of the other mob it just doesn’t work.

Another Bushnell article harping on about the Liberals. You are absolutely obsessed.

Good read and great analysis of Saturday’s poll, Ian.

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