Sam Dastyari: The REAL Reason Labor Lost The Election

There isn’t a conspiracy. There just isn’t.

The Labor Party lost the election because the Australian public didn’t like our policies and we ran a poor campaign.

It’s that simple.

Bill Shorten concedes defeat on stage with his wife Chloe following the 2019 Federal Election on May 18. (Image: AAP)

I wish that wasn’t the case. I wish there was a grand unified conspiracy theory as to what happened. But there isn’t smoke -- and there isn’t fire.

Labor had a big agenda. It promoted widespread economic reform. Major changes to tax. A modern approach to tackling climate change.

I supported that agenda. I agreed with it wholeheartedly. I also -- it now turns out -- am in the minority. I’m a teetotaling (but boy was that tested this weekend), inner-city, non-practicing Muslim vegan. Hard to believe that I might be out of touch.

The Labor party also has to accept that it might be out of touch, too.

Getting a progressive agenda across is always hard. Any reform is. This is particularly so when someone like Clive Palmer spends an exorbitant amount to drown out any other message. But the fundamental reality Labor needs to face is this: the Australian public had a good look at what we put forward and said they didn’t want it.

That’s a brutal lesson.

Labor supporters' devastation was clear as they watched the tally count at the Federal Labor Reception in Melbourne on election night. (Image: AAP)

The Hawke-Keating era taught us that you have to bring the Australian public with you on the reform journey. The lesson from Whitlam is what happens when you don’t. I thought we had the people with us, I thought we had made the case; so did the entire upper echelons of the Labor Party. All of us were wrong.

In the post-election re-writing of history, it is fashionable to try to identity the moment you knew Labor was in trouble. I didn’t have one.

My close friend did. He told me the story about the five old, retired men who walk their dogs every morning in Queanbeyan (in the outer suburbs of Canberra). That on the Thursday before the election these same old, retired men, who had always voted Labor, started expressing doubts about Labor’s tax agenda.

“Rubbish,” I told my friend. “They are out of touch,” I said before polling day. I reminded my friend of the polling... the polling... “It all has us winning… internals and externals,” I observed.

(Image: AAP)

At this election, Labor dumped its long-time pollster, John Utting, to use the same people who do Newspoll. That turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. The numbers were wrong. Labor made decisions on bad data.

John Utting hasn’t held back. He’s observed that we contaminated our poll. Rather than have someone check the work being published, we doubled down on the same set of numbers. The same methodology. He is right. He usually is.

There was a complete failure in the mechanics of the campaign. A failure in advertising. All hopeless.

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The coalition exploited this. They ran a scare campaign. Hardly something new or shocking. The real question for the Labor campaign should be: “How did we not see that coming?”

It was a simple cocktail that cost Labor this election; unpopular policies executed poorly.

No chemtrails, no lizard mutants, no flat-earth conspiracy…

The real explanation is simpler and sadder.

Labor needs to fundamentally rethink what it will take to the election and completely rebuild its campaign machine. Hard, arduous and shit.

But we will. Labor will rebuild. It will regroup. Labor will win again.

The sooner we understand the real problem -- and get off the conspiracy bandwagon -- the better.