Andrew Woodward, Labor Candidate for Cowper.
Monday, 20 May 2019
This week, there will be millions of words written about the election result. We also need to talk about what happened here locally. It wasn’t good.
On the national front, my view is that the tide of scare campaigns, self-interest, lies, Clive’s money, national media bias (News Corp capital city tabloids and broadsheet) and populism were too much for Labor to turn back. Sure Labor made some mistakes but I thought the policy settings were, by-and-large right, for the majority of people and the planet. I had no substantial issues with the leadership, team, strategy, tactics or communications.
I am not writing this piece to add to the national debate. I am writing this piece as to start a local discussion about the future of non-conservative politics in Port, Coffs, Kempsey and on the mid-north coast. I hope this ultimately leads to the defeat of the Nationals at federal, state and local government elections. I want to put some local thought starters out there as we, as a community, have lots to talk about.
The local result, which saw a 2.7 per cent swing to the Nationals, in my opinion, can be largely put down to concerns about Labor’s policy on franking credits. The policy had merit. However, it came at a political cost. It wasn’t the only ‘thing’ in the loss but it was a ‘big thing’. Something that impacted only four per cent of people, through lies and media bias, turned into a ‘tax’ on a third of all voters. If the Liberals and Nationals feel any joy at misleading and frightening older and vulnerable people to win office, they should be ashamed of themselves.
Of any electorate in Australia, Cowper has the second highest number of people over the age of 70. It is around a quarter. Many of these are wealthy. In my opinion, they put their self-interest ahead of the national interest and the interests of their children and grandchildren. That’s their democratic right to do so. It isn’t something I would do. They put their pockets and purses ahead of the majority of people and the planet.
What evidence do I have to support my claim? Have a look at the booth-by-booth count in Cowper. There were strong swings to the Nationals in Port Macquarie (over seven per cent at the biggest booth). Port has the highest number of wealthy retirees. This is where the Nationals won Cowper. The result at the Coffs end was largely a ‘nil-all-draw’. The wealthy retirees in Port wanted to pile on to the Nationals to protect their cash gift from John Howard. Rob Oakeshott was wishy-washy throughout and seen as too much of a risk to them. Mr Oakeshott wouldn’t say who he would support in minority government. So people locked on to their safest option – the Nationals. Game over.
For me, it was a very frustrating election campaign. It was frustrating on a number of fronts. At times I felt like I was spending more time defending my left flank; leaving me little time to attack my right. Climate groups, environment groups, the Greens, GetUp and other community groups, like Bellingen NBN and Rural Australians for Refugees, seemed more interested in attacking Labor than they did the Nationals and Liberals. This was insanity. Sure, Labor may not have delivered everything they wanted but it was a damn lot better than what the Liberals and Nationals offered. As an illustration, I would often hear from these groups, something like, ‘we like 19 of the 20 things Labor is putting forward. But because of that one thing in 20 we don’t like, we are going to campaign against you (as in Labor)’. As I said, this was insanity. Winner takes all politics is self-defeating.
Then there are the Greens. They do not make a constructive contribution to politics or change on the Coffs and mid-north coasts. Earlier this year, the Greens thwarted any chance of defeating Mel Pavey in the seat of Oxley. They didn’t buy into a tight anti-National preference arrangement thus removing any chance of defeat. The Greens blew it through stupidity. In the federal election just gone, the Greens preferenced Rob Oakeshott (ahead of Labor). Mr Oakeshott refused to rule out supporting a minority Liberal-National Government – you know, the coal-loving climate-denying Liberals and Nationals. Yet, the Greens backed him. It defied belief. They’re dealing themselves out. They have to make some choices. Local environment groups, including the Stop Adani crowd, and GetUp also have to ask themselves why they joined the Greens in the insanity of supporting Mr Oakeshott.
The Stop Adani movement has much to answer too. It mislead the Australian people, many of them young and impressionable people. They were promoting a simplistic concept of ‘abracadabra’ and you “Stop Adani”. There was no technical means or legal instrument by which anyone could simply “Stop Adani”. They knew this, yet nationally and locally, they kept pushing this myth and created resentment toward Labor. All they did was damage the party that offered the only, repeat only, chance to go through a legal and administrative process in government that may have delivered what they wanted. Again, this was insanity. When Adani, Gina, Clive and others fire up and destroy the Galilee Basin, the Stop Adani people need only look in the mirror to see who is to blame for this. Their position and tactics were insane.
If one good came from things in Cowper, it was the defeat of the style of politics that Rob Oakeshott championed. My biggest regret of the campaign is that we stopped talking about the Nationals and issues such as youth unemployment, environmental protection, addressing inequality and integrity in government when Mr Oakeshott in January reaffirmed his intention to run. When Rob re-entered, the campaign switched from a discussion about important local social, environmental and economic issues to be all about him and his personal ambition. It was personality politics re-heated from a retired professional politician. Cowper deserved better.
Mr Oakeshott’s populist style was liked by many. Making unrealistic promises, saying yes to everyone, claiming credit for the work of others, making feel-good motherhood statements, saying people power was the answer to everything, and being wishy-washy or non-committal appealed to some, obviously. Not me. I am a policy person. His approach was all feathers and no meat. Elections should be about issues and ideas and not about platitudes and personalities. To this style of politics locally, I say good riddance.
It saddened me that many good Labor people over the last few months swapped their red t-shirt for the purple and white t-shirt. This is the first order of business for Labor locally, talking to these people, listening to them and getting them back.
The Labor Party also has to get the labour movement, that is the unions, more involved in local on-the-ground campaigning. The “Change the rules” campaign nationally was very good but suffered from a lack of local resources and people. In Cowper, 13,000 workers lost their penalty rates under the Liberals and Nationals. Labor was committed to reinstating penalty rates yet we received no support locally from these 13,000 people we were fighting for. The Liberals and Nationals next will likely come after penalty rates for health care and social assistance workers, representing 10,000 or so people in the area. This will devastate families and businesses. We will need their help if we are to help them. This is another high order of business for Labor.
Finally, I, of course, accept that Labor’s result nationally and locally was very disappointing. In traditionally conservative seats (like here, Warringah and Wentworth), Labor’s vote always drops significantly when a bit of independent bling comes along. I also understand Labor’s policies didn’t always meet everyone’s expectations. No party’s do. I also get that some people didn’t warm to me. That’s the nature of politics. Passionately arguing for what you believe in and speaking the inconvenient truth inevitably creates some degree of conflict and dislike. I said to myself at the start of the campaign, I will tell people what they need to hear, not simply what they want to hear. I believe I did this and I will continue to do this. Anything else is a cop out.
Labor has a big-time ahead. We have just completed failed dual campaigns in the state and federal arenas. We must brutally review and critique our performance nationally and locally. We must also elect federal and state parliamentary leaders. And we must start preparing for local government elections in the second half of 2020.
Labor is committed to reviewing and refreshing here on the Coffs and mid-north coasts and working with others to genuinely change things. I hope other community and political groups are too. Because if we don’t, the Nationals will always win. And when they win, we lose.
The Labor Party is nearly 120 years old. We’re not fly-by-nighters. We don’t come and go. Like any organisation, we have our ups and downs. Today we are down. We will be up soon enough – by learning lessons within the party and from our local communities. I invite you to be a part of this process.