Lessons from Victoria

Labor’s victory in Victoria was a watershed. For years, it had been a political truism that Government’s always win a second term. The defeat of the one-term Napthine Government not only shatters that illusion, it gives hope to Labor Oppositions everywhere.

Then we saw the unprecedented results in South Australia’s Fisher byelection and the Queensland polls showing Labor is neck-and-neck with the LNP. We can now truly believe that Labor has turned a corner.

Victoria has blazed a trail for Labor. We now have a proven campaign model for Labor to embrace federally and in other states, a model that we can use to campaign and win.

Campaign tactics received a lot of attention, but the biggest lesson out of Victoria is the embrace of the broader grassroots labour movement by the Party. As Premier Daniel Andrews said:

There are some that wanted to it be all about unions and workers, and that is exactly what it was.

Victorian Trades Hall’s ‘We Are Union’ campaign electrified the election effort. Unions mobilised hundreds of firefighters, nurses, teachers and paramedics across marginal seats. These workers were instrumental in eliminating a one-term Coalition Government. Just as with the Your Rights at Work campaign, when organised workers are front and centre in a united campaign, we will not be defeated.

The other lesson from the Victorian election is the need to communicate a clear policy agenda. Incumbency was not enough to offset a muddled message from the Coalition. Labor, in contrast, made clear election commitments on the East-West Link, improving public transport and restoring TAFE funding.

Federal Labor must likewise present a clear policy agenda or face disillusionment and aimlessness. Rejection of Tony Abbott’s extreme agenda combined with a small target strategy may be appealing – but it will not be enough to win and consolidate power.

Shaun Wilson makes a strong case that the next federal Labor Government will face a new set of challenges more difficult to solve than those faced by its predecessors.

Those challenges will not be met by wallowing in nostalgia. Rather Labor must provide answers to the pressing problems of contemporary life. We must address the growing pressures on the balance between work and caring, and the need to reform our welfare state to reduce growing inequality and improve living standards. We must ensure quality and affordable early childhood education.

Avoiding these tough questions will do Labor no favours in the long run. We must carve out a new agenda consistent with Labor values.

Originally appeared in the Summer 2014-15 edition of Challenge

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