The report said Labor was successful in damaging the perception of then-opposition leader Matthew Guy. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)
Victorian voters dismissed former opposition leader Matthew Guy’s focus on “African gangs” and crime at last year’s state election as a political tactic because they did not feel unsafe, a Liberal Party review has found.
Nearly a year after the state election thrashing, the Victorian Liberal Party has finally released its election review, conducted by party elder Tony Nutt.
“The focus on African gangs became a distraction for some key voters who saw it as a political tactic rather than an authentic problem to be solved by initiatives that would help make their neighbourhoods safer,” he said.
In his report, Mr Nutt found that only 6 per cent of voters said that law and order influenced their vote “and not necessarily to our advantage”.
He found the Liberals’ thumping defeat by Premier Daniel Andrews was also due to federal chaos with the axing of Malcolm Turnbull, a disorganised campaign, internal wars with donors and a lack of coherent polices.
An effective first-term government also made the quest to win office difficult.
The infamous lobster with a mobster story — a joint investigation by the ABC and The Age which revealed Mr Guy had dined with an alleged crime boss — did major damage to the opposition leader.
The dinner with alleged Mafia boss Tony Madafferi at the Lobster Cave restaurant dealt serious reputational damage to Mr Guy, the review found. (Fairfax Media: Joe Armao)
The report said some people were “guilty of utter stupidity” for allowing the dinner to happen and for the story to leak.
“Those responsible for the ‘Lobster Gate’ dinner carry a heavy burden for the enormous damage done to Matthew Guy and the Opposition team,” Mr Nutt said.
Matthew Guy an ‘unknown quantity’
The lobster story and other negative attacks from the Labor Government on Mr Guy’s history as planning minister hurt the Coalition’s chances.
“Labor simply defined Matthew Guy to their benefit,” Mr Nutt said.
Voters also did not know enough about what Mr Guy and his team stood for and how their policies would change their lives.
“In the minds of key voters in early 2018, Matthew Guy and the Victorian Liberals were a largely unknown quantity and remained so for too many electors through to election day,” he said.
On polling day, 17 per cent of voters still did not know who Mr Guy was.
But Mr Guy’s chances were also seriously hurt by the turmoil in the federal Liberal Party, with the ousting of prime minister Malcolm Turnbull contributing particularly to the loss of seats in the party’s heartland, like the seat of Hawthorn.
“Thirty per cent of voters in Victorian electorates that were lost to Labor on the 24th of November stated that they could not vote for the Liberal Party because of the removal of Malcolm Turnbull and 17 per cent of traditional Liberal voters agreed with that position,” the report said.
Internal ructions also damaged the party’s efforts, particularly then-party president Michael Kroger’s legal action against party benefactor, the Cormack Foundation.
It cost the party more than a $1 million in legal fees and despite being resolved, meant donations were delayed, which hindered the party’s ability to advertise effectively during the campaign.
Voters did not know enough about what Mr Guy and his team stood for, the review found. (ABC News: Rudi De Santis)
The report also painted a picture of a disorganised campaign team and strategy, with the need to have professional staff in the campaign headquarters with qualified people in the right jobs.
In his report, Mr Nutt found:
- A failure to articulate a set of economic policies that worried voters could rally behind — current Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien was the shadow treasurer
- The need to balance holding the Government to account on issues such as rorting of entitlements and issues that affect voters’ day-to-day lives
- The need for more women in the party
- The need to end factionalism in the party, which was a distraction throughout the campaign
- Better policy development
- More input and effort from MPs, with the recommendation of key performance indicators for all shadow ministers
- Better screening of candidates to avoid embarrassing disendorsements
The review also hit out at the media, accusing some of seeing themselves “more as players and influencers than as traditional reporters”.
Throughout the report, Mr Nutt also adopted much of David Kemp’s review of the 2014 state election, leading some within the party to criticise the report.
Others have commented it only took federal Labor six months to carry out its post-mortem, yet Mr Nutt’s report took nearly a year.
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