“Abbott opposed everything, regularly suspended standing orders [in Parliament], he’d even call in to radio stations from his car and complain about traffic congestion,” the adviser said.
“Bill was about volume, he wanted to dominate the 24 hour news cycle every day, he worked his arse off and stoked divisions in the Coalition but he didn’t have a cogent narrative [and] he had too many policies in the end.”
Albanese has drawn criticism, internally and externally, for a tiny policy agenda and for his obviously small target strategy. It’s a calculated risk.
In the last two Newspolls, Morrison’s net satisfaction rating has fallen from +32 on February 15 to +15 on March 28, while Albanese’s rose from -7 to positive +2, suggesting the strategy of “getting out of the way” is working.
Albanese told The Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age in January his plan is to “kick with the wind in the last quarter”, with more policy details to come in the final six months before the election.
So while Albanese speaks to Canberra-based national media through press conferences with short, sharp criticism of the government, it’s the work he’s doing away from the national spotlight that is strategically more important.
Since the start of March, Albanese has been to Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland twice each, as well as making stops in Victoria, South Australia and regional NSW.
The regular visits to Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania and regional seats are deliberate; the first two states are Liberal strongholds at a federal level, while Tasmanian voters have a habit of kicking out MPs after a term or two.
The target seats on the east coast are not secret and WA is seen as in play after Labor Premier Mark McGowan’s huge election win.
Albanese and McGowan appeared together last week and Morrison is alive to the risks – the Prime Minister spent several days in WA last week, for the first time in 18 months.
Morrison may have just a one seat majority in parliament, but Albanese needs to win eight seats to form majority government. That means gains in those three states are vital, particularly as there are few additional seats Labor can realistically win in Victoria or South Australia, and it may lose a couple in NSW.
At the same time, while Albanese has done the rounds of national media such as Radio National Breakfast and The Today Show, he has pursued a strategy of talking to dozens of FM radio stations and local AM radio stations across the country.
These interviews often fly under the radar of the Canberra press gallery and – more importantly – reach people that don’t necessarily read daily metropolitan newspapers or watch prime time television news.
These aren’t new tactics – Shorten and Abbott employed them at various times too.
But the “off broadway” approach is designed to introduce the Opposition Leader to new audiences who, after a long pandemic year in which incumbent governments dominated the airwaves, may finally be ready to listen to Albanese.
After more than a decade as Minister for Local Government and then shadow minister for the same portfolio, Albanese – who knows local mayors the length and breadth of the country – has plans to put forward hyper-local candidates in winnable seats across the country.
The first example was Kristy McBain, the Bega mayor who won last year’s Eden-Monaro byelection.
Gladstone Mayor Matt Burnett was announced as candidate for the Queensland seat of Flynn last week, as was Donisha Duff, a health care professional who has lived in and around the Queensland seat of Bowman for three decades. In both seats the incumbent government MPs, Ken O’Dowd and Andrew Laming, are stepping aside.
None of this means Albanese will win the next election. Labor is still the underdog.
The federal budget in just over three weeks, offers the chance for a political reset. The economy is showing positive signs and the vaccine rollout can only improve in the second half of the year, ahead of an election now expected in the first half of 2022.
Albanese isn’t trying to win every Newspoll or news cycle. His focus is on the eight seats he needs to form government.
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James Massola is political correspondent for the Sun-Herald and
Sunday Age. He was previously south-east Asia correspondent in Jakarta and chief political correspondent. Before that he was political correspondent for the Australian Financial Review.