PROFESSING Christians liked what they saw when, before the last election, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was photographed as the devout believer at prayer, right arm pointing to heaven.
In simple terms, Labor’s election review found that one of the Prime Minister’s strengths was his ability to connect with people of faith – and this helped his Coalition gain ascendancy during a campaign that many thought the ALP was sure to win.
“Identifying as Christian was associated with a swing against Labor,” noted the ALP election campaign review, chaired by former federal minister Craig Emerson and former South Australian premier Jay Weatherill.
“The most pronounced swings were among devout, first-generation migrant Christians.”
The review found the religious freedom debate sparked by the Israel Folau controversy put Labor leader Bill Shorten on the back foot, while Mr Morrison’s public demonstration of his faith helped him connect with Christians.
“On the whole, people of faith did not desert Labor, but Labor lost some support among Christian voters – particularly devout, first-generation migrant Christians,” the review found.
The review also found the relatively high number of Christian voters in Queensland electorates contributed to the party’s poor showing in the state.
“The groups of voters who swung most strongly against Labor were self-described Christians and economically insecure, low-income voters who do not like or follow politics,” the review said.
“These voters are heavily represented in Queensland.”
The review said Labor’s decision to announce its sexual and reproductive health policy 10 weeks out from the election, which included a pledge to lower the cost of abortions, had affected the party’s standing among some Christian voters.
“(It) enabled conservative groups to target Christian voters in marginal electorates around the country, and in traditionally safe Labor seats in western Sydney,” the review found.
It said the party “would be wise to reconnect with people of faith on social justice issues and emphasise its historic links with mainstream churches”.
The campaign review cited Australian National University professor Ben Phillips, who found areas with a high proportion of Christians swung away from the ALP, while voters with university degrees or earning more than $100,000 swung towards Labor.
It said Mr Shorten’s call for Mr Morrison to condemn Mr Folau’s remarks – that gay people went to hell – left him “defending criticism he was seeking to embarrass Morrison because of his religion”.
Overall, the Labor review found the party’s election campaign did not adapt to Mr Morrison’s challenge of framing the election as a choice between himself and Bill Shorten.
“Bill Shorten’s unpopularity contributed to the election loss,” the review said.
Other factors were considered including that “the large size and targeted nature of Clive Palmer’s campaign had a significant negative effect on Bill Shorten’s popularity and on Labor’s primary vote”, while “the preferences from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party assisted the Coalition in winning the Queensland marginal seat of Longman and the Tasmanian marginal seat of Braddon”.
The review even has a word or two about politics and environmental responsibility.
“A modern Labor Party cannot neglect human-induced climate change,” the review said.
“To do so would be environmentally irresponsible and a clear electoral liability.
“Labor needs to increase public awareness of the costs of inaction on climate change, respect the role of workers in fossil fuel industries and support job opportunities in emissions-reducing industries while taking the pressure off electricity prices.”