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Bob Hogg: 1990 Federal Election Analysis

Bob Hogg, National Secretary of the ALP, has addressed the National Press Club on the outcome of the 1990 Federal Election.

The complete audio of Hogg’s speech and answers to questions is available here. The transcript only covers the questions.

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This is a transcript of the question and answer session following Bob Hogg’s National Press Club Address.

AMANDA BUCKLEY (Daily Telegraph): Mr Hogg, I want to ask you about the heavy cost of TV election ads. You were trying to get them knocked off before the election, and I’m wondering in retrospect, whether you’re glad you failed, considering you think that they were pretty effective. Will you be trying again before the next election, and how much did they end up costing you, overall?

BOB HOGG: The party would be pleased to know that we came in on the budget. It won’t be pleased, though, that we still have a considerable deficit. But our television, radio and print budget came in at just over $8 million – that’s all up. The cost of campaigns is of great concern. We had a parliamentary committee try to come to grips with it last year and they came up with a solution which turned out to be, on examination, not workable. I took a position in mid last year that the only simple solution was to not allow any at all, which made it even-handed for everybody, in order to try and put an effective limit on campaign costs. You are right in saying that in this campaign, I believe our paid commercial advertising probably had a critical effect on the end result. You are loath to give away that sort of an advantage, I suppose, or the possibility, and one in three campaigns that becomes very critical. So one is reluctant to give that away.

I may mean that we have to find other ways to achieve the same result without the same expenditure, but I certainly believe that the whole question of the use of advertising and costs of campaigns has to be re-examined. My understanding is that all political parties are in much the same position as us, despite having more wealthy, if you like, supporters and so on. My understanding – and I haven’t got figures – is that both the Liberals and us are in much the same position at the end of the campaign. I think for the long term integrity of the political system, we have to tackle the question of campaign costs. I don’t care what the end result is, as long as it’s effective and it’s even-handed.

AMANDA BUCKLEY: So that means you’ll be working towards keeping …

BOB HOGG: That’s one possible solution, yes.

MICHAEL MILLAR (Sydney Morning Herald): In your speech you talk about the strain being imposed on the existing infrastructure by urban expansion. I just wonder: this has provoked recent comments from both sides of the political fence about the need to have a fresh look at the immigration program, about the size of the intake. I just wonder if you saw a similar need.

BOB HOGG: I think there are sufficient pressures – I’m not commenting upon immigration or immigration policy; I’m not here to do that – on our urban infrastructure developing from the population growth, with or without immigration. If you took immigration at none at all, you’d still have the same problem. It is also a planning attitude and an attitude to urban life in this country, and a lack, if you like, of planning attitude to cities and their size and how you make them work effectively. I think that is where the dialogue has to occur and a solution has to be found. But we can’t keep adding broad acres to Sydney and Melbourne and Brisbane and major capital centres in this country; they will ultimately join up. Most of you have some understanding, though you live in a better example of a planned city, I suppose, of the problems people have in the outer fringes of Sydney and Melbourne, in particular.

DAVID WASHINGTON (News Limited): Do you think the swing away from the major parties is going to continue throughout this decade, and if so, what will the political landscape look like in Australia by the year 2000?

BOB HOGG: One of the reasons we set up an internal process which will get started, I assume after the next national executive meeting .. it’s one of the factors behind it. A political party like ours, which is very old – it’s 100 years old next year – has to be very careful that it doesn’t ossify as an organisation, and that it adapts and changes to the changing social and cultural and physical conditions in our society. Part of that, of course, is also to grapple with the alienation, if you like, from the major parties and the effect of that being the burgeoning of smaller groups or forces such as the Greens or the Democrats increasing their share of the vote. I think it’s up to us as a very broadly based party, to try to find the solutions that stop that process of alienation and encompass those people within their own organisation and draw upon the benefit they bring, but also we bring a benefit too.

It is important that a mainstream political party has to be both broadly based and comprehensive in its policies. It can’t be, nor should it be, nor has it been a captive of any single stream of thought, whether it is on issue or on ideology. The party’s an umbrella party and it must stay that way. It has to draw more of those people in and in doing so, learn from them but educate them that life isn’t quite as simple as a single issue. Now that’s the role the party has done in the past with varying degrees of success, but it’s a role the party has to maintain on its new membership at all times. We have to broaden our .. most people joined the ALP in my time over a particular thing as a catalyst. The party’s function, and a necessary function, is to broaden their horizons, if you like, and their understanding.

So, whatever their interests are fit within a broader context and they have to make their adjustments accordingly and understand that that’s a necessary part of the political process. So in predicting their growth for their future, I really don’t want to act as a seer, but I think if we do our work properly, we’ve probably seen a peak occur at this election.

MALCOLM QUECKETT (West Australian): Given the criticism of the green vote strategy by Senator Walsh and the result in the electorate at Kalgoorlie where Graham Campbell held a swing against him well below the WA trend on a campaign based .. to some degree on attacking the green strategy, could that strategy have been overstated? And, secondly, is there potential for a backlash against it?

BOB HOGG: Taking the last point first. That depends how the Government governs over the next three years, obviously. Graham Campbell is a highly idiosyncratic member of parliament, one for whom I have a lot of time. You’re dealing with different electorates and I think Graham, if you like, tapped the mood of his electorate pretty effectively. It doesn’t mean that the two propositions are exclusive. It is quite obvious to me that having both Democrat green aligned or green thinking Democrat candidates, and in some States, candidates running under the banner of greens, in some form or other, I’ve no doubt that they’ve played a critical role in holding our vote on a second preference or third preference basis. And they played a critical role, if you like, in focusing on an issue which has broad community concern, that’s environment and the general province associated with environment, and convincing enough of those people who voted for them to give their second or third or effective preference back to Labor.

So, I have no doubt that they played an effective and important role in the campaign. It’s up to them to stake their claim and qualify it. You’ll always have to expect that people that do that will overstate the quantifying, they maximise their position. That’s understandable. I will just leave it at saying that it was clearly a ballot to benefit us and they have a considerable effect on the end result. We, obviously will, with a bit of time when time lapses, sit down and do a thorough analysis of the individual trends and try and make sense out of some of them. It would appear to be some odd contradictory ones but you always get that, but we haven’t done them as yet. I don’t want to put a figure on it. I think it’s sufficient to say they had an important influence on the result.

PETER BOWERS: The reason, as you’ve said, for Labor losing all but one of the 10 seats it lost in one State alone, and namely Victoria, would seem to be self-evident, or so I thought, until I read the latest Morgan poll in today’s Bulletin, which indicates that Morgan’s cumulative polling in Victoria for the month of March indicates that the Cain Government would have been returned to power if a State election had’ve been held that month.

Who do you say is right, the Morgan poll or the obvious?

BOB HOGG: I didn’t know the publication date, it wasn’t April fool, was it, it wasn’t April 1?

PETER BOWERS: It was April 17.

BOB HOGG: It actually hasn’t happened then, so it’s next week. I would like to make some reference without reflecting on your own profession. In a way it’s a cry from the heart. You really, from now on, should be a lot more sceptical than you’ve been about polling done when it’s done by the Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Gary Morgan, leaked by Tony Eggleton or leaked by myself. Now it so happens I didn’t leak anything through the campaign. Basically I don’t like it. The research is done for our purpose and for strategic purposes. It’s not done for public dissemination. In the main, it’s not done for, to try to counteract the proliferation of Mickey Mouse polls that exist. I was very angry with what occurred in the last week and it’s about the only public comment made through the campaign, basically, when that late Morgan poll came out. Some of you may recall on the day the election was announced, I ran into you in Parliament House and some of you barrelled me and I gave you a week by week description of how the Morgan poll would emerge, and I was not wrong.

What you need to do, as when you’ve got a poll that has a 4 per cent shift in three days, is take it very sceptically and assume that at the very best what you are seeing is a correction on a poll that was wrong before. So you ended up getting it relatively correct, reasonably correct, that aspect. I could touch on others as well, but I’m not here on a witch hunt. The 4 per cent shift was sheer and utter nonsense. The fact was he had had us too high for 12 months, substantially too high for 12 months. I don’t know what mechanism brought it about but what occurred was a late correction in his own polling. That was not a swing to the Liberals; it was not a swing to the Nationals; it was not a drift to the Democrats, it was an adjustment in his own polling. It was written as a swing to the Liberals.

Now you lot are intelligent enough and have been around long enough to start doing your own analysing and start looking at that sort of material and making at least qualified judgements about it. You don’t get shifts in voting intentions of that magnitude. I know Gary does a fair job bagging Rod Cameron – I’m not going to enter into that – but what he doesn’t know is we use two companies on our research and our result with no collusion at all was almost identical. Another company, West Australian Opinion Polls had us, on the day before the election, at 49.5 in Kununurra, ended up at 49.2; had us winning Melbourne Ports; had us winning two seats in Queensland. Cameron staff also verified that through the campaign. So what I told you about us needing 2 per cent at the beginning was true and that’s what occurred. There was no swing back to the Liberals. We also went as late as we could to determine whether there was a move back to the major parties. Basically there wasn’t and that was demonstrated.

The stuff in the Bulletin today is nothing short of amazing. I can assure you if John Cain was going to the elections next Saturday, on Saturday morning there would be a Morgan poll saying, ‘Six per cent swing against Labor in the last week; 43 to 37’, and that would be closer to the reality.

Now on the Victorian election, my view is that Government has two years, and it’s got two years and I think it can recover, and I believe it can, with a lot of hard work. So I’m wiping it off. But at this point to suggest that they would win an election is, as you put it, I think, or to paraphrase, an absurdity. So there should be a lot more healthy scepticism and criticism about polling done in this country. The stuff done in magazines as authoritative as the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age was an embarrassment; it shouldn’t have been published and there should be enough people around knowing that to make sure it isn’t published. You can’t do that sort of work on the cheap. You cannot do it using your space salesmen of a night the phone to do it. You’ve got to work for years to make sure you can get correct political samples. You can’t do it on a hit-miss basis.

One tabloid paper in this country, which I respect as a tabloid and actually read it – it’s got good football coverage and sometimes a reasonable front page and so on – is the Melbourne Sun. Often it gives us a kick but I consider it a top tabloid. They were so embarrassed when they had us at some absurd figure in the second last week – I forget what it was now; just absolute nonsense. We would have been able to pack up, save our budget and win the campaign without doing anything more. They didn’t publish it on the first day because they got a bit concerned, so they went and corrected it and took away .. built up more uncertainties and narrowed the gap between the two parties and increased the uncertainties and didn’t allocate them. They should’ve have sent it back and not paid the bill; it wasn’t worth the effort and it wasn’t worth printing or being commented upon.

The polls can be very dangerous and can be very effective if they’re wrong at a critical point in a campaign. It didn’t happen this time but the point I am signalling in general, for goodness sake in your profession and as editors or political bureau chiefs, be much more sceptical about the material that you get. A lot of it isn’t even worth doing. And to cap it off, the stuff that’s done by ringing in on television, the only ones that benefit is Telecom. I suppose that helps the cross-subsidies.

PETER BOWERS: Bob, do you see any merit in the proposal that opinion polls, at least those polls taken for public consumption, should be subject to monitoring or auditing as to their methodology, by the Australian Electoral Commission?

BOB HOGG: That’s an interesting idea. I’ve not thought about it. I don’t know what the solutions are. I think you have, between you, the intellectual capacity and the political skills as analysts and correspondents and so on, to do it yourselves and ought to press it upon your own editors if it’s not worth doing.

PETER BOWERS: … the wrong figures, Bob.

BOB HOGG: You have to but when you get something – I forget what the Melbourne Sun stuff was; it was like them at 30 and us at about 46. On two-party, we would’ve won every seat in Australia on a simple translation. Now they ought to just say, ‘No, there’s something wrong. We will not publish it’. That’s a discipline they have to impose. Whether you give more onerous work to the Electoral Commission by doing that, I’m sorry, I haven’t thought about it. No doubt anything that could be effective is worth looking at in order to stop what can be a perversion of the political process.

GARY O’NEILL (Ten Network): Your very interesting observations on parliamentary reform. I was wondering to what extent your views are shared by your colleagues in the Parliament, Labor Party members in the Parliament?

Secondly, in a situation where the Prime Minister is extremely sceptical about any sort of constitutional reform, I was just wondering whether or not you thought your party in government may have the will in this term to tackle parliamentary reform with the dimensions that you were talking about in your speech.

BOB HOGG: There was some earlier work done, I understand, when the Government first got in. There has been a lot of research work done on the considerations of alternatives, as I suppose are around and about. Part of the problem is the Senate and the institution itself. It sort of tends to consider it exists and that those that get elected sort of come and go and are not necessary, almost critical, to the process. A good measure of that, without going into detail, is anyone that knows the new Parliament House, have a look at the pecking order and the priorities of office accommodation, and the institution does very well indeed and the titular positions, such as Speaker of the Senate, are elevated in that pecking order and that attitude of importance more than the mere Government, or the Prime Minister. So that’s a problem of an anachronistic 200-year-old British hangover of the institution, that has to be defeated.

The changes would have to occur so they’re complementary in the Senate. The difficulty is to get the Senate to contemplate changing its system and the way it handles business from the lower House. So it would easy, I think, to develop the reforms and there has been work done on it. The problem is whether there is the will within the Senate. In answer to your question: yes, there are a lot of people in our side at least – I can’t answer for the other side – of the political process who do believe reforms are very, very necessary, but where it is on the agenda, I don’t know.

LAURIE WILSON (Seven Network): You’ve told us the things that the conservative forces did wrongly during the campaign, but you said if they’d develop the right strategy they would’ve won. What was that strategy? We have some friends from the Liberal Party here; I’m sure they’d be pleased to hear it. And secondly, to quote from your speech, you say that, ‘We’d be far better served if, in the long run, if open dialogue within the parties was encouraged without shock, horror headlines, and we need more open dialogue without hysteria. How we get there is another matter’. Well, clearly, you’ve raised the issue. No doubt you do have some views on how we do get there. What are they?

BOB HOGG: I will take the first part of your question. There’s been a bit written about it; I didn’t want to go into it to great detail because I’m not here to score points and be ungracious about the outcome of the election. But in testing, we developed a theme around the broad approach of ‘Enough is enough; seven years of hard labour’; a very simple sort of approach. We tested it and apart from – and again, I don’t wish to be unkind – us saying, ‘Look, if you took Andrew off the copy we’d be a lot happier’. We knew then they had a real problem when in testing the advertising they were saying, ‘Look, take his photograph off’, and then you’d run it with him on it and the reaction would be stronger. So that credibility fact problem was there then; we knew that, but sort of on those lines. It didn’t have to be negative. You could then go from that sort of negative approach into a positive phase, complementary to it. So that was in summary, that was the sense of the story bullet that we tested. The stuff we tested, as I said, we found out what we couldn’t do in the period leading up to Christmas. Sorry, your other question was?

LAURIE WILSON: About how we get past that.

BOB HOGG: I think I sort of allude to it there, in a sense it is up to all of us. To give an example: there has to be an internal debate on development and the environment and how we make it compatible. You can do it two ways: you can have it internally, and that is not satisfactory in the broad sense in the broad community, because that educative process of dialogue isn’t occurring out there in the public arena. It would be far better if we were mature enough to have a position where leading people in government, for that matter, are publicly debating how you get to a compatible environmental development position without headlines, ‘Labor splits’, ‘Walsh at loggerheads with Richardson’ or ‘A at loggerheads with B’. If you could get to the point where the actual debate was the issue and the … issue, the parties wouldn’t feel as threatened as they do by having such dialogue in the open. At the moment it’s almost impossible because it will lead to negative reporting, or negative coverage and damaging coverage, because the one thing in this society, as has been demonstrated in election after election, that in the broad sense, the Opposition or the Government have to be seen as being united and having coherence and having a reasonable set of common purposes.

But in the lead up to reaching decisions, it was seen to be much more preferable that we had – and we will have them in the party on a policy-making level – the appropriate seminars and so on, where people are thrashing these ideas out in a public forum or semi-public forum. But the problem at the moment is it inhibits some of the more critical players, if you like, of that role, and that is your parliamentary party. Because currently, the way it is written, the way it is reacted to and the way it is covered, means you don’t get that sort of dialogue in the public arena. So somehow or other, in my view, you have to break that cycle without damaging the parties that break it.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN (ABC Radio): At the beginning of your speech you say that the political rule book is rewritten with every election. I wonder if I could ask you to be a seer for a moment here and speculate on how the next election will rewrite the political rule book. What sort of Australia will we have at the next election? What will the important issues be, and could you sell Paul Keating as effectively as you can sell Bob Hawke?

BOB HOGG: Well, I’m not going to play at being seer, but I would hope that a lot of the reforms that the Government’s grappling with will be well in place by then, that the substantial issues that they’re having to tackle will have been tackled, that we will have reached a satisfactory position on that age-old problem of environmental development argument. The odds are, after the reassuring words at the opening of today’s session, I will still be there as National Secretary and the campaign director, whoever is the leader I will be working with, and it’s not of any concern to me, but I don’t get drawn on those sort of predictions. But I think in policy terms, globally, the broader environmental issues will still be obviously apparent and important, as will the economy. I don’t think those two mainstreams will shift. There will be improvements but they will still be the major issues, I would think.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And Paul Keating and Bob Hawke?

BOB HOGG: Just an aside there. Paul Keating and Bob Hawke, I enjoy working with both of them and that’s as far as my concerns have to go. I have no comment on questions such as leadership.

MATTHEW FROST (SBS TV News): You rejected talking about the subject of immigration, but it was introduced into the last campaign in a rather oblique way by Andrew Peacock when he bagged the idea of a multifunction polis. I was just wondering: what your research indicated at the time was the feeling in the community about that subject and, secondly, whether or not there is a racist feeling in the community that could be capitalised on by future political organisations?

BOB HOGG: I think some people thought I might have been the latest recruit to North Melbourne’s football team. It was of no net benefit to the Liberal campaign. It was a diversion and one that essentially they created, and in that last week they should’ve been talking about the economy, about interest rates, about living standards, about a number of other issues. In fact, I think the leader at the press club lunch on Tuesday threatened to do that and then went for a 20-minute diversion on the multifunction polis. The fact is, as far as our research can identify, and those that have been around long enough know that any issue takes some time to be understood and for people to make their minds up about it. I gave an example earlier about future directions. That went for months and after that there was still a 23 per cent awareness rating, or 27 per cent awareness rating. So it’s very difficult to launch anything in the last week and expect it to take off. I believe it created a diversion for them. It would have touched the odd, raw, racist nerve in the society; I have no doubt about that. The issue itself, clearly, ought to be in the cold light of day looked at on its merits, or demerits, or whatever position you have on it. But to introduce it at that point and introduce it in that way I think was a negative for them, basically, and it didn’t help their campaign. I was much relieved, I think, Sunday night, when I realised they had not changed strategy at all in advertising and they hadn’t drawn away from their own diversions they’d created and got back on to the mainstream of the campaign. The last week, in many ways, was a free kick for us.

PETER BOWERS: Why do you think Andrew Peacock threw that dead cat into the ring, though?

BOB HOGG: I suspect that he’d – this is only suspicion .. the League of Rights had been running around on it for some time, out in the grassroots with all the absurd claims that they’re capable of. The RSL have got involved in it and I think he’d had a meeting with them, and I think that he put out a three-line statement, basically to placate them and it took off from there. Now that’s an assumption I make; just a reading of it, politically. I don’t have any proof of that, but I suspect, once it took off, it started to consume them. The more they talked about it, the more it became a diversion. But basically our research was people were confused about it, didn’t know what it was, thought they probably wouldn’t like it, but it wasn’t changing votes.

KEN RANDALL: Thanks very much, Bob Hogg. I think this is the first; I can’t remember us having the campaign director of an election campaign here before to discuss it in its aftermath. It’s obviously a valuable thing to do and we hope to convince Tony Eggleton that he should do the same, which we’ve so far failed to do. If he did, of course, he would also receive this fine gift, which we understand that you have so many ties and you like wearing them, so we calculated this and we’re giving you this Press Club tie to mark the occasion. Thank you very much for coming.

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