March 12, 2007 | Graham

Debnam reads our play book

The Australian reports that Peter Debnam is going for the protest vote. Perhaps he has been reading the “speech” that I drafted for John Brogden last election. Or it might be die to NSW Liberal State Director Graham Jaeschke, who was a valuable part of the Queensland Liberal team that crafted the protest vote campaign in 1995. The one where I was Liberal Party State Campaign Chairman and one of the principal strategists.
It’s the only gambit left to Debnam, and full marks to him for trying it out. The Australian‘s headlines refer to him as “desperate Debnam”, and perhaps he is. He’s also brave. It’s not an easy strategy to tackle psychologically. Candidate’s live off confidence, and telling voters you are going to lose potentially cuts off your food supply.
We’ll be doing research later this week to see whether the protest vote is likely to work. I have a feeling that it will, but its effect will be muted.
The Australian‘s article gives the impression that insiders have been briefing journalists that this is a strategy. If voters think it is a strategy, it wont work. In fact, if the politicians applying the strategy think of it as a “strategem” it won’t work. You have to believe in it as the truth.
We got the result that we did in Queensland because no-one outside our campaign really understood how the vote worked. Now every political journalists thinks they know. The Queensland campaign was also incredibly disciplined. No-one would have said to a journalist that we were after a protest vote. They would have stuck to the script – this is about reminding Labor to do the job they have been elected to do. It’s about ordinary Queenslanders sending Goss a message. We knew we couldn’t win, we didn’t expect to win, and this was a totally honest answer.
We were also helped by Labor. They had exploited the protest vote when they beat Sallyanne Atkinson for Lord Mayor of Brisbane, but I don’t think they really understood the dynamics. One of those running the Labor campaign in 1995 was my colleague and friend Mike Kaiser. Kaiser is now in charge of Iemma’s office. A lot of the blanks have been filled in for him since that election. I’m sure he has some answers now to a protest vote campaign that he didn’t have 12 years ago.
The other problem is that you have to be seen as being worthy of being the vehicle for a protest vote. In 1995 Borbidge and Sheldon ran a flawless campaign where they came across as gritty and determined. Right from the beginning the protest strategy was the only one that we ran. This is a late shift in strategy, and the disdain for the NSW Liberals is palpable, so it risks being seen as shifty.
It’s possible that the protest vote strategy might work, but to deliver to those Greens and Independents who are seen as being worthy vehicles for sending Labor a message. It could also help local sitting Liberals who have put the work in. It might also help some new candidates like Pru Goward whose stature from life before politics might provide enough political colloid to carry the message.
The New South Wales election has just become more interesting, but I think my previous conclusions are still the most likely ones. But the NSW Liberals have surprised me. Ishould have seen this as a possibility, but after rejecting it last election when the strategy would definitely have worked, I’d put it right out of my mind this election.

Posted by Graham at 9:19 pm | Comments (2) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. Yes Graham, the Member for Vaucluse does seem to be attempting to deliberately and cynically run your “protest vote” strategy late in the campaign. However, unlike Rob Borbidge who was a “benign” policy free zone, Mr Debnam actually has polcies. His plans to sack 20,000 workers and hand IR powers over to Canberra are a serious threat to working families and are providing a solid rationale to vote against him.

    Comment by Mike Kaiser — March 13, 2007 @ 12:57 pm

  2. Thanks for that “value add” Mike – it’s good to see that you can read a script from Party HQ.
    My question is when will the Labor Party ever move away from running a cookie-cutter production line of candidates?
    Why is it in the 21st century they all seem to have only worked in a union, been a staffer, are a relative of a staffer or union official or simply possess the ability to read a script lemming like from another senior Labor staffer further up the food chain?
    Tragic really.

    Comment by Matt — March 13, 2007 @ 5:12 pm

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