It was only a matter of weeks before the election, but WA Labor campaign strategists had not dismissed the possibility of an eleventh-hour Liberal Party leadership switch.
“We had a plan with ‘leader A’ and a plan with ‘leader B’ in place,” Labor’s campaign director Patrick Gorman revealed yesterday.
Speaking publicly for the first time about the campaign which reduced the Barnett Government to political rubble, Mr Gorman said it came down to better preparation.
If the party had replaced Colin Barnett with his deputy Liza Harvey, Labor had a narrative ready to go. “We knew it wouldn’t have come without transaction costs for the Liberal Party,” Mr Gorman said.
“But it came down to guts and no one had the guts in that final Liberal partyroom meeting.”
A former staffer of Kevin Rudd, Mr Gorman was born in Fremantle and returned to take over as Labor’s State secretary in 2015, when relationships between the Opposition Leader’s office and party headquarters broke down.
“Last year we made a decision that this was an election we could win, which was important for us because to get us over the line would be huge,” he said.
“Then we started trying to find the 10 seats needed to win plus the back-ups.”
Labor’s strategy team knew the party would need to create history in WA by taking 10 seats from the Liberals and put together a policy around the issue it believed would dominate the election — jobs.
Unlike the Liberals, Labor picked up on the job insecurity fears in the community and went out with its “Plan for Jobs” policy early.
This was noticed by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, traditional allies of the Liberal Party, who had been talking for months about the need for job creation in the wake of the resources industry downturn.
“The jobs plan was the first big building block in the campaign,” Mr Gorman said. “It seemed to take the Liberals a long time to come up with what they wanted this election to be about, but ‘Say Yes’ just didn’t work.”
He argued Labor made the tough decisions and had its candidates in play early compared with their opponents, who dithered on big issues such as the sale of Western Power.
Mr Gorman accepted that in Labor’s favour was the length of time the Barnett Government had been around. It was easy to hammer home its failures around finance, for example.
“We kept going hard and keeping the pressure on and we were rewarded for that,” he said.
But Mr Gorman bristled at post-election analysis from senior Liberals who argue the party could not have done anything to stop the rot and the deal with One Nation did not damage the Liberal campaign.
“They couldn’t explain why they did the One Nation deal other than they wanted to win,” he said. “They wanted to keep their jobs at a time when plenty of people were losing theirs.
“It wouldn’t be the first time the Liberal Party made excuses for their own mistakes.
“Former MPs on the Liberal side have the right to be angry that they were let down.”
On election night, Mr Gorman stayed at Labor’s headquarters until he was confident of a win.
To underline how fast the numbers fell his party’s way, he revealed he was in a car on his way to Mark McGowan’s victory celebrations in Rockingham by 7.15pm — just 75 minutes after polling booths closed. “People were speechless, to be honest,” he said. “It was special.”