Bill Shorten makes his concession speech, with wife Chloe, at the 2019 ALP Election Night function in Melbourne. Stuart McEvoy/The Australian.
Bill Shorten makes his concession speech, with wife Chloe, at the 2019 ALP Election Night function in Melbourne. Stuart McEvoy/The Australian.

As I leave journalism, my one message to politicians

ONE by one, it was like a procession. Federal Labor MPs banging at the door of The Courier-Mail after the 2019 election.

My then-editor and I took call after call from the losing party, every one of them reaching out to try to understand how it went so wrong for them in Queensland.

Just months prior, they were full of bravado. In one meeting, Shorten declared, "when I'm in The Lodge", before catching himself and correcting with "if".

Some Labor MPs were arrogant when we told them Queensland, and some other states, would be a tough fight for them, and that their key policies, and especially their schizophrenic rhetoric on resources, were going to be rejected by many voters.

Their cavalier chutzpah was partly the belief that they would romp Queensland in (later changing to we will win so many seats in other parts of the country it won't matter), and partly because the polls declared Labor were a shoo-in.

After licking their wounds from May 18, they turned to this newspaper, unable to ignore its prophetic analysis.

Days before the election, The Courier-Mail declared Queensland would become an election mirage for Shorten.

The day of the election, The Courier-Mail's front-page headline declared, Fortress Queensland.

Many of the conversations after their loss were bizarre.

Some still could not understand why they lost.

Some could barely hide their disdain for Queenslanders. They still refused to hear the message delivered by voters.

A newspaper is only as strong as its connection to community.

And it's this connection to community that guided The Courier-Mail's political analysis.

We understood many Queensland voices were not being heard or were being ignored.

Bill Shorten makes his concession speech, with wife Chloe, at the 2019 ALP Election Night function in Melbourne. Stuart McEvoy/The Australian.
Bill Shorten makes his concession speech, with wife Chloe, at the 2019 ALP Election Night function in Melbourne. Stuart McEvoy/The Australian.

Because of this, some just stopped talking politics because in their view it was a waste of time - except when it came to who they would vote for at the ballot box.

Those with a disability or in a minority are not the only ones who need to be heard.

In Queensland, in 2019, it was voters in regional Queensland and the outer suburbs who had their voices drowned out by very noisy and active protesters and reformists.

Whether it was Bob Brown's disastrous convoy to Clermont (when it comes to climate change, there are two clear issues - accepting climate science, then finding the right mechanism to address the issue), calls to strip away franking credits and Labor's involvement in the abortion debate, Labor's policies had become a melting pot for voter punishment.

Politicians of all political colours sometimes fail to understand Queensland. Queensland has - and always will be - a protest state until voters truly feel they are being listened to, and not just paid lip service.

Today, is my last opinion column for The Courier-Mail, and my last day with The Courier-Mail will be Friday, as I go - by choice - to try something else.

After 20 years in journalism, I have watched some of the most influential politicians across the spectrum.

But over the years, it appears some have forgotten to listen or have become too scared to engage in a political scrap.

Their fallback position appears to be to tell voters what they need and being so risk-averse that much-needed policy in this country goes wanting.

When it comes to political parties, some have become bland and shallow and appear to have an identity crisis.

While Labor has been criticised often for walking away from the working-class, the proud green that used to showcase the Nationals has now faded to a beige.

The fight in its belly seems to be as non-existent as grass in many country areas.

The Liberals have problems too.

There is a serious chasm developing between Liberals in the Liberal Party and Conservatives in the Liberal Party and unless this is fixed, it is hard to see how the "broad church" won't lose some of its long-standing parishioners to other places of political worship.

Over time, the Coalition's political compass has gone missing in a number of areas. It has become a party that has become too interventionist in markets and has become too big in the lives of voters.

The Federal Government should not have a bigger role in voters' lives than a State Government, which is responsible for services.

This was happening pre-COVID-19. And at some point, the Coalition must start leading and reforming rather than just managing.

Listening and understanding will be imperative after COVID-19.

If Scott Morrison fails to use his political capital wisely after the pandemic and reform the economy and federation properly it will be a stain on his legacy.

If there is an opportunity after the pandemic, it is for politicians to reset or change how they connect with voters.

Originally published as As I leave journalism, my one message to politicians


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