«The [ambitious] Labor program gave the Coalition something strong to run on every day: ‘the Bill you can’t afford’,» he told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
«The underlying middle Australia sentiment was that while the Coalition had been a bit all over the place, they quite liked Scott Morrison and were uneasy about Bill Shorten. If you have got that sentiment running everywhere in middle Australia, as it was, and you run a good ground campaign, you can get this result.»
In the end, Mr Morris said, «the power of the message-deliverer in this election was more powerful than the message».
He said Labor had also underestimated the downside of «mucking around with the aspirations of middle Australia [through negative gearing and capital gains tax changes that stirred anxiety about falling house prices]. I think this would be the last time that the Labor Party goes anywhere near people’s homes.»
A senior powerbroker in the Liberal camp said the party had been wrestling with how to appeal to outer metropolitan and regional seats, while stemming losses among so-called «teal» or «blue-green» voters in wealthier areas who were socially and environmentally progressive but turned off by Labor’s economic policies.
«Scott Morrison was able to straddle the two,» the source said. «He was able to straddle the Queensland pro-coal folk and also those who are a bit more for renewables and the like. He locked in the base, but the more progressive elements didn’t see him as King Canute in the way [former prime minister Tony] Abbott was.»
Mr Morrison had successfully channelled Robert Menzies’ forgotten people and Mr Howard’s «battlers» to launch the idea of «the quiet Australians», the source added.
Former Victorian Liberal Party president Michael Kroger said: «Scott Morrison’s genius was to focus heavily on the working middle class, as well as retirees. He appealed to aspirational families and voters. Shorten looked like the dead hand of tax and intuitively, people thought, ‘What evidence is there that this bloke has any idea how to grow the economic pie?’ «
Former Labor campaign strategist Bruce Hawker said whoever led Labor had to be «bigger than the party, because there is always going to be an anxiety in an important sector of the Australian community that … Labor governments are going to overly represent union interests».
«So the leader has to be someone who can say, ‘I will make the big calls, and have the shoulders to carry it’.»
The party also had to be careful about its rhetoric, Mr Hawker said. «It’s one thing to be directing a hard message against multinationals, taking their money overseas, but it’s another to render retirees as undeserving.
«I think part of the problem was that the tax measures Labor was putting forward … were too much for the electorate to accept and digest in one go», which had made it easier for the Coalition to go relentlessly negative.
A senior Labor insider said divisive rhetoric had hurt Labor.
«We can’t be the party that is against aspiration. We can’t be the party of division. Bill got onto this too late. He did a Perth business breakfast in the campaign and said he didn’t see class enemies in the audience, but he had been banging on about class enemies for the past six years.»
A senior ALP official said: «After the mining boom, people went from fairly well-paying jobs to now feeling the pinch. Once these people disconnect with Labor economically, they tend to vote on socially conservative lines.
«We need to make sure we position ourselves to ensure working-class people are not voting against their economic interests on the basis of social issues.»
Mr Howard said Mr Shorten had made a «terrible mistake» by falling back on the language of class.
«One of the proud boasts of this country is that we are not driven by class. We treat people equally,» he said at the weekend. «We inherited wonderful things from the Brits, but one thing we didn’t inherit was class distinction».
Deborah Snow is a senior writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.