The 2019 Federal election was extremely disappointing for the Australian Labor Party. Every poll projected the Labor Party to comfortably win the election and form a majority government, however; this was far from the case. Overall, the Coalition claimed a two-seat majority with 77 seats, while Labor finished with only 68 seats.
When considering the challenges facing the Labor Party, it becomes unsurprising that they lost the election. The loss resulted from a series of issues within the party which have not been adequately addressed over the past couple of decades. If the Labor Party seeks to reclaim control of Australia’s government, they must address these issues and devise appropriate solutions.
Firstly, regaining the support of progressive voters is a significant challenge facing the Labor Party. Over the past two decades, many progressive urban voters have drifted towards the Greens, highlighted by the Greens primary vote increasing from 5% in 2001 to 10.4% in 2019. Moreover, many of Labor’s traditional working-class support has shifted to the Liberal Party, favouring conservative policies regarding the environment and immigration. Therefore, the Labor Party’s primary vote has dropped by over 4% over the past two decades. Recently, the Labor Party’s strategy of forming policies similar to the Liberal Party has further alienated progressive support which is required to form government.
This was clear in the election, where the party was unable to differentiate its policies effectively from the Liberal Party, providing no adequate reason as to why the nation required a change in leadership. The Labor Party must look to reclaim the progressive support which sustained them during periods of success in Australian politics. They must overcome the fear of political attack by conservatives as this is the only way to reclaim control of the government. If the Labor Party can attract more voters by pushing a progressive reform agenda in areas such as the environment, refugees and education, the next election could propel Labor back into power.
The decline in union membership is another significant challenge in the Labor Party’s ambition of regaining seats in the Australian government. In 1965, around 65% of the workforce was part of a union, however; union membership is now below 20% and continuing to decrease. This is primarily due to the rapid casualisation of the workforce and the introduction of the gig economy, which doesn’t provide means for employees to join unions. This is a challenge for the Labor Party as its traditional base, that not only supplies votes but also funding, is declining and new avenues must be formed to attract voters.
This could be achieved by focusing policy on employees who are not connected to a union. Improving the rights of individuals who are casual workers or whose work is inconsistent. Especially during the current pandemic, with millions of Australians losing employment, this is an opportunity for the Labor Party to push for more employment opportunities and further rights for workers in the areas of wage and leave.
The Labor Party has an opportunity to right their wrongs before the next federal election. Under the new leadership of Anthony Albanese, the party has the potential to reclaim control of the government. However, this can only be achieved if the Labor Party is willing to be brave. To prioritise more progressive policy that may result in media backlash but can regenerate support from progressive voters. And, to continue to find new avenues to attract support aside from union membership.