“Given the political dynamic – and they have an 11-seat [buffer] – they’ll end up doing mostly a defensive campaign,” Samaras said.
“But it’s going to be a really difficult campaign for the Labor and Liberal parties. The traditional political landscape where most of the contest is in the sandbelt [such as Carrum, Frankston, Bentleigh and Mordialloc] you have changed.”
He said while Bentleigh, which has changed hands at every election since 2002, has become a safer seat for Labor, the newly created electorate of Pakenham in the south-east, which the party might once have expected to comfortably win, could now fall to the Liberals or an independent.
Labor’s “target seat strategy” is likely to anger some MPs and candidates who might not receive as much financial support from party headquarters.
But the ALP learned a difficult lesson in 2010, when it made the mistake of spreading its resources too thin and not identifying target seats to direct its campaign efforts to.
The Labor government ended up losing what many considered an unlosable election because, among a range of factors, the leadership team were trying to protect all 55 MPs.
Former federal MP Alan Griffin’s post-mortem of the 2010 election result found Labor was so overconfident it did not set a “Brisbane line” – a reference to rumors the Menzies government was prepared to abandon the north of Australia if Japan invaded in World War II . In political terms, it refers to identifying seats a party will take resources from to save others.
“Labor went into the state election believing that it would win … as a consequence Labor ran a very conservative campaign,” Griffin’s review notes.
“It kept all marginal seats in the frame. No Brisbane line was set. A number of hard calls were not made. Resources were not adequately focused on the key battleground seats where the election would be won or lost. Labor took very few risks. It ran a tight budget ship.”
A Labor figure familiar with the 2010 election strategy said the party could not afford to make the same mistake it made more than a decade ago, and head office needed to make tough but necessary decisions.
“You try to be nice to everybody [all sitting MPs]but people can raise their own money for their own campaigns,” said the Labor source speaking on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss internal matters.
“At the end of the day, the bottom line is you’ve got to win government and not defend things you can’t defend.”
The party is concerned about the upcoming poll’s parallels with the 2010 election: both long-term governments contesting a state election shortly after a federal poll, and both governments had recently dealt with a crisis – the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009 and the COVID-19 pandemic respectively.
And while the Brumby and Andrews governments were both ahead in the published opinion polls 12 months out from polling day, the race tightened as the election drew closer.
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