Victorian Liberals say they quickly learned from November’s crushing state election defeat to fight the federal campaign on their own turf.
Internal research commissioned after last year’s loss stressed the need to emphasise the economy while tackling more local concerns, including frustration with traffic congestion in the middle suburbs.
The Liberals had a three-pronged strategy to protect their seats: contrasting their economic plan with Labor’s proposed changes in the inner suburbs and Flinders; focusing on congestion in Melbourne’s east; and adding some major transport infrastructure commitments to hyper-local issues in coastal ultra-marginal Corangamite.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg survived a big swing against him in his Kooyong electorate after absorbing immense pressure from Labor as Victoria’s most senior Liberal, in what he described as «a very hard-fought contest».
On Sunday he was ebullient, pouring rounds of drinks at the Auburn Bowls Club.
“We knew that when the starter’s gun for the election was called, we were behind. But at the same time we were in this race and no-one believed it more than Prime Minister Scott Morrison who’s showed enormous energy, conviction and belief,” he said.
Mr Frydenberg said Labor had believed the federal campaign would be a rerun of the state campaign, when the blue-ribbon seat of Hawthorn was lost in big swings against the Liberals.
«But we all know the federal election and the state election are quite different.»
La Trobe MP Jason Wood also had a target on his back at this election.
His marginal seat in Melbourne’s outer south-east was squarely in Labor’s sights and widely expected to fall.
Instead, the veteran MP and former policeman, known for his vocal stance on African youth violence and strong support for Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, looks to have increased his margin.
With more than 70 per cent of votes counted, Mr Wood had pulled out to a 4 per cent lead ahead of Labor on Sunday afternoon, from 3.2 per cent before the election.
Mr Wood has held La Trobe since 2004, with a break between 2010 and 2013 when he lost it to Labor.
“My neck of the woods is, we’re not Toorak, we’re not Higgins,” he said. “The Liberal people out here, the majority of them are small business people, aspirational.
“Some of them have done well, but they look at us as the party that really wants to get behind them and support them. So they’re not on my back all the time saying ‘hey Jason you need to do a lot more for climate change’.”
When voters raised climate change, he mentioned new car parks at railway stations, a practical initiative to get cars off the road, and they were happy, he said.
A senior Victorian Labor source pointed to significant swings against the party in working class seats and gains in the affluent inner-city as proof of the party’s malaise, which he says is at a “critical point”.
Labor suffered significant primary vote swings against it in three blue-collar seats in the northern and western suburbs: Gorton (10.9 per cent), Fraser (6.8 per cent) and Calwell (4.2 per cent).
“Labor’s got a significant problem with its working class base. Look at the results across the country and most of the seats we’ve lost are blue-collar seats.”
“Working class voters in Australia are socially conservative and Labor needs to find a way to talk to voters who don’t earn much … the tradie class is a problem for Labor.”
Benjamin is a state political reporter
State Political Correspondent for The Age
Paul is a reporter for The Age.