On the night of the Federal Election, I was in the seat of Gilmore, one of our must-hold marginals where I’d been campaigning in the months leading up to 21 May.
Gilmore was one of several seats around the country where we didn’t get a result on the night, so as the razor’s edge booth numbers trickled through, I had a familiar sense of dread sitting in my belly.
As I checked the AEC website, that dread turned to elation - in Macquarie Susan Templeman and her incredible local campaign team had taken the seat from being one of the most marginal in the country, one of those who’d had to sit through the weeks of suspense last time around, to having an almost 8% margin.
In the coming days, the good news kept coming. We won seats that seemed impossible, including Jerome Laxale bringing home Bennelong, and Fiona Phillips making up the magic 77 in Gilmore. All the demographically and geographically different seats we won had three things in common - a compelling local candidate, volunteers from and embedded in their communities, and a locally-driven campaign that spoke to issues that mattered to people in those seats.
It’s clear that the days of selecting candidates with no grounding in their local area, who require volunteer support from outside of their community, and who run on a set of centrally-determined issues are coming to a close.
But having these kinds of candidates and this kind of campaign infrastructure requires investment. We must be looking year in year out at how our party supports building up our party branches and local networks outside of formal election periods. Support that is only there at the 11th hour is too little, too late.
We need an ambitious, continuous and outward looking training program that skills up everyone – branch members, parliamentarians and their staff, candidates – to be active, engaged and continuously campaigning in their communities on the issues that matter.
Many will relate to the experience of signing up to the Labor Party, eager and ready to make change, and coming up against the seemingly impenetrable wall of acronyms, branch meetings which can veer towards dry and confusing, and party processes which confound. In the era of teal independents, who have claimed the community organising model that is fundamental to the way in which the ALP was first conceived and structured, we must do better - we must genuinely empower our members and make their experience of membership a meaningful and rewarding one.
The NSW Left has a proud history of advocating for a party that is more transparent and accountable to the membership, and the professionalisation of NSW Labor Head Office. These reforms are critical to having a party that is relevant, representative of the community and campaign ready.
So, what are some of the things the NSW campaign did better this time that we can build on for the upcoming State Election?
Merit based recruitment of staff with professional experience from outside the party in areas such as fundraising and digital.
Supporting local, issues-based campaigns that fitted with national themes but were specific to what the local community care about through a digital strategy that was adaptive and hyperlocal.
A small donor program that brought more money in and will ultimately shift the party to a model that is more membership focussed and accountable.
Training and forums for campaigns to share what was working on the ground and get support to try out new ideas and approaches
A special shout out as well must go to the culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) team set up at Campaign Headquarters.
This was the first time Labor had a full team dedicated to CALD campaigning. This work extended from making sure we had the right how-to-votes, that we were using best practice for translating materials, through to making sure first time candidates knew how to be respectful when visiting a church or were speaking to the right news outlets.
One of the most exciting pieces of work was led by Kun Huang, who ran the Chinese media and digital media campaigning. Labor’s ground campaign on WeChat was pivotal to our win, and that was because of Kun’s leadership in this space. From making sure daily messages were disseminated, to countering any misinformation that he was seeing.
Prioritising CALD campaigning work will be critical to winning the seats Labor needs to win in the upcoming State Election.
I look forward to seeing how the NSW State Campaign builds on the work of the Federal Election to develop our campaigning capacity further and deliver a NSW Labor Government.
Rosie Ryan is the the Secretary of the NSW Left.