SUBJECTS: NSW State election; New Zealand terrorist attack.
DAVID SPEERS: Michelle Rowland, thanks very much for your time. What do you believe went wrong for Labor in last night's result?
MICHELLE ROWLAND MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: I think the momentum was there sort of midway through Michael Daley's tenure, and remember it's only been like a hundred and thirty three days. I must say like at the campaign launched a couple of weeks ago, you go to these campaign launches for a couple of reasons, but mainly for the volunteers, I wasn't expecting to be inspired like I was. I thought he performed very well at that. But it's a salient lesson in politics that a week is a very long time...
ROWLAND: ...and I don't think we can underestimate how much that last week ruined the momentum on several levels. I do not believe it was a reflection on the organisational ability of Labor. I think Kaila Murnain did an outstanding job, remembering what she was working with in the short timeframes, but in the end it's often those mistakes that you can't recover from, and objectively I don't think Labor recovered from that in the last weeks. Certainly Michael Daley didn't.
SPEERS: Well, not when he was trying to still introduce himself to a lot of voters. The comments about Asian immigration in particular, you've been quite critical of those comments and that sentiment. How much did that hurt do you think?
ROWLAND: I think it hurt on several levels. I think the first was, of course, Sydney and NSW itself is very ethnically diverse. So there may have been some questioning about if he's thinking this about one cohort of people, what is he thinking about others. I think it was ill-judged the way that he expressed them.
SPEERS: Did you get feedback about it?
ROWLAND: I got feedback by one person on a prepoll booth in my local area. He decided in the end to vote Labor, vote for our local candidate, but he said he was going to vote Liberal in the Upper House. So he basically said to our candidate 'I'm voting for you, I'm not voting for your leader', and when that's happening in the last week that is difficult to win seats.
SPEERS: Notwithstanding those last week mistakes, blunders, and they were terrible for Michael Daley, what did Gladys Berejiklian do right to win an historic victory?
ROWLAND: I actually think they were struggling early on in the campaign to get a consistent piece of messaging. I don't know how much they succeeded with the 'let's get on with it' but look, they won the election so who am I to claim otherwise. But I think in the end it was for voters to make the choice between the two leaders. NSW, it's a bit of a paradox. I think it does become quite presidential, as it does in federal campaigns, but in individual seats it mattered and I think that it did impact on some individual seats. I think some of the predictions would've been overstated, but I think in the end, she was able to capitalise, and the Liberals were able to capitalise, on that.
SPEERS: She obviously has an economy that's doing well, unemployment's low, one of the lowest in the country, a lot of infrastructure work going on as well. Do you think in the end voters are willing to back in a government, return a government, when it looks like they're getting on with it? That stuff’s being built that they need, that the economy's doing well, the budget's in surplus?
ROWLAND: I think at just the right time when the Premier needed people to make that judgement, I think that was towards that last week of the campaign.
SPEERS: So do you think the Morrison Government can take any heart from what we've just seen?
ROWLAND: Well, if he wants bask in her reflective glory please I'm all up for that, because if he wants to think that, you know, the Liberal brand is absolutely fine on a Federal level, and he doesn't need to try and he can attach himself to the Premier - please be my guest. But this is a guy who didn't speak at the start, but he's there at the end. He's that guy who is there at the end. But I think it is a salient lesson for all of us that things that we say do matter and we should always remember that things can go wrong during a campaign and it just puts to bed any notion of having hubris, not that I think that there was hubris on the part of Michael Daley by the way, but of thinking 'yeah the momentum is on my side'...
ROWLAND: ...because momentum can leave you just as quickly as it arrives.
SPEERS: So is that the message for Federal Labor as well here. That you can't just take for granted what the polls are indicating?
ROWLAND: I don't think we've ever thought like that, David, but I think it re-enforces it for all of us.
SPEERS: And so the message for Federal Labor is even though 50 polls in a row have shown you're on track to win, things can turn very quickly?
ROWLAND: Things can turn and they can turn unexpectedly, and I think a week is a long time in politics and there are only weeks left until the next federal election as well.
SPEERS: And the Liberal brand isn't as muddied as some might've thought?
ROWLAND: Well, I was getting a bit of that on the booths, like people saying 'I'm ready to vote for you next time Michelle and we can vote this Government out', but it was an election that wasn't about particular federal issues. And as I went around doorknocking and campaigning with our local candidates there were very specific issues of things like overdevelopment. I don't know how that ended up playing out in the end, but about service delivery which is what governments do.
SPEERS: There was a big message from voters in the bush though. Particularly, you know, places like Barwon and Murray concerned about water. Is there a lesson there for federal politics as well about more needing to be done for these farmers?
ROWLAND: Absolutely, and I think the fact that there was that, you know - it's actually hard to call it a protest vote now when you end up having so many people of independent and minor parties in there - but clearly they consider that their traditional party, the Nationals, aren't speaking to them. But it's a salient lesson for all major parties.
SPEERS: The One Nation vote too has been substantial in some parts of the state, despite all the focus after the Christchurch terrorist attack on Pauline Hanson's comments and views on Islam. Do you think it's, well what do you say about the fact that so many voters are still willing to back One Nation?
ROWLAND: Look, we live in a democracy, and when people are frustrated with the current state of affairs, when they don't think there's an answer, they are far more ready to turn to these minor parties who they think speak to their values.
SPEERS: Do you think it's a racist party?
ROWLAND: I do think it's a racist party. I think there are elements...
SPEERS: And are these people racist who are voting for them?
ROWLAND: Look, there are many different reasons why these people are voting for them. Some people who do decide to vote One Nation do so as a protest vote and probably would be the first to say 'my vote isn't an endorsement of racism at all'. But I note for example that Trent Zimmerman has said he's going to be placing One Nation last on his How to Vote cards because of what they stand for.
SPEERS: You say it's a racist party, but then you've got Michael Daley also, not about Muslims, but saying 'Asian immigrants are taking our jobs'. Is that a racist sentiment?
ROWLAND: Look, I think what he said was very clearly unacceptable, and let's call it what it is. It was criticised because it was racist.
SPEERS: But why is it okay for Labor to run him as the leader in NSW, but it's not okay to even accept preferences from One Nation?
ROWLAND: Well that's a question for the party to decide whether or not he remains on as leader, and that is, you know, not something that's in my purview right now. But we've made it very clear that we will be putting One Nation last because of its ideology and because, look quite frankly, especially after Christchurch we've had a lot of talk about racist hate speech and the impact that it has, and there comes a point where you need to make a decision as a political party. Labor has done that and I would point out too that John Howard was very ready to put One Nation last as well.
Now, we live in a democracy. People can chose to give preferences or vote for whoever they like, but democracy is a very cleansing process. There will be One Nation members, at least, of the Upper House and they will seek to pursue their agenda, again as is their democratic right, and it is Labor's perfect right to be able to decide where we give our preferences to.
SPEERS: And a final question. Does the result in NSW change anything in terms of Labor's election strategy?
ROWLAND: I think the strategy has always been that we operate, that we are in this, as the underdogs. We're not in government. When you're in opposition it's very hard to be able to demonstrate delivery, and clearly that's an issue that played out in this state election. But what we can demonstrate is the failure of delivery, the failure of competent government at a federal level. I've found it borderline amusing that Scott Morrison should be talking about 'this was a vote for competent government tonight', as this somehow can be rubbed off on him when there has been instability and backstabbing for the term of this Parliament under the Liberals.
SPEERS: Michelle Rowland, thank you very much for joining us.