Blogs by Author: Daniel Smith. [Show All]
While the priority of the State Government remains to keep West Australians safe during the health crisis, it is clear that more and more resources are being put into planning and executing our economic recovery.
Private sector investment will be critical to driving WA’s recovery, particularly as the infrastructure projects and smaller ‘shovel-ready’ initiatives the government is funding in its first wave of economic recovery reach completion.
Recent reforms to planning and environmental approvals are encouraging private sector proponents, who rightly interpret this as the government seeking to encourage investment and job creation.
Changes made to the State Government’s Market-led Proposals (MLP) framework over the past six months are also seen as highly encouraging, having the potential to drive innovation, as well as a second wave of investment and jobs throughout our economic recovery.
But industry believes there are opportunities to make the MLP policy even more effective.
More on that later.
To bring you up to speed, the McGowan Government introduced its MLP policy in March 2019, delivering on an election commitment designed to “create a clear, consistent and transparent process to manage unsolicited proposals from the private sector that fall outside of the normal competitive process”.
As the COVID-19 crisis took hold in March 2020, the government announced changes to the policy to align it with the recovery focus areas of health, economic and infrastructure, social, industry and regional WA.
The changes also included the introduction of a first-mover advantage, which would provide a pathway for proponents to retain a right of last refusal in the event that the government determined that a proposal didn’t meet the strict IP, ownership or single supplier criteria for exclusive negotiation.
In this event, the government would likely test the market, with the original proponent provided the first-mover advantage of being able to match a more competitive bid or receive a bid premium of between 10 and 20 per cent.
In August, the Premier and Treasurer announced the introduction of problem and opportunity statements, which are designed to “provide focused opportunities for industry to respond with innovative solutions that stimulate the economy and create jobs for Western Australians”.
A small number of problem and opportunity statements have been released since, focusing on areas as diverse as carbon farming, prison industries and PPE manufacturing.
The State Government’s evolving MLP policy has been welcomed by industry as a significant improvement on the ineffective unsolicited bid process that existed previously.
However, as indicated above, industry sees opportunities for further enhancements.
Two potential changes have been floated, with a view to driving private sector investment and job creation during the COVID recovery period.
In May, an idea was put forward (read here) to relax the requirement for a proponent to demonstrate that its proposal is “unique’” or “not market standard” – a requirement that some proponents struggled with, and one which they were required to meet to gain access to the MLP process and the exclusive negotiation and first-mover pathways it offered.
It was suggested that the uniqueness test be relaxed, so that proponents who could demonstrate that their proposal was in the long-term interest of the WA economy, or could provide a short-term employment benefit, could access the MLP pathways.
More recently, a second, and potentially more contentious, change floated involves the suspension of the requirements to qualify for exclusive negotiation. Advocates argue that it would drive innovation and investment by encourage more IP-protective proponents to engage with government. Critics argue it could deliver sub-optimal outcomes, with fewer projects subject to market testing, and be potentially more difficult to manage from a probity perspective.
It is in the interests of the State Government, industry and the broader WA community for the MLP policy to deliver to its potential. This is why we will likely see ongoing engagement and collaboration between government and industry on how the framework functions, with further changes a real possibility.
In the meantime, proponents will position themselves for success in accessing the MLP pathways by ensuring their proposals meet the priorities of government and the needs of the community, as well as demonstrating that their proposal is unique and developing an effective narrative and evidence base to support these elements.
As with the Global Financial Crisis, the period of economic recovery is likely to be long and bumpy. The potential for Market-led Proposals to generate a second wave of investment and job creation, as the stimulatory capacity of the State Government reaches its limits, cannot be overstated.
By Daniel Smith
I’ve got a confession to make that might get me in trouble with some of my peers. The formula for winning elections is actually quite simple.
Not easy, but simple.
Like almost everyone who has turned their hand to providing strategic political advice, I’ve had my wins and losses.
What I’ve learned is that nearly every winning election effort has the same qualities, as does almost every election loss.
The key ingredients for winning an election are ensuring that your priorities as a potential government reflect the priorities of the electorate at the time of the election, then effectively communicating those priorities to voters.
Having the same priorities as the electorate at the time of the election involves having an accurate view about what the social, economic and political circumstances will look like on election day, then rigorously engaging with the community and stakeholders about their hopes and fears, as well as the best way of addressing these and the issues that will emerge.
Effective communication involves positioning early for the issues that will matter at the time of the election, then relentlessly building your brand using a range of communication tools, so that your time arrives at the time of the election. When the polls open, you want everyone to understand both what you believe and what you will do, on the issues that matter to them.
So, if it’s so simple, why does it go horribly wrong, so often?
For those in opposition, too often we see a complacency built on the adage that “oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them”. While there is some truth in the second part of this equation (see below), the first part is nonsense. Whether it was Bob Hawke, John Howard, Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott, not to mention Richard Court, Geoff Gallop or Mark McGowan, each of these leaders who won government from opposition were energetic and relentless in their pursuit of power, as were the party machines behind them.
Oppositions who think they might slip into government often don’t do the work engaging with the electorate, they don’t develop policies that reflect the priorities of the community and they don’t spend the time building their brand or effectively communicating what they believe and will do.
Governments that lose are almost always characterised as having lost touch with the electorate, leading to them pursuing their own priorities or the causes of special interest groups, instead of the priorities of the community. Their leaders and senior Ministers are often exhausted, lacking the energy to consider how the world is changing, engage broadly with the electorate, develop new ideas or effectively communicate their vision. In some cases, this leaves them so disconnected from voters that they think they are going to win, right up until the moment they are turfed out in a landslide.
For those in the private sector, none of the above should come as any great surprise. Behind almost every successful project is a company that has spent the time engaging with the community about what they want, then carefully developing their project to meet those needs, before circling back to ensure their stakeholders are in no doubt about the merits of their venture. The same is true for companies involved in product development and promotion.
Companies that don’t adhere to this process lose the support of the community, or they lose market share. The same is true for our politicians.
The key thing to understanding my two ingredients for political success is recognising that they need to co-exist. The most effective communication strategy can do more harm than good, if it promotes policies and messages that don’t reflect the priorities of the community. Similarly, what’s the point of having great policies, if the electorate doesn’t know about them?
At the top of this piece, I said the formula for winning elections was simple, but not easy. The truth is politics is hard, with the responsibilities of government making it even more draining.
But, for those politicians who maintain their energy and focus, ensuring their priorities reflect the priorities of the electorate at the time of the election, then effectively communicating those priorities to voters, political success is almost certain to follow.
By Daniel Smith
An important point in the maturation of any political strategist or government relations advisor is accepting that election results are very difficult to predict.
As Thomas Harris writes in Imperium, A Novel of Ancient Rome, you can always spot a fool, for he is the one who will tell you he knows who is going to win an election.
What makes elections difficult to predict is that many election outcomes have all the qualities of what have become known as ‘Black Swan’ events.
In Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s masterpiece, The Black Swan, the author outlines three qualities of such highly improbable events. These are that they are unpredictable (few people predicted them), they carry massive impacts, and, after the fact, explanations are concocted that make them appear less random, and more predictable, than they actually were.
Taleb cites examples of positive and negative Black Swan events as the rise of the Internet and the development of the personal computer, World War 1, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Global Financial Crisis would also fit the bill.
The Black Swan model also fits many of the (free) election results we have seen in recent years. It fits Bill Shorten’s almost defeat of Malcolm Turnbull in 2016, the Brexit referendum or Donald Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton in the same year. It fits Jeremy Corbyn taking Theresa May’s majority in the 2017 British election, and possibly Boris Johnson’s thumping of Corbyn in 2019 as well. It also fits with Scott Morrison’s ‘miracle’ victory over Shorten in last year’s federal election.
In each of these contests, very few people predicted the result, the outcomes had huge domestic and/or geopolitical consequences, and narratives were constructed – by both the winners and the losers – to rationalise the outcomes.
Taleb attributes the human desire to construct narratives about past events as one of the biggest contributors to our blindness to future Black Swan events, election outcomes included. Confirmation bias leads us to develop narratives that fit with our own world view or previous positions, then look for evidence to support the narratives we have developed.
Take Shorten and Corbyn, as examples. The narrative flowing out of their surprisingly strong showings in 2016 and 2017, respectively, was that they had tapped into community angst over inequality and other social injustices. This led to them doubling down on their platforms, putting forward even stronger redistributive policies. Despite high expectations of victory, both were defeated in 2019, in results that many, again, failed to predict. In Shorten's case right up until the results were announced, and for Corbyn until Boris Johnson assumed control of the Conservatives.
But what if the narrative that flowed from Shorten and Corbyn’s first attempts at becoming Prime Minister was that their opponents’ political ineptitude was the biggest factor in their relative success? Malcolm Turnbull, in having blown his political capital by doing nothing in the months following his elevation to the Liberal leadership, then refusing to run negative campaign ads targeting Shorten. Theresa May, who called an early election for no reason and then promised to take away free milk from British school children in her election manifesto.
While such a narrative wouldn’t have confirmed the merits of the policies they had taken to their respective elections, if it had been part of the takeaway for Shorten and Corbyn, perhaps they wouldn’t have tried to refight their earlier elections in 2019. Instead, they might have developed new strategies and approaches that reflected the social and economic situations at the time, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of their new opponents, the much more politically adept Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson.
US President Donald Trump is going through a similar journey at present. The narrative flowing from Trump’s surprise victory over Clinton in 2016 was that a surge of support in white working-class voters swept Trump to a ‘massive’ win in the electoral college.
An alternative narrative is that, while Trump lost the popular vote to Clinton, he narrowly eked out a win in the electoral college, with his victory dependent not only on increased support from non-college educated white voters, but also on low turnout from African American voters and college educated Republicans reluctantly voting for him over the even more odious (to them) Clinton.
Of course, this narrative doesn’t confirm Trump’s view of himself or the world. But, if he had incorporated this thinking into his 2016 takeout, perhaps he would have made more of an effort to expand his supporter base over the past four years, instead of doubling down on the racially divisive approach that he believes won him white working-class support in the first place.
Will Trump be defeated as he seeks re-election in November. Who knows? Right now, the signs don’t look good for him, but anything could happen between now and then. That is the nature of Black Swan events.
For those of us interested in the political process, the acceptance of elections as Black Swan events carries a number of implications.
For political strategists, it means being clear headed and objective about the reasons for past successes and failures. It means not taking anything for granted about future elections, fighting them with strategies developed for the conditions and opponents of the day.
For those who engage with government, it means not making assumptions about election outcomes, instead preparing for any possibility by engaging with all sides of politics to develop relationships and a shared understanding of policy.
A mature political strategist or government relations advisor will be highly cautious in predicting election outcomes but will have a lot to say about how you shape outcomes or policies and best position yourself for any version of the future.
By Daniel Smith
Donald Trump’s march across Lafayette Square to hold a Bible for a photo opportunity in front of St John’s Episcopal Church was a political ‘Hail Mary’ pass designed to get him back into the political game.
It was a calculated communication to his white, culturally conservative, working class base that was simultaneously designed to elicit a response from his enraged opponents that pushed his supporters further into his arms in an election year.
To many of us, it looked like madness. How could tear gassing your own citizens to clear the way for a photo opportunity at a time when Americans are suffering from both the health and economic impacts of COVID-19, as well as deep emotional pain at the killing of George Floyd be anything but electoral suicide?
To understand Trump’s thinking, we need to understand two realities. First, Trump is in deep political trouble. Second, motivating white, working class people to vote is his most plausible path to another come-from-behind victory.
But, first to Trump’s political problems.
The dominant narrative following Trump’s surprise victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election was that a surge in support from white non-college educated (working class) voters propelled Trump to victory in former industrial states that had traditionally voted Democrats.
Like most narratives, this represents only part of the story.
Trump’s victory also relied on college-educated Republicans, despite serious misgivings, holding their nose and voting for Trump over the even more unpalatable former Secretary of State, as well as African American voters not turning out to support Clinton at the same levels as they had to support Barrack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Which is where Trump’s re-election problems begin.
In the highest turnout midterm election in more than 100 years, Democrats swept to a majority in the US House of Representatives. Their largest gain in seats came in traditionally Republican suburban districts that not only voted for Trump in 2016, but also voted for Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for President, in 2012, with this swing delivered by largely college-educated, predominantly female former Republicans.
At the midterms, Trump lost a chunk of what used to be the Republican base, and there has been no evidence yet that he is winning it back.
Trump’s problems are magnified by the outrage among African Americans at systemic racism and their ongoing brutalisation at the hands of police, which was made most visible by the killing of George Floyd. The fact that both the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 are disproportionately impacting African American communities will be compounding this rage.
In this environment, the sharp decline in African American turnout experienced in 2016 may well be reversed, particularly if Democrat Joe Biden picks an African American as his running mate, which he is reported to be strongly considering.
As things stand, two of the three foundations of Trump’s 2016 victory are wobbly. Which is why Trump is seeking to reinforce the third - his base.
More than any other politician, Trump understands both the angst and potential political power of the white, American working class.
In their well-researched book, Deaths of Despair and the Future of American Capitalism, Anne Case and Angus Deaton describe how Americans without a college degree have few prospects in an economy where globalisation and technology are taking lower-skilled jobs. This has led to social decay and falling life expectancy in white working-class communities, on the back of rapidly increasing levels of suicide, drug overdoses and alcohol related illness – the deaths of despair.
Trump’s strategy in 2020 is the same as it was in 2016, being to position affluent, university educated Democrat politicians and journalists as elites who care more about ‘minority issues’ than they do about American workers, offering himself as the only one who understands the latter’s plight and, therefore, as the only one who can reverse it.
With white, non-college educated Americans representing about 40 per cent of the electorate, and historically having the lowest turnout rates at Presidential elections, Trump sees new voters and a path to victory in the family and friends of the people who voted for him in 2016.
Will Trump’s strategy be successful? There are signs, on the ground and in the polls, that some of his people aren’t buying what he’s been trying to sell in recent weeks. But, even if they did, whether this would be enough to offset what promises to be a much higher turnout rate among African Americans and any further drift of college educated Republicans to the Democrats is unknown.
One thing is certain, should Trump be re-elected in November, he will see his base as having delivered it and his Hail Mary law-and-order play as the start of his comeback. Draw your own conclusions about what this would mean for the tone and substance of a second Trump term.
Daniel Smith is executive director and founder of CGM Communications.
By Daniel Smith
The rapid change in government policy Australia has witnessed in the first half of 2020 hasn’t been seen since the early days of the Whitlam Government.
And, with the health, economic and political impacts of COVID-19 still playing out, the current policy whirlwind is set to last for some time to come.
For two weeks following his election win in 1972, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam formed a ‘duumvirate’ with his Deputy Lance Barnard. Together, they used executive power to implement many of Labor’s election commitments, including ending conscription, opening relations with China, removing sales tax from contraceptive pills, appointing an interim schools commission and banning South African sporting teams from Australia.
Whitlam’s duumvirate was about fast-tracking the implementation of policies that had been developed over 23 years in opposition and were clearly laid out in Labor’s platform.
During the COVID-19 crisis, neither employers nor employees have had this visibility of impending policy change. In responding to a crisis that few foresaw six months ago, we have seen a newly formed national cabinet develop and implement policies to address the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 in real time.
In response to the health crisis, borders have gone up and down, businesses have closed and opened, with the number of people we can associate with, as well as how close we can get to them, changing numerous times.
Changes in economic policy have included the introduction of wage subsidies and an effective living wage, free childcare, fast-tracked regulatory approvals and tighter foreign investment rules.
But we are not done, yet. In front of us lies the rolling back of some, but probably not all, of the COVID-19 emergency measures. New approaches to economic stimulus designed to mitigate the ongoing economic impacts of the crisis are certain, whether they be from the withdrawal of current government measures, or from a drop off in trade and international investment, as our major international partners face their own COVID-19 challenges. Further regulatory reforms designed to unlock private investment and job creation are also highly likely.
The risk of ongoing trade and diplomatic tension on the international stage is also real, with associated policy responses in Australia also possible.
The upside for both employers and employees as we move through this period of rapid change is that both the federal and state governments have been increasingly consultative in their development of COVID-19 period policy, as well as being open and responsive to feedback.
We all know that industry craves policy certainty, but, the reality is, policy certainty won’t return for quite some time. In this environment, all stakeholders will need to allocate resources to both shaping and responding to the change that will continue to come.
The Whitlam duumvirate lasted for only two weeks. The current period of rapid policy change could last years.
In this environment, all stakeholders need to keep their relationships with government strong and look for ways they can both shape new policy and assist its refinement in implementation.
By Daniel Smith
The urgent review of skills, training and workforce development announced by Premier Mark McGowan this week will provide important opportunities for industry to engage about skills needs during the COVID-19 recovery period.
The necessary public health precautions that were put in place to fight the coronavirus severely disrupted many businesses, forcing many to re-think the way they do things, as well as their resulting current and future skills needs. This thinking has been complicated by both international and interstate travel restrictions, which are likely to compel businesses to recruit locally for some time to come.
This review will seek to identify the skills needs of industry, the availability of those skills in Western Australia and, where there are gaps, how we can re-train local workers with these skills as quickly as possible.
Performed well, this review should be a win-win for West Australian businesses and workers. WA businesses will have the skills they need to drive recovery, and local workers will have the skills they need for the jobs that are available.
If this review is to deliver to its potential, it needs industry to engage. Our understanding is that this will not be a typical government review that takes months, if not years, to complete and is delivered with pages of recommendations and, sometimes, a shelf to sit on. The aim is for it to be responsive and nimble, providing advice and recommendations to government for implementation as it goes.
If there are positives to be found in the current crisis, the development of a local workforce that fully meets the current and future skills needs of WA industry is one we would all celebrate.
We encourage industry to engage with this important review.