Labor’s secret weapon: The election issue most people haven’t heard of

As the election comes down to a handful of seats, Labor hopes advertisements on one particular issue can persuade swinging voters in key electorates to back it into government, even though its campaign has gone unnoticed by the media.

ALP leader Anthony Albanese will today join key frontbenchers in a last-minute campaign blitz in 20 target seats where the party’s chances of securing a majority are hanging in the balance.

But party officials say another part of Labor’s marginal seat strategy could tip the balance in key contests:  A campaign targeting voters fed up with waiting too long to see their GPs that could yet figure as the most influential election issue you have likely never heard of.

Political commentators and doctors had widely noted the unusually low profile of health policy in this year’s campaign.

But at a level below national attention Labor is making appeals to voters on the issue where its credibility advantage is greatest. Will it work?

Party research identified delays for seeing a general practitioner as a concern for voters across a wide geographic area. Messages on waiting times have proven saleable in parts of at least three states, party sources said, and bite hardest in the regions or among outer suburban voters.

An earlier attempt by the Opposition to bring the issue to the centre of politics, with a refrain about it never having been more difficult to see a GP than under the Coalition government, did not take and its veracity was questioned.

Instead the party is tailoring the message as part of its campaign in key electorates.

Labor is hoping its targeted advertising will cut through in key marginal seats. Photo: AAP

“It is the bulk of the ad buy in many key target seats,” one Labor source said.

The message has been pushed in Tasmania, Queensland and New South Wales.

In Australia’s largest state it is figuring in a move on Mr Morrison’s close confidante and Liberal factional ally, Lucy Wicks in the Central Coast seat of Robertson, and to defend the bellwether seat of Eden Monaro.

“It’s red hot anywhere outside capital cities [such as] in the suburbs and regionally,” another source familiar with the party’s strategy said.

Internal party research identifies other target electorates for the message including Bass in Tasmania and Queensland battlegrounds such as Ryan and Longman.

But is the message fair and square?

The claim about it never having been harder to see a doctor than under the Coalition government fell foul of an independent fact check because, on net, primary care had become easier to access.

But there is little doubt that waiting times have remained stubbornly high or blown out in certain parts of the country. More than 22 per cent of people in regional Australia said they had to wait unacceptably long to see a GP, according to the statistics bureau. 

A parliamentary inquiry into primary care in regional Australia heard in March that in some parts of rural Queensland GP shortages caused wait times to reach up to three months.

The New Daily contacted the Australian Medical Association’s vice president Chris Moy, who said delays were commonly found in parts of Australia and, he said, had  been caused by a fall in the number of doctors going into general practice that occurred under both parties. 

“There are extreme shortages,” Dr Moy said.

Labor’s campaign on waiting times includes attack ads hitting the Coalition and also “candidate positive” spots presenting the party’s $135 million “urgent care clinics” policy as a remedy.

That plan received short shrift from Dr Moy, who called it a “smoke and mirrors” policy.

After criticising both major parties’ health platforms through the campaign Dr Moy endorsed Labor’s recent pledge of $1 billion for the Primary Health Care 10-Year Plan. The policy is designed to make GPs more accessible and was devised but left unfunded by the Coalition.

Labor unveiled that policy in Lingiari, a Labor seat in Darwin recently looking wobbly on the retirement of Warren Snowdon.

The 48-hour seat blitz will see Mr Albanese visit five states starting in Sydney and Brisbane today before pushing into a further three (as-yet-undisclosed) states on election eve.

Joining him and making their own campaign stops will be front benchers Richard Marles, Penny Wong, Jim Chalmers, Tanya Plibersek and Jason Clare.

“We are in the final sprint,” campaign spokesman Mr Clare said.

Among the battleground electorates in which members of the Labor camp admit to fancying their chances is former PM John Howard’s old seat of Bennelong, which it claimed last time the party won government from opposition in 2007.

The seats to watch

NSW: Reid, Bennelong, Robertson, Banks
Qld: Brisbane, Leichhardt, Dickson, Longman, Ryan
SA: Boothby, Sturt
TAS: Bass, Braddon
VIC: Chisholm, Higgins, Casey, Deakin
WA: Swan, Pearce, Hasluck.

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