A bizarre “lobster with a mobster” dinner between a high ranking Liberal and a man accused of being involved in organized crime may have lost an entire state election.
An infamous “lobster with a mobster” dinner with the then-Victorian Liberal leader helped cause a landslide 2018 state election loss but the party says it will stay tough on crime.
A review into the doomed campaign found the party’s law and order-led strategy fell flat, with voters seeing its focus on “African gangs” as a political tactic rather than a plan to make the state safer.
The review, led by Liberal elder statesman Tony Nutt, included research showing just six per cent of voters claimed it actually influenced their vote – and not necessarily in the Liberals’ favour.
Former leader Matthew Guy’s Lobster Cave dinner with alleged mafia boss Tony Madafferi in the months leading up to the election also undermined the party’s “tough on crime” policies.
“It was used repeatedly and effectively to undermine him, obscure genuine concerns about community safety and protect Labor from parliamentary scrutiny,” the review released on Wednesday said.
Liberals responsible for organising the dinner and leaking details of it are described in the review as “guilty of utter stupidity” and they “carry a heavy burden for the enormous damage done to Matthew Guy and the opposition team”.
Mr Madafferi is widely accused of being a high-level organised crime figure, but he has never been charged or convicted and strenuously denies any allegations.
Current opposition leader Michael O’Brien says he won’t stop talking about crime.
“This isn’t about beating a law and order drum, this is about what we are doing to keep Victorians safe. Because that’s the ultimate aim of our policies, that should be the ultimate aim of any government,” he told reporters.
The leadership coup against former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who was popular in the state, also affected “fundraising, membership recruitment and retention and campaign preparations”.
The review found 30 per cent of voters in electorates that were lost to Labor said they couldn’t vote Liberal due to Mr Turnbull’s axing.
“Party research was reflected in the on-ground experience of many MPs, candidates, volunteers and staff who received strong ‘push back’ even after they patiently explained to individual voters that as state Liberals they had no role in the federal leadership,” the report said.
A legal battle between the party and its largest donor the Cormack Foundation also took a toll, costing the party $1.1 million in legal fees.
The review handed down 41 recommendations, including that the party identify seats it can win once electoral boundaries are redrawn.
Incumbent premier Daniel Andrews swept to a surprise landslide victory in 2018 after only winning power with a slight majority in 2014.