Stephen Mills, The Professionals: Strategy, Money and the Rise of the Political Campaigner in Australia, Black Inc, Collingwood, 2014
Sean Jacobs, Menzies House, 30 August 2014
In any arena a mix between competition and technology is likely to result in growth. The demand for political professionals in Australia has been amplified by an obvious contest between the two major parties, while technology has helped in researching voter preferences, promoting political messaging and easing campaign coordination to service the political professional’s ultimate goal – electoral success.
A clear distinction between a professional and amateur is of course pay. But the type of service is key. In 1915 Archibald Stewart became Labor’s first federal secretary and, despite receiving a payment of ‘fifteen guineas’, his role contrasted sharply with today’s paid political professional.
Stewart, according to Mills, ‘literally provided secretarial services to the executive, handling correspondence and minutes, organising transport and logistics for executive meetings… and banking the meagre annual fees paid by the states to sustain the modest national operations.’ A modern political operator – cleverly interpreting data and coordinating messaging – was little use at a time when politics was an amateur sport ruled overwhelmingly by ‘recalcitrant states.’
The need for political professionals in Australia didn’t take off until after World War Two and, even then, only accelerated in the late 1960s and 70s. Labor’s Ben Chifley, after losing the 1949 federal election, complained that his team had not only been outspent but ‘suffered a terrific barrage over the radio and through the press for twelve months.’ Driving the offensive was Donald Cleland – the Liberal Pary’s first federal director – whose military background served as ‘the prototype Australian election campaign professional.’