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Nutt cracks open election campaign

AAP logoAAP 21/09/2016 Paul Osborne, AAP Senior Political Writer

The Liberal party's chief strategist has called for tighter rules on the use of text messages which Labor used successfully to "scare" voters over the future of Medicare.

On election day, Labor sent out thousands of messages which appeared to come from Medicare stating the prime minister's plans to "privatise Medicare will take us down the road of no return".

The party also recruited stalwart Bob Hawke for a television ad on the same theme.

Liberal federal director Tony Nutt said the "cold-blooded lie" had not only cost the government a number of seats, but unnecessarily put fear into the hearts of elderly people including his mother.

"The really outrageous aspect of the Mediscare was that it coldly, ruthlessly and callously targeted vulnerable Australians," Mr Nutt told the National Press Club in Canberra on Thursday.

Arguing voters were entitled to know the source of such text messages, he said there was a difference between using a "contestable public policy phrase" such as "budget emergency" and lying about the privatisation of health care.

"I do think that a line should be drawn at that kind of technique," he said.

Asked what he thought of the coalition's own scare campaigns, such as Liberal-National Party MP George Christensen's call for a ban on Syrian migrants, Mr Nutt said the candidate had "fought on issues that he felt was important and I think reflect his views on some of those topics".

The veteran strategist said one of the keys to the coalition's narrow win, and Labor's second lowest primary vote in history, was Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull.

"His standing and credibility and the willingness of key elements of the electorate to trust him was crucial to the final result."

However, a number of factors were going against the government before the campaign began, including seat redistributions in NSW and Western Australia, community concern over a possible rise in the GST and expectations of Mr Turnbull being able to deliver "quick solutions" to difficult issues.

When the campaign began, with a primary vote sitting on 41 per cent and many individual seats hanging in the balance, Mr Nutt said it was soon realised the coalition would be massively outspent by Labor, the unions and organisations such as GetUp.

"In terms of field campaigns, the Labor party and unions and groups like Get Up have enormous resources at their disposal ... to impact the vote during campaigns and prior to campaigns.

"The Liberal party needs also to professionalise itself further. "

Parliament's electoral matters committee was quite rightly looking at the possible application of "truth in advertising" rules to voter communication, including third-party organisations.

Mr Nutt lamented the campaign role of business groups, saying they were more geared up for "diplomacy not war".

Former federal ministers Andrew Robb and Chris Ellison, former NSW premier Barry O'Farrell and ex-Brisbane city councillor Carol Cashman are undertaking a thorough review of the Liberal campaign.

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