"He needs to define exactly what Labor stands for ... post-Covid," wrote one learned commentator this week.
"He needs to explain why the country should take notice. And he needs to explain how the party is changing after the disastrous 2019 election."
Let me return to who said this, and why, in a moment. Here's a hint - the most important words for me are "post-Covid".
First however, a lament on the game itself.
With its formulaic charades and its prohibition on all but the shortest-term goals, national politics is rightly decried as shallow - the blind leading the blind.
But whose fault is this really? What do voters expect? Or even want?
If we're honest, we aren't too visionary or exciting either. As a cohort, we punish those who pursue big ideas based on values, principles, and the longer-term.
We don't even disguise our defence of our own narrow interests (usually financial) at the ballot box.
Little wonder then that our representatives pay only lip service to the bigger picture.
An example. A significant majority of Australians accept the science of global warming and fret about overconsumption, unconscionable waste, habitat destruction and calamitous emissions.
Yet when push comes to shove, how do we vote? Election after election, we install a Coalition that thinly cares, offering up fig leaves and slogans - axe the tax, technology not taxes.
In so doing, voters value the slogan over the substance and send the message to any alternative party that it will be rejected for going further.
Why? Because come election day, the drivers are fear of the new and the hip-pocket nerve, even if cheaper electricity comes from fossil fuels.
Australian politics is also the bland leading the bland.
These prosaic truths will once again be evident.
Labor can read. Its approach in 2022 is the path of least resistance, with leader Anthony Albanese making a persuasive tactical case for ensuring the battleground is Scott Morrison's multiple failures rather than a redux of Labor's 2019 adventurism.
Ostensibly this means highlighting Morrison's negligence on most aspects of the pandemic - "he had two jobs, safe quarantine and securing enough vaccines, and he failed on both".
Albanese's pithy mantra also dovetails with a larger narrative he seeks to build. Namely that Morrison is always late to problems, a serial non-leader who blames others before settling on remedies which end up costing more and working less. It's a critique with tangible links to quarantine failures and last year's mystifying vaccine hubris, but also invokes his government's insensitivity to women, his resistance to border closures, school shutdowns, mask wearing, wage subsidies, assistance for businesses and the jobless. It draws in, too, his slow crawl from coal-waving evangelist to pseudo-convert on emissions reduction, and in recent weeks his government's staggering clay-footedness in Afghanistan.
But do not assume this pattern of woe amounts to an open-and-shut case for Morrison's removal.
The Nine newspapers' most recent Resolve Political Monitor survey suggests this critique, while resonating strongly with cosmopolitan progressives, is not shared by a majority of Australians - despite gruelling lockdowns, family stress, and business failures made worse and longer by vaccine shortages.
Rather, the Monitor shows Labor's primary vote not rising but dipping by 3 points to just 32 per cent, with the bulk of that transferring back to the Coalition - which is up 2 points to 40 per cent. Both now sit one percentage point lower than what they secured at the 2019 election.
Despite the above failures and his smug, incomprehensible messaging, the PM has widened his head-to-head advantage over Albanese and is now twice as preferred as his opponent, at 46 per cent to 23 per cent.
On the centre-left echo chamber of Twitter, the response to these findings was typically bellicose - shooting the messenger, alleging bias in the interpretation and slamming Resolve's methodology.
While it is true any one poll could be an outlier, Nine went through a detailed polling review process in the wake of the 2019 shock to ensure future surveys would be more representative, and would yield richer attitudinal data across key policy areas. It would also avoid drawing heroic two-party-preferred conclusions based on extrapolation.
But 2021 is no ordinary pre-election year.
The opening quote above is by my friend Sebastian Payne, Whitehall editor for the Financial Times and his subject is in fact British Labour's equally unfashionable leader, Keir Starmer.
Astoundingly, Boris Johnson's shambolic performance through the pandemic (a list of wilful errors headlined by 135,000 Covid deaths) has not dented his standing with voters either.
Like Albanese, Sir Keir is a solid parliamentary performer, and a person of great decency and intelligence. But voters don't want any more uncertainty, and do not have the bandwidth to be listening to oppositions right now.
The root of that problem is incumbency. As I've noted before, of the five elections held here and one in New Zealand since Covid, all have returned the governing party.
The pandemic is the only story registering in 2021 - all else is secondary and possibly even annoying - and that includes debates about alternative governments.
This suggests Albanese has an equal interest in helping to put the pandemic emergency behind us, even if that comes at the expense of Morrison getting considerably more credit than he deserves.
Perversely, his best shot at being heard might come from not trying to cement Morrison as a failure, so much as from easing the path to maximum vaccination and an open economy ASAP.
In short, Albanese needs a genuinely post-Covid election - even more than Morrison.
- Mark Kenny is a professor at the ANU's Australian Studies Institute and host of the Democracy Sausage podcast.