While Scott Morrison has been widely and publicly congratulated for the spectacular political upset he pulled off on Saturday night, tributes are also being paid to Hirst, who many consider to be the other author of the Liberal Party’s success.
The 41-year-old became federal director in 2017 and many conservative insiders gave him little chance of reviving the party’s fortunes after Malcolm Turnbull’s poor showing in the 2016 campaign.
«Hirsty», as he has been known since his school days at Canberra Grammar, had inherited a blank page with the party’s long-time pollster Mark Textor hanging up his hat and no ad agency on board. But many questioned if had the experience and force of personality to manage a high-stakes campaign for a fracturing political moment.
Hirst nevertheless went about bringing generational change to campaign headquarters. He hired Simon Berger and Isacc Levido as deputies, brought out CTF Group’s Michael Brooks from London and engaged an Auckland-based ad agency, Topham Guerin, which had worked for the Liberals on the winning NSW and South Australian campaigns.
«It was a phenomenal campaign, it was due more than anything to Scott Morrison, but Andrew did an incredible job bringing the team together and the massive infrastructure needed to put together a strong campaign and he’s done a superlative job at doing that,» Loughnane says.
Loughnane says Hirst’s unassuming nature swiftly earned the trust of his team.
«Campaigners tend to operate behind the scenes and it takes a particular temperament to do that,» he says.
«Every campaign, whether you win or lose, has its highs or lows. It’s very rare that a campaign looks as though it’s going to win the whole way through and you need to remain calm under incredible pressure and deal with things factually and emotionally.
«And it goes without saying, Andrew does those qualities, he’s humble and calm and doesn’t panic.»
John Howard’s former chief of staff, Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos, agrees: «He was unflappable and sure of the direction.»
«He ran a near flawless campaign, it was well organised, everything ran smoothly, there were good lines of communication,» Sinodinos says.
«He was adept at keeping staff and candidates motivated when things weren’t looking particularly flash.»
Hirst is quick to genuflect to his mentors — in particular Loughnane, Hirst consulted Loughnane’s personal records of the 2010 and 2013 campaigns stored in blue folders in his office.
While Hirst worked for leaders Brendan Nelson, Turnbull and Tony Abbott he says the greatest political lessons were learned from Loughnane and other former Liberal directors such as Tony Nutt, Tony Eggleston, his former boss Crosby Textor boss Sir Lynton Crosby as well as Andrew Robb.
Robb was director at the time of John Hewson’s 1993 Fightback loss, which Hirst remembered on Saturday night.
«I was in year 10, I remember watching election night, I stayed at a friend’s house in Malua Bay [on the NSW South Coast], I remember it well,» he says.
If 10 seems young to be watching campaigns, Hirst says his interest in politics actually began before that.
His parents met at Old Parliament House where his mother worked for the Labor-turned Liberal Senator Reg Withers and his father, a public servant, worked in the office of Kim Beazley senior.
«Politics was always a dinner table conversation,» he says.
But it was his father’s death when he was aged just eight and watching his mother’s subsequent sacrifices that turned him towards Liberal politics.
«The centre-right of politics believes in supporting family, in backing middle-class Australians who want to make sacrifices and to save to ensure their kids can have private health insurance and a choice of school,» he said.
«We grew up in a family where my Mum worked bloody hard and made sacrifices to save.
«That informed my values.»
Hirst happily describes himself as a «politics fanatic» but considers himself «reasonably normal». He loves spending time with his partner and their two children, enjoys the cricket, supports the Bulldogs in the NRL and watches Scandi Noir films.
«I don’t think I’m particularly caught by the bubble,» he said.
His former colleague, Tony Barry agrees. «Despite living and working in the bubble, he’s actually just a very normal guy.”
Internal political machinations have gripped the last 10 years of politics and nearly cost his party office. But Hirst, who not only managed to work for the succession of Liberal leaders but rise in seniority in each office, has, unusually in Canberra, never had a reputation for playing the game.
«You’ve just got to be a straight-shooter and remember why you’re there in the first place,» he says.
«You don’t go into to it to play the games, you go into it because you have a genuinely held view that our side of politics is the best-equipped to drive our country forward and lift living standards.
«I think it’s important in politics to not believe your own bullshit.»
Barry says it’s Hirst’s quiet confidence that makes him such a rare success in politics.
«One of his great attributes is he has no insecurities and wants to surround himself with smart and talented people and knows a good idea when he hears one,» Barry said.
“Andrew Hirst is proof that sometimes in politics, nice guys do come first.»
Latika Bourke is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in London.