NSW by News WeeklyNews Weekly
Election: Bob Carr's next four years
, April 5, 2003
In spite of Bob Carr's overwhelming third-term victory in the New South Wales election there are a few hidden problems ahead for the NSW Labor Party.
This is not to underestimate in any way the extent of the Coalition's diabolical position, only that Labor was able successfully to paper over its difficulties because of the nature of the campaign.
The election result confirmed that the NSW Liberal Party is now being slowly choked to death by the libertarian and politically inept "Group" faction.
Unless there is some re-emergence or fightback by John Howard's own conservative wing of the party, the Liberals will inevitably experience similar electoral woes in the federal arena.Big issues
Because the election was fought almost entirely in the shadow of Australia mobilising for its biggest military engagement since Vietnam, the campaign failed to address some of the big issues facing Carr's now very mature administration.
These issues include Carr's own political future, his tired and lacklustre frontbench, and the exact nature of Labor's agenda over the next four years.
Carr won because he was able to use his own personal popularity and credentials to cement the ALP as the natural and trusted party of government in NSW. He could successfully claim a string of balanced budgets, improved services, more police, and contrast his own record with an "irresponsible, spendthrift and unknown" Opposition.
However, Carr was also able to get away with not articulating his vision for the State beyond "getting on with the job" and continued superior fiscal management.
The resulting landslide win, extremely unusual for a third-term government, almost guarantees that the next election will see the dismantling of Labor's 17-seat majority.
Having achieved the high water-mark the only obvious way for Labor to go is backwards.
Exacerbating this will be the large, unwieldy and possibly restless backbench comprising of almost 13 new MPs.
Of course, Carr sought and secured a big victory, and his Sussex Street party professionals spent big dollars to secure it - some estimate in excess of $10 million being spent on the campaign.
Carr also managed to achieve several major political objectives in his wipeout win.
It won Carr (the politician-historian) his own place in the history books by enabling him to become the State's longest serving Premier. It gave him the luxury of departing politics at a time of his own choosing, and being able to facilitate a smooth transition of power to the next leader.
And, finally, it helped him to keep his federal options alive.
Though Carr repeatedly declared his desire to serve for four years, the NSW Premier is now "recruitable" and a serious option for Federal Labor MPs agonising over who might save them from the disaster Simon Crean promises.
For the Opposition, the only two things to be said are that it cannot get any worse, and that John Brogden is fortunate in having one political attribute that no other leader (not even Bob Carr) possesses - his youth.
The Liberal Party secured just 24.7 per cent of the primary vote in NSW, which must be close to an-all time low in the State.
Despite all the bravado about being a chance to win right up until polling day, Brogden's entire strategy was to take a few seats off Carr so that he could have a more serious tilt at government in 2007.
Of course, Brogden never looked like winning at any stage and failed miserably at even making any dent in the seats he needed to become a stronger Opposition.
Instead, he went backwards in the Liberal heartland - in seats like Manly and Willoughby, which are now firmly in the hands of independents. The loss can largely be blamed on the stupidity and recklessness of the left-leaning and anti-Howard "Group" faction.
The National Party also delivered a miserable result, and the most complimentary thing that can be said in its favour is that it marked time.
The Nationals are probably more socially entrenched in rural NSW than in any other State, yet they face continuing demographic problems as the north coast becomes more populated and rural cities grow in size at the expense of small towns and villages.
Hence the old "country" party (as opposed to Country Labor) is finding it an increasingly difficult balancing act trying to be both the voice of rural NSW and "the coast".
At least the Nationals are alive to fight another day. The Australian Democrats in contrast received around 40,000 votes in the NSW upper house - about half of that picked up by Fred Nile's Christian Democrats.
The Democrats vote confirmed beyond all doubt that they are a party in its death throes.