CANBERRA OBSERVED: by News WeeklyNews Weekly
NSW Liberals in the spotlight as election looms
, February 22, 2003
If Kim Beazley thought he couldn't get a run with his policies at the last federal election, pity the new NSW Liberal leader John Brogden.
Young, inexperienced, heading a divided party with a major shortfall in donor funds, he has been almost invisible since Christmas in the lead-up to the campaign proper.
Invisibility is not Brogden's fault - there has simply been no interest in the campaign.
Beazley's complaint during the 2001 poll was that "Tampa
and terror" swamped his planned election campaign and that the so-called "real issues" of health, education and jobs were ignored by the media.Overshadowed
However, the Liberal Party in NSW has been unable to get any media oxygen because of an even bigger issue, the prospect of war and the unfolding international events in relation to Iraq.
Mr Brogden says he has released dozens of policies already, but very few voters would be able to nominate what they are.
He cannot be blamed for the early lack of media interest in the NSW election campaign, but his colleagues are already describing their efforts as a "comatose campaign".
Federal Liberals have become increasingly concerned because they fear the party in John Howard's home state could be crushed at the coming poll - even going backwards from the 1999 result.
Internally, the biggest worry for the Liberal Party is the possibility of more independents winning safe Liberal seats.
Brogden is also suffering because the Liberals secret weapon - John Howard himself - is totally pre-occupied with international matters and has not been able to even advise on strategy and tactics so much as actively campaign on the ground.
NSW Liberals are still hoping the PM will join the campaign closer to polling date and that his growing stature on the international stage will give the party a major boost.
The Opposition has not been able to draw blood on any of the issues which have bubbled under the surface of NSW politics for the past couple of years.
These included questions about the Mines and Energy Minister Eddie Obeid's colourful associates and his transgressions on pecuniary interests, and about Police Minister Michael Costa's confused living arrangements.
More recently, Environment Minister Bob Debus has been criticised for his department's dereliction of duty in keeping dangerous forest growth under control, and over Transport Minister Carl Scully's share of responsibility for the Waterfull train accident.
But all these matters have largely been deflected and buried by the NSW Government and the NSW media has not take a strong interest in pursuing them.
More significantly, Brogden and his team have been unable to nail the person they need to get most to ensure victory - the Premier Bob Carr.
Carr is vulnerable on a few points - the length of time in office, his boredom with the job, and the possibility of his being drafted by the Federal ALP.
On the other hand Carr wants to go down in history as one of the great NSW Labor premiers - along the lines of Renshaw and Cahill - and this victory will ensure that mantle.Retribution awaits
If there is a landslide in NSW which increasingly seem a possibility, simmering resentments and divisions in that division of the Liberal Party are certain to surface.
The left-wing libertarian and occasionally anti-Howard faction known as "The Group" has gradually taken over the party and conservative Liberals have been sidelined.
The Group's candidates have been given all the spoils, placed in safe seats, and if the results are as bad as predicted, the retribution will be savage.
Divisions in Queensland and Western Australia have been debilitating for the party and open warfare in NSW would become a serious problem.
A bad loss will also lead to a demoralisation in the ranks and loss of party membership.