April 14th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Howard's Coalition - fewer options left as election looms

EDITORIAL: The high cost of 'symbolic' politics

THE ENVIRONMENT: Bushfire victims take NSW, Vic govts to court

WATER: Details of PM's water plan - disaster for farmers

NSW STATE ELECTION: When will Liberals, Nationals ever learn?

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Why young people read less / NSW's Knight with the Mournful Countenance / Journalistic hooliganism / The Easter Rising

INTELLIGENCE CORNER: Losing the war on the home front / Assessing the terrorist threat

SCHOOLS: Labor's standard threat to schools

MEDICAL SCIENCE: New developments in stem-cell science

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Australia caught between Beijing and Washington

SRI LANKA: Bloodbath looms in war-torn Sri Lanka

OPINION: An ABC of the ABC - a listener's guide


Millions squandered (letter)

Regional rail networks (letter)

Labor's Mugabe dilemma (letter)

David Hicks (letter)

Russia's Putin should not be demonised (letter)

CINEMA: Story to scare the daylights out of you - Lives of Others

BOOKS: How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.

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When will Liberals, Nationals ever learn?

by Jim Manwaring

News Weekly, April 14, 2007
The latest New South Wales state election marks the 21st consecutive defeat for the Coalition in state and territory elections, writes Jim Manwaring.

An almost universally discredited Labor Government has been returned in NSW in the March 24 poll. It is difficult to comprehend how an inept, scandal-ridden government with on-going failures in the delivery of key services could get back so easily.

Prominent among the reasons for Coalition's appalling result are: dominance of free-market ideology in their deplorable effort to present alternative policies; a presidential-style campaign by Peter Debnam who had simply "not made it" as a political leader; the spectre of WorkChoices; and the Coalition leader's ill-considered and damaging policy gaffes.

There was a 3.2 per cent swing against the ALP. The Liberal vote increased by 2.1 per cent and the Nationals increased by 0.3 per cent.

In NSW's 42-seat Upper House, the likely seat distribution will be Labor 19, Coalition 15, Greens four, Rev. Fred Nile's Christian Democrats two, and the Shooters' Party two.

Another defeat

This is the 21st consecutive defeat for the Coalition in state and territory elections.

The total number of seats held by the three major parties in the lower houses of all states and territories is now: ALP 273 (63.5 per cent); Coalition 157 (36.5 per cent).

Let us return now to the question of how was it possible for a widely loathed government to win again.

First, Labor did an outstanding job in marketing Premier Morris Iemma. It is generally agreed that he is quite an ordinary man, without charisma or apparent leadership qualities. However, in the campaign, he came across as a "very decent, down-to-earth family man" who seemed more genuine than most politicians. He chose his words carefully and didn't make any faux pas.

Labor's campaign attacked Peter Debnam mercilessly, endlessly repeating a couple of his lines which were political dynamite: "I will move the IR laws to Canberra"; "I will get rid of 23,000 public servants". Not surprisingly, the Coalition could not counter this campaign material.

Labor presented itself as a middle-of-the-road social democrat-type party, putting money into public services, working hard to correct mistakes that it had made in transport, public education and health. It tried to paper over the fact that it was the hard-line economic rationalist policies of Carr/Egan that created the problems of run-down and unreliable public services in the first place.

The Coalition appeared to lack policy ideas, which is inexcusable when it had been obvious for years, that a well-researched and thought-out transport policy for Sydney would be a vote-winner. When the Coalition did mention policy, it appeared to be still stuck in the economic ideology of cutting public services and favouring the private sector.

The Coalition was hamstrung with an ineffectual, seriously damaged leader, mistakenly (in this writer's view) trying to run a presidential-style campaign.

The media gave wide coverage of the Liberals' internal dissention and faction-fighting. This was reflected in Peter Debnam and his party's blunders, which were highlighteded by Labor in the campaign.

The Nationals' vote increased by 0.3 per cent and they won back two seats from Independents (who now retain five seats in country NSW). Successful National and Independent candidates say they won because of good campaigns on local issues. Will this be the pattern for future elections in rural and regional Australia?

The Iemma Government has a massive challenge to rectify problems - largely created by the Carr/Egan years - in deficient infrastructure, deteriorating public services, areas of depression in the country and a faltering state economy. Its critics claim the government consists of essentially the same people, and that there is little evidence of new ideas and fresh strategies.

The state public service has been weakened by decades of Labor Party politicisation and widespread adoption of managerialism (the view that senior bureaucrats can depend on management skills, and do not need specific subject knowledge and experience in the departments that they run). Iemma won't touch the former, but if he is smart he will address the latter.

Then what of the future of the Liberal and National Parties in NSW? Here are four areas that scream out for attention:

1). Dismantle the hegemony that economic rationalism has over policy. NSW has several good economists who could provide expertise in developing policies with a sensible balance of market forces and government involvement.

2). Devote priority and resources to formulating well-researched, holistic policies.

3). Give priority to reducing the problems of dissention and factionalism in the Liberal Party.

4). Attract to their ranks people more interested in the future of NSW than in ambition for personal power.

- Jim Manwaring is NSW state president of the National Civic Council.

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