December 14th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Why the Liberals were wiped out in Victoria

CANBERRA OBSERVED: First strike? With what?

VICTORIAN ELECTION: Cause of Liberals' decimation clear

Higher costs force up cover price of News Weekly

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Physician heal thyself

The panacea of free trade (letter)

Free trade: myth and reality (letter)

HOUSING: A solution to young home-buyers' nightmare

Universities: quantity replaces quality (letter)

Medicare (letter)

Ignored Australians (letter)

ECONOMICS: Just how real are Japan's money woes?

COMMENT: The cause one dares not criticise

SUGAR: Sugar cane farmers rally to unite industry

MEDIA: Counting the cost of the Pay TV war

HISTORY: Revisiting the Dismissal

ASIA: Taiwan Strait's delicate military balance

BOOKS: Dry: In Defence of Economic Freedom, by John Hyde

Books promotion page

Cause of Liberals' decimation clear

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, December 14, 2002
I think most of the sensible things about the Victorian State Liberal debacle have already been said - some of them well before the "campaign" started. But Gerard McManus' short piece in the Sunday Herald Sun the day after, says it all: "Lacklustre Liberals simply jeffed".

The chickens laid by Kennett in his second term have hatched and are running around pecking anyone who looks like a Liberal.

Still in a state of total denial as to the damage he has done to the Liberals and, to a slightly lesser degree, the Nationals, Kennett has simply refused to go away, thereby aborting any chance the Liberals might have had to make a new start, or create a new image.


So the local Liberals have been paralysed for most of the time, disputing as to whether to completely exorcise him, or allow him and his clique to veto or sabotage anything they didn't like while reminding voters, everyday, of Jeff's earlier arrogance towards the public, his contumely towards country people, and his engrossment with powerful and somewhat off-colour interests in the city.

The Liberals couldn't resolve this disjunction, so got the worst of both worlds. The voters, including many former Liberal voters, have had to decide for them. Their solution: a pox on all your houses.

Bracks, for all his talk about spending money, in the end hadn't spent as much as had been supposed. Rather, the electorate had been given a whole wad of promissory notes - undated.

Once again the pragmatic and nowadays very professional influence of John Brumby is plain to see. He and Bracks have been able to benefit, greatly, from the stability, high economic growth and the fiscal munificence flowing from the Howard/Costello control of what could have been a bad economic scene for Australia. But the important thing is that the Bracks Government didn't throw away the opportunity.

Whether the Liberals would have made a better fist of the economy, of policing, or health, or whatever, is difficult to call - for they said nothing, or not enough, or too late; with everything bearing the marks of haste, improvisation and divided counsel. Like Federal Labor.

John Brumby spoke for us all when, in an exchange with Ted Baillieu on election night, said the Liberals don't believe in anything. They really aren't conservatives - not would they know much about Conservatism. They aren't really Liberals - either small "l" or big "L".

They are, in reality, a network of small suburban cliques over-dependent on sections of Big Business, tapping into the achievements of earlier Liberals - and I don't mean Kennett or Hamer. And hoping to be carried on by all the work Howard has been doing. Many state Liberals have had the nerve to work against Howard, very recently!

The occasions on which State Liberals have stopped Labor in its tracks - e.g., injecting rooms, the sex trade, even gambling - have been at the instance of outside forces and critics. Their poor performances on tackling gambling and the Casino mentality, building unions and rorting, and genuine educational and hospital reform, are due to the fact that they are still complicit in these social pathologies. The Liberals virtually started some and condoned the remainder. Many senior Liberals only regret that they are now missing out on the spoils. But who are the senior Victorian Liberals? Its hard to put a name on one. The regulation number of dwarves, sure - but where's Snow White?

One of the few means state Liberals have to help lift their game would be to possess, or have access to, research of high quality, unimpeded by outside interference. Not providing numbers or polls for the latest crop of spin doctors, but strategic overviews and analyses of Victoria and the world as it really exists.

There are various conservative "research" outfits, but the money provided by people wanting a better Victoria, a better conservative presence, is often squandered by the administration with the minimum going to poorly paid workhorses, who dare not challenge the ignorant dogmatisms of their seniors.

Great refusal

Hence a waste of money. Andrew Bolt has just written in the Herald Sun (December 2) about this whole Liberal refusal to engage in the culture wars. But I see little prospect of change. "Better die ignorant than admit you don't know", is the current Liberal philosophy.

Local Liberals always prided themselves on having no ideology, nor had they concealed their dislike of ideas. More recently they have openly maintained there is no connection between morals and politics, or between morals and economics. Not surprisingly they are left with class prejudice, social climbing and looking after Number One.

So, as John Brumby said, they believe in nothing - not even having a moral point of view. And it shows. An electorate, having to choose between these Tired Tims; or a "New Party" who say they believe in fairies; or another large party which pretends that there just might be fairies and pretends to value liberty and equality, but in reality is running a statewide patronage system, in which it rewards its supporters and, most intelligent and quite unusual, tries not to punish its opponents, but rather to coopt them ... will choose the patronage system.

Bracks' attitudes are a bit like Bismarck's. Having thrashed the Austrian Empire in 1866, the Iron Chancellor forbade the Prussian Army to stage a victory march through Vienna. He didn't want to humiliate the Viennese, for he wanted Austria as a future ally to be neutral in his planned war with France four years on; and of permanent value against the Russians. Bismarck succeeded entirely - the Austrians becoming strong, permanent allies.

This was not Kennett's way, for example. He preferred to harass his enemies and ignore his allies. Bracks, however, has a Bismarckian approach, though it would not be shared by some of his Cabinet colleagues particularly Attorney General Rob Hulls.

Victorian Liberals can scarcely expect to win next time but must at least restore some of the logistical damage the Federal Libs and Howard have just suffered - through no fault of their own.

For their part, Labor does not need the Greens, nor should they in the future. The dangers of entrenching the Greens in the Upper House by proportional representation far outweigh the pleasures they give to some women, directionless young looking for a Meaning (and a hobby) to fill in the dead periods in their state-sponsored leisure. Like the Democrats before them, Greens have to pass their preferences to Labor and will enjoy, I suspect, a much shorter shelf-life than did the Democrats.

As Gerard McManus wrote, "The militant building unions are undoubtedly costly, irresponsible trouble makers, who do untold damage to the State's economy. But the ordinary voter is left largely unaffected." He thinks he's not affected.

Not one major social or moral problem in our society has been tackled by either party in the campaign or in between: just allowed to pass and to grow. Although, even in Canberra, even a few politicians, most especially John Howard and some around him, recognise the threats to a humane and rational future existence for we Australians. So more power to them.

But for Victorian Labor, it was a famous victory, with no blood on the floor; for the Nationals, a remarkable holding operation. For the state Libs - the wages of sin is death. Sloth and disloyalty being sins. Whereas Hubris is a mental disease.

  • Max Teichmann

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