28/03/2006 - 21:00

Liberals should show what they stand for

28/03/2006 - 21:00


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The ousting of Matt Birney was a disappointing moment from my point of view.

Liberals should show what they stand for

The ousting of Matt Birney was a disappointing moment from my point of view.

Partly it is because Mr Birney was a WA Business News 40under40 Award winner a couple of years ago. Naturally, he became something of a flag bearer for this alumni.

However, the truth is that from my point of view the Liberal Party’s decision to evict their youngest leader represents a lost opportunity to reshape politics from what has become a well acknowledged battle of same versus same.

Mr Birney was relatively new in the political game and, while I have nothing against Paul Omodei, I did believe a newcomer might have had a better chance to push through some reform, especially given his business background.

Reform? What do I mean when I refer to this? Labor is a good example. For most of its existence it has been known as the party of the workers. These days, that is largely irrelevant. There is no longer the haves and the have nots, neatly divided into Labor versus Liberal.

Labor has evolved to represent something different and, in the states at least, captured the middle ground.

At a federal level they have floundered but that is only because John Howard has wrapped up middle Australia.

In my view, it is the Liberal party that must now evolve – especially at state level – to give themselves a chance of beating Labor’s stranglehold on this level of government.

Furthermore, they have to do the opposite of what Labor has done. The Liberals should be looking to their roots for ideas on what might be attractive to today’s population.

It’s a little bit of back to the future in some respects.

I think free enterprise, free market and small government (to borrow a line or two from Joe Poprzeczny) are something of a vote winner.

Many more people are in business or closer to the heartbeat of business than ever before. They are the new wave of small business people, the contractors, the home-based businesses and the consultants that have emerged en masse in the past two decades.

These people are, quite often, the toughest of their breed. They are the individuals who have decided to go it alone. They want government out of their way as much as anything.

This is not always true, of course. Some have ended up employed this way through no choice of their own. And any business person will appreciate a leg up, wherever it comes from. But these people are a rich source of potential ideologues.

Both major political parties could target them – in fact Mark Latham was doing just that before his implosion while Mr Howard wins them over at the moment by keeping the economy in check – but the Liberals have a better chance, if only they would be more clear about their own ideology.

What does the Liberal Party stand for exactly? If you view the party’s own website there is a list of beliefs. Most are run of the mill lines you’d expect of any political party in an established democracy. Two beliefs stood out at me as capturing what I am talking about:

“We believe in government that nurtures and encourages its citizens through incentive, rather than putting limits on people through the punishing disincentives of burdensome taxes and the stifling structures of Labor’s corporate state and bureaucratic red tape.”

“We believe that, wherever possible, government should not compete with an efficient private sector; and that businesses and individuals – not government – are the true creators of wealth and employment.”

Unfortunately, I struggle at times to see these beliefs in the policy of the Liberals either at federal or state level. IR is one of the few areas where the Liberal ideology has overcome pragmatism.

There is much discussion about taxes but Mr Birney never outlined how he’d change things. For its part, the Howard government has managed to maintain taxes and royalties, with related red tape, at a time of unprecedented prosperity.

Privatisation has slipped from the agenda, with Telstra’s sale being a rare story and its timing influenced by price rather than ideology.

In the end, it may well be the case that Mr Birney was the wrong man.

I wish him luck in his decision-making over the next few weeks but I also wish the Liberals would start to  actively push some policies that represented what I always thought they stood for.


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