11/07/2006 - 22:00

Local Liberals lack direction

11/07/2006 - 22:00


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It’s becoming increasingly difficult not to expect the WA Liberal Party to continue declining as a political force.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult not to expect the WA Liberal Party to continue declining as a political force.

Even highlighting silly comments by some in the Labor movement – like ACTU boss Greg Combet’s “I recall we used to run the country and it would not be a bad thing if we did again” – doesn’t help.

Yet there were times when such remarks markedly boosted Liberal electoral support.

To make matters worse, the latest Newspoll, conducted for The Australian showed 60 per cent of voters satisfied with Premier Alan Carpenter’s performance, while only 16 per cent indicated dissatisfaction.

From the Liberal standpoint that’s troublesome indeed, since Mr Carpenter’s premiership, to date, can hardly be objectively seen as anything but mediocre.

Recall those three disastrous John ‘rising star’ D’Orazio affairs, the continued stacking of government jobs with Labor boys and girls, widespread concern over mishandling of the intended years 11 and 12 OBE, and the bad press surrounding Dr Neal Fong, to name just four.

Yet Mr Carpenter still came in with six in 10 electors satisfied and fewer than two in 10 the other way.

“The same cannot be said of his opponent, the former Pemberton potato farmer Paul Omodei,” The Australian reported. “After deposing Matt Birney by just one vote in a leadership spill earlier this year, Mr Omodei is struggling to get political traction on all fronts.

“Just one in three voters are satisfied with his performance so far and 40 per cent are still to make up their minds. More than one in four voters – 27 per cent – say they are not satisfied.

“This compares with 38 per cent satisfaction and 33 per cent dissatisfaction with Mr Birney, and a 36-50 split with Colin Barnett, who led the Liberals into the last election.”

It’s true that one swallow does not make a summer.

That said, why is state Liberal leadership so constantly rejected?

Furthermore, one shouldn’t forget that a statewide redistribution is due and that political pundits expect it to markedly favour Labor.

Dominated by loyalists of two noticeably insecure senators – Ian Campbell and Chris Ellison – who Prime Minister Howard elevated to ministerial rank as part of counter moves against long-expelled ex-senator Noel Crichton-Browne, the Liberal Party is bereft of ideas, inspiring leadership, healthy membership list, and finally, voluntarily self-generated funds.

Its lack of funds, in State Scene’s opinion, is due first and foremost to the party being bereft of the first three – ideas, leadership and members – not the other way around.

If the party was short only in the leadership stakes, and members and funds, but still generating imaginative and inspiring ideas, its problems would be short-lived; not protracted as seems the case today.

And the reason for that is that people are attracted to ideas and ideals, so that in next to no time Liberal branches would fill with new members, not be maintained by dwindling numbers of old and demoralised players.

And new and inspired members would result in a prompt emergence of inspiring leaders, ever more inspiring ideas, and, of course, funds. And so on.

A self-strengthening process would thus be set in train; the very opposite to the current ongoing decline across all four crucial areas.

As previously stressed by State Scene these four essential attributes go hand in hand.

They’re self-reinforcing, with the emergence and continued generation of inspiring ideas being the basis of everything that’s needed to maintain a vibrant party that then has the potential to govern the state wisely.

Unfortunately, no-one within the party’s dwindling ranks seems to appreciate any of this.

State Scene cannot recall the last time an idea that has caught the public imagination emanated from Menzies House at 640 Murray Street, premises the party uses due to the generosity of a single benefactor.

What if that benefactor ever changed his mind in this regard? A good, and surely worrying, question.

All the signs are that it is headed for a long period as a political somnambulist – that’s a big word meaning sleep walker – after which it may simply wither away.

Little wonder WA’s only daily newspaper – which cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered pro-Labor – recently concluded an editorial thus: “The disintegration of the [Liberal] Opposition has reached the point at which it has become a threat to the health of our democracy.”

Clearly therefore, State Scene’s isn’t a voice in the wilderness. 

Nor is the party’s president, businesswoman Danielle Blain, doing any favours by not confronting head-on all these increasingly obvious drawbacks.

Let’s hope she is giving wise counsel across factional and other lines, because party presidents have important roles to fulfil over and above chairing occasional council meetings and annual conferences.

Undoubtedly the best relatively recent instance of a Liberal president being farsighted involved one-time Northern Territory chief minister, Shane Stone.

For those with short memories, cast your minds back to his still-talked-about claim that the Howard-Costello-led Liberals were being perceived as “mean and tricky”.

That remark smartly prompted both gentlemen to lift their game, and in the process a cohort of federal Liberal MPs also elevated their performance somewhat, for a while at least.

Mrs Blain would be wise to follow Mr Stone’s lead. Instead, she remains silent.

The silent course, she should note, means she’s in danger of going down in the party’s annals as just another bland and unimaginative president.

Smart advice, and lots of it, is what’s now needed.

Strangely, Mrs Blain’s leaving the task of advising and commenting to the party’s two recently failed leaders, Colin Barnett and Matt Birney.

Neither gentleman’s leadership record, it must be stressed, is worth writing home about.

Yet both show all the signs of wishing to return to lead their party at the 2009 election against 60-16 Mr Carpenter.

Mr Barnett lost the unlosable 2005 election while Mr Birney lost the party’s leadership to Paul Omodei, someone most saw as ready to retire.

Last month Mr Barnett, someone who isn’t noted for taking advice, told Mr Birney, via a newspaper article, that he should get aboard the good ship Omodei.

“My advice to Matt is, ‘Give yourself a good shake, take a grip and get on with it and develop your political career because you have a lot to offer,” Mr Barnett wrote.

That, under any circumstances, must be judged as fairly good advice.

But whether it was wise to offer it via the media is another matter. And whether Mr Barnett was the appropriate person to give it another matter still.

He, after all, avoided Mr Birney’s front bench after resigning as defeated leader.

Isn’t he, therefore, open to similar criticism, that is “give yourself a good shake, take a grip . . .”

Moreover, as State Scene reported some time ago, when Mr Barnett was leader and was having difficulty taking colleagues’ advice, he was handed a free copy of John C Maxwell’s excellent book, 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player.

It’s not known whether he read it, but State Scene noticed little, if any, change in the way he subsequently dealt with colleagues.

Anyone doubting this should mull over Mr Birney’s recent revelation about the state of the office he’d inherited from Mr Barnett in March 2005.

“When Colin Barnett handed the office over to me he had stripped all of the computer files, he had wiped out all of the programs and he had taken all of the research, which basically took the Opposition four years to build up,” Mr Birney said.

If nothing else that certainly suggests it’s well past the time that Mrs Blain took a leaf from Shane Stone’s book of straight talking.

Otherwise the present slide will surely continue.


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