29 June 2008

The hamster dies, but the wheel still spins

The first Democrat-free Senate in thirty years starts on Tuesday. The last-ever leader of the Democrats, the hapless Lynn Allison, tried to do both a fond farewell and a phoenix-like determination to rise again - and failed at both, as you might expect.

Had Allison been defeated in 2001 she wouldn't have undermined Stott Despoja, her party's last best hope. The RU-486 ban would have passed anyway. She wouldn't have been able to say to her party "cheer up, it could be worse!", then set about making it so. Instead, she could have come back in 2004 and she'd have a freer hand to remake the Democrats in her image than she has, or deserves to have on the basis of this piece.
The public should acknowledge that the Democrats were always good for democracy, no matter what their views of our platform and philosophy.

Much the same can be said for the failure to ban the Communist Party, notwithstanding the public's revulsion of that party's (those parties' ?) platform and policy. This sounds like a reproach of voters for not being good enough to maintain Allison in the role to which she had become accustomed: a bad look in any democracy, a stupid move by someone who should be prepared to live or die in the name of democracy.
We transformed the Senate from a rubber stamp into a genuine house of review. But, sadly, most won't remember us for our policy and legislative contributions, choosing instead to focus on those few inglorious moments in our history that effectively sealed the party's death - notably, the divisive GST negotiations of 1999 and leadership stoush of 2002.

I won't focus on the Democrats' real achievements if you won't, Lynn. The reason the Democrats failed was not because the voters lacked focus - it was because the Democrats dropped their focus on reforming law and other aspects of government.

Let's look at some issues since 2002, issues that the Democrats in their heyday would have gone after for the sake of both good government and positive headlines:

  • The commitment of Australian troops to Iraq, their activities there and care for those who have returned

  • Suicides and sexual harassment in the defence forces

  • Blowouts of defence projects, insufficient government scrutiny of expenditure before committing public funds and Australian defence strategies

  • The backdown of Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty about how Iraq has made Australia less secure

  • Immigration detention centres

  • Immigration and the job market

  • Education. The whole policy area, really. Pre-schoolers to postdoctorates.

  • Innovation in industry

  • Oligopolies and corporate regulatory failures generally

  • Giving welfare to people who don't need it, many examples of

  • Housing prices

  • Civil rights

  • Disparity between quality of food grown in Australia and price of said food vs quality/price of foodstuffs available for sale, obesity and other health-related effects of, including diminishing public sympathy for farmers

  • Easy credit, concerns about

  • Telco services in remote areas

  • Any kind of services in remote areas

  • Any kind of services to Aboriginal people and communities

  • Public broadcasting

  • Pharmaceuticals and other drugs

  • Mental and other endemic illnesses

  • Land clearing in Queensland

  • The entire Murray-Darling Basin

  • Donations to major parties

  • Any time there was any sort of disagreement between the Coalition Federal government and the Labor states/territories (see Abbott, T.), where was the censorious more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger Democrat calling for bipartisan co-operation for the public good?

  • Violence against women (why were the Liberals allowed to take the running on this before the 2004 election, and drop all funding and support once Latham was gone?)

  • Any of those issues raised in my criticism of Rudd below

Maybe the Democrats did things on those issues, but they were fiddling around the edges rather than addressing them directly. One of the legacies of Stott Despoja is that she took the Democrats' eyes off policy, big-picture and detail, and turned them into just another bunch of PR dollies. Once that happened they were buggered. If you're going to talk about the Democrats' heyday and their record of achievement, talk about them. Instead, as you might expect, the response from Allison is piss-weak:
I know that many Democrats senators would do things differently if we had our time over.

Do what, exactly? The whole point of accepting blame is not for others to rub it in, but to learn from what should be done to avoid such a similar situation recurring. Allison goes on to talk about an issue she wouldn't change, lack of party discipline, which only became a problem when Democrats lacked any reason for voting one way or another.
Surely Australian politics is mature enough to accept this of a party?

Again, it's we voters who are not mature enough for the Democrats rather than the other way around. Like all failed politicians, she refuses to accept blame or to learn from her mistakes as the rest of us must. Like other failed politicians, she deflects attention from her failures by projection:
And despite all the hype surrounding the Greens, they've managed to pick up only half the number of seats we held in our heyday.

The Democrats held nine seats in their heyday, the Greens have five Senators from Tuesday.

While Brown is an extinct volcano but Milne and Siewert have the sort of dedication to both policy and publicity that the Democrats had in their heyday. You'd be a fool to bet against the Greens getting between seven and nine Senators next time, especially now that Allison has (however inadvertently) helped nobble their competition. She helps even more by revealing her ineptitude as a political strategist:
But I glimpse a window of opportunity for a new third party. The Rudd Government has already experienced trouble getting its legislation through the Senate, and things will only become worse. Under the newly composed chamber, the Government will be impotent to pass laws unless it has support either from the Opposition or the full crossbench - five Greens, Family First's Steve Fielding and independent Nick Xenophon. A fairly diverse bunch, to say the least.

More diverse than the Democrats? Really?
Is this not the perfect recipe for a double-dissolution? If I'm right, that would significantly improve the chances of a new party picking up seats, given that it would need just half the ordinary quota of votes, and the Greens would be seen to have caused the dissolution problem. Those not inclined to vote Labor or Liberal would seek a sensible third force to play the role of negotiator.

The key phrase in there is: "if I'm right". Other political leaders have a vision - Allison has a "glimpse".

In the Senate, the Coalition have placed all their faith in Minchin and Abetz. They will oscillate between point-scoring and pandering to the right, but will always snap back from the latter to avoid a double dissolution. A half-Senate election would hammer the Coalition and a double dissolution would be worse, with five or even four Senators from twelve in each state. The Coalition does not want to go the way of the Democrats, and more importantly will act to avoid that fate.

Nick Minchin was the South Australian State Director of the Liberal Party who acted to have a Labor minister returned in the electorate of Kingston than to have Janine Haines win it in 1990. Minchin is also responsible for ensuring that in the 18 years since, the Liberals have held that seat for five.

The Greens, as I said, stand to double their numbers at the next half-Senate election. At a double dissolution they would be lucky to get one from each state, a slight increase on their current situation.

Xenophon might fancy his chances in a double dissolution but Fielding must dread the approach of the polls. The perfect storm that enabled him to translate <2% of his state's vote to a Senate position has passed, and his role as an ineffectual goober becomes more pronounced the more he thrusts himself before the media. The press gallery think they're doing their job by paying attention to him, but actually they diminish themselves further.

A double dissolution election would deliver Labor six or seven seats from every state, i.e. a clear majority. The only issue where it would arise would be the workplace relations changes - see above for how the Coalition would react to that. Can you think of a single issue where the Coalition and the Greens would unite against Labor, and which would force Labor to the polls? Me neither.

Where does all this leave Allison? Stuffed, actually, and same with anyone who'd stand with her. As we learned from Opes Prime, nobody wants a broker who is themselves broke. A negotiator is someone who comes in for a fixed period to solve a fixed problem. A negotiator does not have an agenda like "liberal economic ideals and a progressive social agenda" that might get in the way of the problem at hand. If you want a negotiator, you'd want the next Governor-General or Sir Laurence Street, not Lynn bloody Allison.

Given that this scenario is unlikely, and that Allison's assumptions about other players are crap flawed, how absurd is this call:
The new party, if it is to succeed, must form quickly in anticipation of such a scenario.

Even if it does come off, you can't build a party designed to last beyond the election-after-next on that basis. You can't attract donations, you can't attract the support of sensible and busy people on the basis of a "glimpse" from Lynn Allison's eye.
It should rely heavily on the internet - more so than any other party before it - for building a support base, and recruit high-profile and well-qualified candidates to its winnable spots.

Be suspicious of politicians who urge you to rush now, think later - especially on the basis of a "glimpse". Be suspicious of politicians who appear dazzled by new technology without allowing for its transformative and decentralising power.

Be suspicious of politicians who set criteria they themselves fail to meet. Allison set up an inquiry into greenhouse gases in 1989, so what? John Howard set up the Campbell Inquiry into the Australian financial system, a flimsy basis on which to build economic reform credentials.
There's a vast open space in Australian politics waiting to be filled by a party with a philosophy and purpose similar to the Democrats'.

Allison must bear some blame for the arid, pathless desolation of that 'vast open space', to the point where those who would stoop and build up the post-Democrats with worn-out tools must not accept any assistance from Lynn Allison above handing out how-to-votes. She has learned nothing and contributed little. She is not a positive role-model for anyone who wants anything from public life beyond a parliamentary pension.

The problem for the Australian Democrats wasn't that the public couldn't get past the tumult from 1997 (when Kernot dumped the Democrats) to 2002 (when they dumped Stott Despoja). The problem was that that the Democrats couldn't get past it - even those Democrat politicians who weren't involved in All That, like Arthur Chesterfield-Evans, were useless both at nerdy committee work as well as the triteness of media. The other problem was that this was a party that was never serious about power, and now the Emocrats have gone the way of the Peacock and Beazley governments - and taken all their supporters' hopes with them.

27 June 2008

The embarrassment of political riches

Since late last year, Australia has a Federal Labor government and Labor governments in all the states and territories. I expected they'd have achieved more by now than they have.

Responsibilities for health haven't been sorted out. The revenues of Medicare have not been linked more directly to hospitals and other health measures. It's a basic tenet of responsible government that those who raise the money are accountable for spending it. That hospital in northern Tasmania is still in play, which inspires little confidence in this government's ability to address broader health issues. Even less inspiring is the silly defence of a half-baked definition of "binge drinking".

By the time Ken Henry reports on the tax system it will be halfway through the term of government. What sort of response will there be to this? If Rudd goes to an early election it will be rushed and badly thought-through.

At least there is some sort of review going on - Labor's response to the Northern Territory Intervention has been appalling, failing to answer the question "if not this, what?". Jenny Macklin should have a policy smorgasbord to choose from in terms of child safety, economic issues for local communities, health strategies and other matters affecting Aborigines: policy measures discussed with local people and which have their buy-in, and which can be extended across the nation if required. She doesn't have that, and she doesn't have any ideas of her own.

All the big cities are bursting at the seams, and Labor has thrust the federal government back into housing and urban development - again, with not much to show for it. NSW is too busy restraining Frank Sartor from invading Queensland, not only for Lebensraum but also to broaden the range of developers with whom he has to dine at Labor fundraisers.

Even something straightforward like dual carriageways from Melbourne to Brisbane - one via Sydney, one not - is too hard for a Federal Government which seems busy squandering its goodwill.

And water - ? Have they deliberately allowed themselves to get bogged, or did they just give up? Nobody can have confidence in big issues like managing the transition to a low-carbon economy while issues including, but definitely not limited to, the above are left undone.

Mind you, look what Rudd has to work with at the state/territory level. The oppositions of NSW, Victoria and even Queensland are filling political vacuums that should be shoulder-to-shoulder with the federal government right now. The Libs have speeded up a bit, but the fact is that Labor has slowed down to the point where opponents they do not respect are catching them.

If I was a member of the ALP I'd be furious at the wastage of this historic alignment - and wasted it has been. Labor look like losing Canberra Municipal Council as decisively as they lost those in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, because there's no hope left in Stan. Labor look to win in WA like Iemma did in NSW early last year, again against an opponent who seems determined not to offer
better government, but to offer a better opposition.

Even Rudd's performance in foreign policy is becoming fraught. What's the point of Rudd if he can't manage his core issue? What's the point of Rudd if he can't get clowns like Iemma on board? Let's hope this policy vacuum we're in is just teething problems, or a becalming mid-journey, rather than signs that we've elected a dud government with no real alternative.

24 June 2008

Not warming to Malcolm

There are three reasons why the Liberals are wimping out on measures to deal with carbon emissions. First, they were never really convinced and they just can't fake it any more. Second, mining companies and other polluters might not turn away from them in their hour of financial need. Third, it's one in the eye for Malcolm Turnbull.

The Liberals were only pretending to entertain that greenie nonsense because DodgyCrapster were yelling at them to do something. To be fair, it wasn't their job to do anything - it was Howard's, and all the ideas he was ever going to have were baked into him by about 1986 at the latest. Costello wouldn't have done anything much either. Losing Turnbull's seat would have exceeded Howard's standards of mere neglect and been all-out reckless; they had to mouth the words, their hearts weren't in it and it came through in the lack of that political melody that comes from a machine that is on-song.

What will have to happen is that carbon trading will be introduced, with changes to the economy and the tax system following inevitably. The Liberals will cry that the economy will collapse and when it doesn't, they'll go quiet. As they're going quiet hairline fractures in the first-phase of the post-carbon economy will appear, the Liberals will exploit them and then they'll be on the front foot politically once again. This could all take about 10-20 years, but eventually they'll come up with something More Anti-Carbon Than Thou, Labor will be tired and the left will be caught in a dilemma where the Liberals have the better policy, where it abandons its government and then blames them for losing.

In the short term though, that narrative that Malcolm Turnbull is circling Nelson like a shark has to stop. You show me a journalist who uses that theme and I'll show you someone who can't read the Liberal Party. Greg Hunt's turn on the 7.30 Report where he looked like a schoolboy being berated by the headmaster - I half expected him to say "please sir!" to Kerry O'Brien - was all about repudiating Malcolm Turnbull on both environmental and economic grounds. There is a curious light that goes from Turnbull's eyes when he has to defend a policy that has been foisted on him, and that's what he's done over proposals to exclude fuel from greenhouse considerations and cut fuel tax. Turnbull has realised that he won't be doing his messiah act any time soon and is facing the next two years with dread. He is the last of the Liberals to crash to earth after the election loss, the last to realise that there are fewer options in opposition rather than more.

They don't get it, but that's why they're in opposition rather than in prison or dead: they'll come around, it just won't be soon. Wait for the Liberal who claims the mantle of environmental and climate concern for his (her?) party, it'll happen. Did you know that a rise in sea levels of 30cm or so would have a major impact on Iguana Joe's?

Until then, carbon policy will have to be developed in a near vacuum, like Medicare or the GST or telco reform. As with those areas of policy, the shortcomings in those systems arising from poor debate and the stifling of options to make it easier to write press releases will limit us going forward. Never mind the fact that it could be worse - I'm more concerned that it isn't better.

22 June 2008

Waking the dead

Many tears have been shed, mostly of the crocodile variety, for a political constituency that has been determinedly abandoned: liberals.

First, wily old careerists like Philip Ruddock and Robert Hill abandoned liberals and liberalism. Then, the Democrats sold out for a mess of, um, whatever it was Meg Lees got in exchange for the GST, or whatever it was Natasha Stott Despoja was supposed to have delivered. In 2007 we saw a contest between two conservative parties, one of which supported an authoritarian legal structure around employment and another wanted to replace it with something a bit more corporatist but definitely not liberal. The victory for the latter and the abolition of the Australian Democrats augured poorly for liberals and liberalism.

It comes as a surprise, then, that the Brendan Nelson DeathWatch theme has popped up despite, not because, he went in hard against the liberals. Seeking to deny health workers on Australian aid missions the ability to talk about terminating pregnancies has two aspects that appeals to conservatives: lots of churchy goodness plus being patronising to little brown foreigners. It should have Nelson praised to the skies by the rightwing cheersquad that got him up - but this would underestimate just what dingoes they are.

The rightwingers of today should have learned their lesson over the parliamentary debate over RU486, in which a bunch of Democrats and their fellow-travellers in the Senate of all places euthenased Tony Abbott as a serious contender for his party's leadership. The outrage over Nelson's capricious and self-defeating stance on abortion came from the same place as the groundswell for RU486. Even the savviest political strategist can be bowled over by a groundswell once, but to set up the party's leader for a second slapdown - and for Nelson to not avoid being set up - is sloppy tactics.

When you're on the nose politically, the rightwingers will abandon you. The rightwingers should have united behind Howard in 1987, but instead the threw the Joh spanner in the Coalition works. The rightwingers tubthumped about banning Australian athletes from the 1980 Moscow Olympics, but wouldn't ban far more substantial exports to prop up the tottering Soviet empire. The rightwing went on about communism in Vietnam, but when the whole war strategy had failed it was the veterans who bore the brunt. The rightwingers elevated McMahon over the trendy and shallow Gorton, yet they snickered when Whitlam lambasted him. To have the support of the conservatives in Australian politics is not the laurel wreath of victory, it is the sloppy hairy kiss of Judas.

Of course, the right wing rode high in the chariot under Howard, and they gloated like those who did not expect to win. The only liberals who stood up for refugees were old enough to remember when liberals were part of a liberal government, and were polite enough to be surprised that liberalism did not inform decisions on issues like refugees.

The 2007 election result cannot be blamed, in whole or in part, on liberals. There was no treason of the trendies. Everyone else had abandoned liberals and liberalism and the rewards for doing so, promised and actual, were rich.

The constituency of liberals has gone unrepresented since 2007. The groundswell on foreign aid abortions and RU486 seems like a real silent majority - but a negative one, one that would stop bad law but which can't articulate the good (or even some muddle that came from Senate-floor horsetrading when the Democrats were at their peak). A positive vision for positive liberalism is nowhere present nor to be expected.

Turnbull and Costello have a commitment to liberalism that does not survive polls, let alone substantial tests. Those who look to the Payne-Pyne double act are making the same mistake they made with Peacock: claims they are the people of tomorrow are belied by the staleness of their approach to contemporary issues, and so they'll be yesterday's people without a day of their own. Pyne quivers with ambition but will go the way of Ruddock. Ted Baillieu and Barry O'Farrell are the most interesting Liberal leaders, but neither is in Canberra and O'Farrell is probably right to assume he can attack Iemma anywhere other than from the liberal side.

Those who look to the Democrats/Climate Change Coalition/GetUp are waiting for a bunch of petty people to get over themselves, like a local government conference robbed of its practical grafters. A political movement that is not serious about government is politically dispensible.

There is the Labor Party, but we can be skeptical in accepting Chris Bowen's assurance that Labor is open to an influx of members of any large and broad-based community is crap.
Since its inception, the Liberal Party has attempted to straddle two political philosophies: liberalism and conservatism. These are two very different things, and overseas these roles are often undertaken by different parties.

Successful liberal-conservative parties in Australia and overseas balance the two. Howard is the exception but he ran on a balance, as are David Cameron, John Key and John McCain in the UK, NZ and US respectively.
Alexander Downer's monthly renewal of bans on the right of Falun Dafa practitioners to protest in Canberra must surely go down as the most illiberal act ever by an Australian foreign minister.

And Kevin Rudd is insisting on the rights of Falun Dafa, is he?
Payne must go through agony every six years, wondering whether this time the extreme right wingers, who run the NSW Liberal Party, will be successful in removing her from the Senate.

I wish I had six years in between worries about my job, Chris. The fact that you can make such a silly statement shows that you'd rather make a tenuous political joust than incorporate a liberal approach to your work.
In Britain, the Liberal Democrats often criticise the Labour Government from its left flank.

Ineffectively. Only when the Conservatives steal their clothes does Labour back down and the Conservatives advance, and to hell with the poor saps in the LibDems. That's the vision, is it Chris?
... traditional small l liberals are looking for a home. As a social liberal in the Labor Party, I can tell you that it is a very welcoming home.

Do we know, to quote your friend and colleague from Woy Woy, who you f*cking are? Yes, we do, and we know what you are too. You're only in Federal politics because you weren't good enough to roll Joe Tripodi. Go and shake down some developers, watch the half-hearted approaches to Aborigines, migrants and others seemingly unable to assert their civil rights, and know that Labor is the party of liberal-veneer - but only rarely, and thinly.

Yet, it's true that liberals tipped Howard out of Bennelong and it will be interesting to see if they tip Labor out again too (but not for a while). The first step is for liberals is to be clear about what they want. Once that happens, we'll see who's a silent majority. We'll hear the rightwingers howl folornly in the night and we'll see smart-alecs like Chris Bowen fail to give liberals any of the sustenance that comes with a proper welcome.

Mind you, "we'll see" implies the sort of determination and imminence which, as I've already pointed out, isn't there. Once that happens? If it happens, but it has the sort of groundswell that other political movements can only dream of.

12 June 2008

Sparkling insight

Check out this hastily-written piece but stay for the comments.

20 years ago female candidates for US President were fielding that-time-of-the-month comments. Today, the comments on this piece shows that silliness is not the preserve of those who oppose a female US President generally and Hillary Clinton in particular.

11 June 2008

Moments of stupidity

The ALP on the Central Coast has never been able to attract decent candidates. Mousy librarians and showbiz-struck teachers have been the authentic face of the party in an area where Labor is the default vote and a halfway decent candidate with a bit of go could make the sort of career that inner-city aspirants have to bite and claw and scratch for. Your standard Labor candidate, with a law degree and a few years working as a staffer/union official, steers well clear of the joint. Well, with one exception.

When Barry Jones retired as Federal President of the ALP the cameras were invited in to his final meeting of the party executive. He shook hands with the men and kissed the women - when he came to Belinda Neal, she lunged forward but the old national treasure flinched and moved on. Now we realise that this is the default position for dealing with Richo's Revenge (Neal replaced Richardson as Senator for NSW), and something the voters of Robertson should have known. Which PR fool told someone whose job it is to represent tens of thousands of people that she "can't speak on behalf of anyone else"?

Swanning around like Lady Muck simply doesn't wash up the Coast. No Liberal is as up herself and so contemptuous of those without political or financial power. She had two goes at Jim Lloyd and he beat her twice, for no other reason than Lloyd is a nice person and Neal isn't. Having no judgment of people or situations is a significant disadvantage in politics (trust me on this, I hear you cry).

The smartest thing the Liberals could have done at the last election was for Lloyd to bag Howard publicly and win as a quasi-independent - and most importantly, beat Neal a third time. If Lloyd runs next time, the voters will gratefully take him back. In fact, anyone the Liberals run has a better-than-average chance. Even if Labor win another 20-30 seats at the next Federal election, Robertson and a seat in Tasmania will be the crumbs that fall to the Liberals from the Labor banquet. The most convincing campaign against Belinda Neal will win.

The Liberal operation on the Central Coast was built by Chris Hartcher three decades ago, bearing its first fruit with his election to State Parliament in 1988. It has a surprisingly large and committed membership, similar demographics in other parts of the country have a shallow Liberal presence or none. In the past ten years or so the Liberals have run Labor close on the four State and two Federal seats in that region (real Coasties consign everything north of Lake Munmorah to the Hunter). They're Howard battlers and working families, and they resent public sponging from single mums on the dole - someone who earns as much as ten Erina scrubbers and is ten times worse has no chance. We've all had hairy nights at Iguana Joe's, but most of us are big enough to walk away rather than screech like a Blackwall bogan. You'll never come through for the Coast if you do that in Canberra, or kick someone while they're down.

Della Bosca will not be able to marshal Labor troops to defend three Labor non-entities up the Coast, or persuade public servants to vote against themselves. If ever there was an extinct volcano, he has to be it. When the Central Coast Liberals get the right candidates and a solid campaign a year out, they will get up regardless of anything O'Farrell or Nelson might do.

It's too much to expect that the Coast is where the Liberal revival begins, but only just. I wouldn't go to them for a tax policy or greenhouse action, but a community of enthusiastic commuters has a lot to say about petrol (and public transport), interest rates and healthcare. If you can win the Coast, you can win the country.

Speaking of not winning the country, Nick D'Arcy should not be going to Beijing because he should have known that one outburst could undo thousands of hours of training. That's why this hapless Charlie (you'll need to be a Crikey supporter) is so pathetic. A long-term enabler of clowns like Wayne Carey or Gary Ablett getting way ahead of themselves, this writer trots out the same bleats for the undeserving (awww, he's had a bit of criticism poor lamb). A vote for D'Arcy is a vote for someone with no qualities beyond technical performance. If he went to Beijing and medalled, you know he'd be insufferable (if he lost, he'd blame everyone but himself) and there are better targets for endorsements with the focus and temperament that D'Arcy lacks.

D'Arcy and Neal have known privilege and cannot believe they can be called to account for it. Being able to handle your grog in social settings is a key part to being Australian, and those who can't arouse contempt. Neal-Della Bosca is the war on alcopops come back to bite Rudd and Iemma (a few alcopops are had at Iguana Joe's from time to time). D'Arcy shattered the Thorpe-O'Neill Team Nice approach to swimming like a Chinese baton on a Tibetan skull. They really believe they can tough out situations that require a quick bite of humble pie, and by ignoring that show no ability to represent anyone at anything.

01 June 2008

O'Farrell steps up

If someone leading the NSW State Parliamentary Liberal Party really wants to be Premier, the first victory they must win is not in the party room, but over the Liberal Party organisation.

John Carrick was General Secretary of the NSW Division of the Liberal Party, the equivalent of today's State Director, from 1948 to 1971. As a campaigner he was a one-trick pony, hammering fear of Communism: this helped keep the Menzies Government in office federally but it made bugger-all difference in state elections. It wasn't as though Labor governments of this era were comprised of formidable politicians. They were studies in mediocrity who failed to build the infrastructure that could have better supported the growth and potential of NSW. Carrick lost the 1959 election by a single electorate: the then leader, Pat Morton, should have wrung Carrick's neck. Instead, it was Robin Askin who faced Carrick down and finally won an election for his party in 1965.

After Askin the NSW Liberals did their usual revolving-door leadership trick, until Nick Greiner decided that he would actually like to be Premier. Out of his office he ran a political operation in parallel to the hapless Liberal Party administration, which gave Ian Kortlang his taste for lobbying and which gave the Liberals a victory for which the party apparatus could claim little credit.

Now, Barry O'Farrell has done over three clowns at the top of the NSW Liberal organisation. Before the new State Director has had a chance to screw things up O'Farrell has cleared the underbrush of the NSW Liberal Party organisation to build a highway to power. Nick Campbell (the rightwing Ben Franklin) and Michael Photios are not great leaders, but they have shown themselves useful tools to enable O'Farrell to have a clear run at Sorry Morry.

It is necessary, but not sufficient, for a NSW Liberal leader to assert the primacy of his political aims over those of the party organisation. What helps are self-defeating interventions by the ALP like this:
While Mr O'Farrell says he has no doubt the reforms will be endorsed, the state's Labor Premier Morris Iemma says it is unlikely the factional warring is over.

"It is still a party at war, and they've done nothing to stop the war," said Mr Iemma.

Greens MP Lee Rhiannon agrees.

Yairs. Last I heard Iemma is still ploughing ahead with electricity privatisation, at which nobody expects him and his to succeed. What's clear here is that NSW Labor's commitment to political suicide remains strong - while the Liberals' commitment to political suicide in 2007 was even stronger, thanks to O'Farrell it seems to have diminished. Lisa Carty's olfactory senses could well be mistaken: Selig, Vanzella and Webster are done for, it's Labor blood you can smell Lisa.