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State Liberals need a new agenda

By Kerry Corke - posted Thursday, 12 April 2007

After the Liberal Party lost the Victorian election last year, Peter Costello reflected on the fact the party had lost 20 state level elections in a row.

He said: "We have got to make sure we are recruiting good people, we have got to get our organisation together, we have got to work on policy. You can't leave an election to the last four months. An election is a four-year proposition and right around Australia the Liberal Party has got to come to grips with this and we have got to lift our game."

The Liberal Party has now lost the New South Wales election for the reasons identified by Costello. New leader Barry O'Farrell will have to establish a structure that will permit the NSW Liberals to act as a coherent opposition over the next four years.


As Bruce Hawker observed in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald on September 14, 2006, the ALP's run of electoral losses during the 1990's meant it had to fundamentally rethink its attitude to intervention in the economy and reject the notion that states could manipulate the market.

Since then, a line of Labor premiers have rolled out an identikit agenda - sound economic management illustrated by striving to attain (or keeping) AAA credit ratings, relatively strong rhetoric on law and order and broad sympathy towards development, while showing sufficient concern about the environment so as to gain (even if through preferences) the support of green inclined voters.

Conversely, the Liberal Party has failed to enunciate a broad alternative direction, which has led to them losing elections in Queensland and NSW even though there was a feeling that the long serving governments in those states were past their use-by date.

Once upon a time, you knew what the broad direction of a state Liberal Party was.

During the days of Askin, Bolte and Court the perennial tirades against "Canberra" meant that state Liberals stood for what would now be called subsidiarity - where decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen, with the centre only taking action where absolutely necessary.

Under Kennett and Greiner, state Liberals clearly stood for the new managerialism - the establishment of contestable markets and the subsequent removal of the state from the provision of services, support for national competition policy and so forth.


With state Labor being seen to be better managers than state Liberals and a federal Liberal government that is the most centralist in Australian history, no one has any idea about what a state Liberal stands for in the 21st century.

One possible theme that state Liberals could rally around is that being developed by former UK Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith.

As explained in a Wall Street Journal article of September 23, 2005, the theme recognises that problems caused or aggravated by the growth in government cannot be corrected by a crude reduction in its size.

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About the Author

Kerry Corke is principal of K.M. Corke and Associates, a Canberra based public law consultancy.

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