29 March 2006

Suckerpunching the Liberals in State politics

Most of yer mainstream media notes Howard's dominance at Federal level and puzzles how this success doesn't translate to state level. Once you get over Howard (not possible if you're a Federal Press Gallery journalist) the reason for this becomes clearer. The political cycle in the Australian states has operated since the late 1970s/early '80s in seven phases, like so:

1) Labor government squeaks into office with a slim majority, helped by one of Brucey's Big Ones, makes conservative and prudent if minor changes.

The Liberals retain their losing leader who not only says that his policies were basically right but weren't marketed properly, but believes it. Makes no effort to plug the actual holes through which Labor drove its successful message. Gets stressed when spot-fires of dissent break out against his leadership.

2) Labor wins in a landslide. Liberal leader finally bows out, leaving divided party room in which talentless morons become "players".

3) Labor given a couple of terms by voters in the absence of a compelling reason to toss them out, seeing as they're so keen on all that politics crap.

Liberals melt down, change leaders and leak ever-less interesting and relevant information. When they feel really cocky they might throw up the occasional vapid and credibility-free offering on Laura Norder and Economics.

4) Labor buggers the economy, basic services (schools, hospitals, roads) fall apart. Liberals stop squabbling for long enough to entertain the possibility they may be in with a chance. Labor government cops a few body blows.

5) Liberals win in a landslide, promising to "clean up the mess". Labor elect a new leader who plugs the actual holes through which the Liberals drove their successful message. Labor dissenters are quickly removed and replaced with fresh faces.

6) The Liberal government almost loses office at its first or second attempt at re-election (Labor can win at least three consecutive terms in the modern era at a canter), the Liberal Premier looks like a goose and gets nervy about far-reaching change, spot-fires of dissent etc. Labor leader looks like a political genius, has momentum, lands a few blows on Liberals who are so risk-averse that they do nothing at all, hence there is no reason to re-elect them. In some cases the Liberal moderates are let out for a run.

7) Go to 1) and start again. The Liberal moderates are disgraced by the election loss, but they stick around hoping for another brief phase-6 moment and will cop the sh!t that comes through the other phases, during which they end up losing preselection.

Phase 1 usually lasts for a single term (2.5 - 4 years), phases 2 - 4 can last a decade or more, 5 - 7 usually go for two terms tops. At posting time, South Australia and Tasmania are in phase 2 (with Bacon, Tasmania was in 3). WA is moving into phase 3, where Victoria, Queensland and the Territories are. NSW is somewhere between 3 and 4 (Brogden was heading for phase 5. Debnam, with Iemma's help, has pulled it back from a post-Brogden 3).

Like dogs returning to their vomit the Liberals are neither smart nor strong enough to break this pattern.

The ALP is full of people who are actually interested in health, education and other community services (though transport remains a mystery to all parties), so they'll continue to dominate the tight matches and keep the trophy, leaving the Liberals to mind the shop for a coupla terms when Labor gets too ill to maintain its birthright.

Breaking this pattern might cut the Gordian knot of federal-state politics in Australia, which is that there are some services best run from the centre and some from the states, and that those responsible for raising the taxes are different to those responsible for spending them.

If I were the world's oldest promising young grant-fed writer, I'd lunge for profundity with something like: and so it goes.