12 April 2006

And govern New South Wales

Costello was right to knock back NSW on the GST share, and it pains me to say that because I live in NSW. The State is appallingly run and has been for a decade at least.

Tricky Micky Egan surfed an economic boom the like of which we haven't seen for a generation, and the State coffers have next to nothing to show for it. He managed Carr Government ministers by having a hissy fit - the wharfies and bricklayers who used to make up Labor Governments would have tossed him down a staircase rather than put up with his nonsense, but Carr always stood up for him in the absence of any real clue about economics. The effete bunch of ex-staffers encrusted on the government benches of State Parliament wouldn't know how to put a wake-up call behind the play anyhow, so you had this pantomime where the State Budget was always in surplus provided you didn't count certain key items of expenditure and imagined that certain moneys had been received when in fact they hadn't. The routine buggering of state-owned enterprises such as the utilities have left NSW with pitiful infrastructure at a time when utilities need comprehensive overhaul.

Iemma bleats about the State's financial position as though it were just a situation, like the weather, but if he had any balls he could have stood up to Egan. If he had though, he wouldn't be Premier. My language fails at this ineptitude, but it was ever so.

In keeping with the pantomime theme the Liberals go all red-faced when talking about the State's finances. They haven't got a plan for fixing it and are just fingering the chink in Iemma's armour in their clumsy way. The Liberals generally, and Debnam particularly, overestimate the importance of economic management in State politics anyhow. Economic performance is one element in the delivery of services. It's the nature of those services that determines whether a state is run well or badly.

The problem with the rise of the Christian right (they have the right to say they're Christian, even though actual good works and charity are scarcely seen) in the NSW Liberals is that they have no idea about the delivery of those services. Building a new road or rail line will benefit families, but it may disadvantage families in its path. Medical technology and administration are moving at a rapid pace, far too fast for the dull wits of the NSW Liberals' Taliban: the nearest thing they have to a clue is to, say, complain about gay nurses, which will drive down the appeal of a profession suffering dire shortages. Suppressing abortion is a political non-starter, and while they are smart enough to know this they are dumb enough to think they can sneak it through regardless. Everyone is in favour of standards and principles in education, but preaching at children or banning sex-education will only alienate another generation as happened in the 1950s/60s without any discernible improvement in skills and employability (or even the liberal values of criticism and questioning, yer Taliban are big on obedience and rote learning).

All of this makes for a Liberal Party that is genuinely unappealing, fronted by a leader who is too weak to stand up to them, and who therefore is going to allow an appalling government to remain in office indefinitely.

Moderate liberals look back on the leadership of John Brogden fondly, a time when all the clouds that lour'd upon their house (the demise of the Fahey Government, Howard's purge of moderates from the Federal party and the perceived defections of Ruddock and Coonan) seemed buried. Actually, at the time the rudely-stamped moderates were lukewarm and unfocused in their support for him - though try finding anyone to admit that now. Brogden was fully awake up to the Taliban, who in turn regarded him as a 'useful idiot' for his popularity and thought he'd give them carte blanche in office. They became frustrated when he stood up to them. All that Brogden was accused of can be found in spades among the Taliban and their fellow travellers. Debnam underestimates their clout and determination and his own ability to handle them - his first interview on ABC's Stateline saw him choke rather than take them on.

And now the moderates, rueful in retrospect, toast Brogden as "king o'er the water". The Taliban haven't hit their peak yet but their fall is preordained more firmly than any preselection deal. This may take some time to work through, and may require a bit of intervention from those who are sick of Labor but who can't see any alternative.

It is the nature of political commentators to make ill-informed predictions, so here's mine:

2006: Liberal preselections replace some duds with other duds. Some are Taliban duds, some are newbies perceived as no threats to anyone, while moderate liberals (far too many of whom can fairly be regarded as duds) fare no better than they ever do.

March 2007: Debnam leads Libs to bit of a swing against Labor but not nearly enough. Brogden returns as Member for Pittwater, McTaggart thanks Iemma for f*cking him over on Mona Vale Hospital.

2007 sometime: Chris Hartcher, Member for Terrigal, retires from politics. Replaced by Legislative Council leader Michael Gallacher.

2007-08: Debnam steadily undermined by Taliban, replaced as leader by Gallacher.

2008-10: Gallacher becomes one-note Johnny on law-n-order, on other areas of policy mouths platitudes placed into his mouth by Taliban. Uncomfortable at being perceived as front for Taliban, even less able to stand up to them than Debnam.

2010: Liberal Party faces decision - does it want to be a Taliban party or not? David Clarke dragged into spotlight snarling and self-pitying like the little man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz, once people get a good look at him his appeal shrivels.

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