Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

It ain't over until it's over

By John Spender - posted Friday, 25 March 2011

An American baseball coach once famously said, "It ain't over until it's over." You could say that of another frontline sport – politics. But even before the bell sounds on the New South Wales election on March 26, the result is as sure a thing as elections were in the old Soviet Union. Barry O'Farrell will be sworn in as Premier, Labor's parliamentary representation decimated, and its party machine will descend into the bitter civil warfare so characteristic in Australian politics of losing parties used to the comforts and privileges of power.

After sixteen years of Labor, what will this mean? I'll start with Barry O'Farrell.

I first met Barry O'Farrell when I was a Liberal MP and he was a young staffer in John Howard's office in the old Parliament House. Working with Howard in the strain, confusion, lows and highs of opposition and then tracking Howard's long political career, O'Farrell would have been struck as I and others were by the quality which more than any other got John Howard to the Prime Ministership : his endurance.


This is the Howard message to aspirant political leaders: no matter how bad things are, how personally wounding the political cycle, the derision of the media and your opponents, and the betrayals of your own political colleagues, if you really, really want office, stay with the game.

Barry O'Farrell was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1995, after a stint as State Director of the Liberal Party. In his time as State Director and then as an opposition member he had seen Liberal leaders come and go. His own ascent to the leadership of the Coalition parties in April 2007, was greeted with a mix of scepticism, derision and indifference. The Coalition seemed to have made of itself the permanent opposition, its performance woeful, its rotating leaderships a cartoonist's delight. O'Farrell, lacking the "charisma" so favoured by the electorate and lauded by the media, would just be another suit on the wrong side of the Speaker's chair.

It then seemed as if nothing would change. But things did change, and he endured, and events played into his hands.

Longevity in government can breed the fatal flaws of complacency, arrogance and recklessness. Incumbents come to believe in their own invincibility and non-accountability for personal conduct or public acts. Discipline erodes. Internal political rivalries and infighting become public. The façade of political unity, individual probity and good government cracks, and the political machine rots from the top down for all to see.

This is what has happened in New south Wales, laced with cronyism, corruption, and incompetence on a scale such that even our public, inured as we are to bad government, turned against Labor.

And so, Barry O'Farrell gets a dream political ride : the Opposition has had to do nothing but be there. But having won, then what?


Our state governments are in the business of raising money, spending it, and management. Think of a giant corporate conglomerate, the owner, manager or supervisor of last resort of a witches' brew of disparate, complex and changing investments and activities which compete among themselves for resources and power. Each is a fiefdom.

Road and rail systems. Courts, police, prisons, and emergency services. The supply and if necessary the rationing of gas, water and electricity to homes and businesses. Sewerage. Dams and desalination plants. Hospitals. City and urban planning. Docks, mines and museums. The environment, parks, sports grounds and nature reserves.

Safety rules for mines, building works, manufacturing businesses, road, rail and ferry systems,, domestic and public swimming pools. Licensing and licensing fees – for pubs, restaurants, cars, drivers, taxis, entertainment. Think about it: is there anything for which you don't need a licence these days?

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

1 post so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

John Spender QC was the Member for North Sydney between 1980-1990. Positions held during opposition included Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Foreign Minister and Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by John Spender

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 1 comment
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy