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Labor isnít the only party in need of reform

By Chris Bowen - posted Friday, 22 July 2005

One thing the Labor Party has going for it as it works to find its way back into government is the abundance of free advice. Commentators, pundits and journalists aren’t backwards in coming forward to make suggestions on remedies to what they identify as the range of calamities and weaknesses besetting Labor.

It doesn’t seem to matter that this advice is often contradictory. Labor must be bold and take risks we are told. The bold and risky policy of opposing tax cuts was a failure, the same people say. Labor must embrace new blood. We must bring back former shadow ministers from the backbench. We don’t have enough talent on the backbench. Too much talent is on the back bench and not on the front. The cacophony of contradictory advice is seemingly endless.

This is fair enough, we in the ALP are happy to listen to advice from almost any quarter, and I suppose it’s our job to sift through the contradictory advice and work out which bits are applicable.


But who is giving the Liberal Party free advice while seemingly every commentator is happy to provide the ALP with analysis of our seemingly endless problems? Does not the Liberal Party have a series of flaws and weaknesses which need to be fixed?

Ahh, I can hear readers saying, the Liberal Party is in government, therefore whatever they do works! A more thorough view would recognise that Labor can win the next election with the same swing achieved by Kim Beazley in 1998, and if current state governments are re-elected in the mean time (as is quite likely), the most senior Liberal in public office in Australia will then be the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Campbell Newman.

Arguably, there is also a higher test for the Government than the Opposition to ensure its team is a strong as possible. After all, they are the ones charged with the responsibilities of delivering the goods for the Australian people.

John Howard’s personal skills and dominance should not be mistaken for some sort of all encompassing superiority of the Liberal Party over Labor.

At the risk of giving our political opponents a helping hand, it pays to even the ledger of commentary and analyse some of the underlying weaknesses that the Liberal Party suffers:

  • There is too much factionalism in the appointment of Ministers. John Howard has appointed loyalists to the ministry rather than people who could win their positions on merit. The ministry suffers under the weight of people who would be almost unemployable in the corporate sector, like Fran Bailey, Jim Lloyd and Deanne Kelly. Not even large ministerial offices and bureaucratic support can make these people look good … imagine how they would fair as shadow ministers! Meanwhile people like Chris Pyne, Andrew Robb, Sharman Stone and Marise Payne stagnate on the backbench looking for some mechanism to make a contribution.
  • There is too much deadwood on the backbench. Many trees have died in recent analysis of the abilities of Labor’s backbench. But what of the Government? Alan Cadman has hogged one of the Liberals safest seats for 30 years and has risen to the dizzying heights of parliamentary secretary before being demoted. Former ministers like Geoff Prosser and Wilson Tuckey hold on and refuse to make way for new blood. What contribution to the national policy debate is made by notables like Don Randall, Barry Wakelin or David Tollner?
  • A lack of professionalism in the extra parliamentary party has seen amateurs appointed to senior roles in the organisational wing of the party. This has contributed to disastrous state and territory results. Running a state branch of a major political party is an onerous job which is not suited to late transfers from the business world. Labor has developed an effective machine based on its state secretaries receiving years of training. While federally the Liberal Party has a similar model, the lack of professionalism at the state level has eaten away at the party’s reputation and campaigning ability.

When the Federal Government eventually falls, the above factors will have played a role. Then, no doubt, we will be hearing a lot about the weaknesses in the Federal Liberal Party.

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About the Author

Chris Bowen is the Federal Assistant Treasurer and Member for Prospect.

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All articles by Chris Bowen

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