The Liberal Party is still mourning its loss of Government. As pointed out by Maxine McKew on the ABC TV’s Q&A last Thursday, Peter Costello’s Memoirs, written well after the loss, express surprise that a Government that had done so much, which had governed Australia during such a time of prosperity, was rejected by the people. As Maxine said: “They just don’t get it”. They accept that Howard stayed too long, but they don’t accept that they wasted the bounty the country enjoyed, that they failed in a time of great affluence to invest in infrastructure, skills and education, and instead spent profligately. We know that much was spent preferentially on what would give them the best chance of re-election. On the same show, Tony Abbott’s reaction was that the Rudd infrastructure fund was just a slush fund to prop up the States, and dismissed it as “all nonsense”. He just doesn’t get it, he never has.
We all remember his lament about the poor pre-election opinion polls, which were a mystery to him “as we’re such a good Government”. He said the electorate seemed to be sleep-walking, and hoped it would wake up in time for the election. The lament and the mystery continue in the Coalition to this day. ‘Ain’t it awful’ and ‘We was robbed’ remains a prevailing sentiment. Coalition members behave like football supporters whose team had already won four premierships, still considered it the top side, but unfairly lost the fifth Grand Final.
The consequence is intense anger and frustration, exhibited most blatantly in Question Time where they make repeated and rowdy interjections and spurious points of order, and refuse to listen attentively to answers to their own questions. They are having difficulty accepting that they are no longer in power and that the adversary has been chosen by the people to govern the country. They see the Coalition as the natural party to govern and hope Labor in power is just a temporary, albeit unpleasant aberration, a one-term government. So their focus is on winning the next election rather than advancing policies that will be more attractive to the electorate than the Government’s. “We Will Win” was the Sun-Herald’s 20 September banner headlines, paraphrasing Malcolm Turnbull’s “We think we can win the next election”. Judging from what he told the Sun-Herald, producing good new policy seemed secondary to winning. And some Liberals still seem enamoured of some of the old policies that brought them undone, such as John Howard’s IR. Julie Bishop is one that seems still wedded to WorkChoices. [more]
They cannot accept that the Rudd Government has talented people who can govern this country well. They repeat ad nauseam the ‘all talk, no action’ mantra despite frenetic activity by Government ministers. They seem unable to accept that ‘talk’, gathering relevant information, consulting widely with experts and stakeholders, and planning meticulously IS action. Perhaps they are used to less careful planning, such as we saw with Howard’s 10 billion dollar water plan, back of the envelope stuff with little supporting information, almost no Treasury input, and no discussion in Cabinet, Or the Northern Territory intervention that bore the hallmarks of hurried planning that lacked detail. If that is the planning that the Coalition deems satisfactory, it’s no wonder they see Rudd’s careful approach as too slow, all talk and no action. They prefer action-man Howard’s approach. They just don’t get it – they don’t understand that the Rudd approach is process-oriented so that he gets it right first time. Nor does much of the media understand this either. With such crucial endeavours as an ETS, the tax review that encompasses social service payments, rejuvenating and extending education – the education revolution, new federalism, infrastructure development and skills training, one would hope that our Government would approach these complex areas carefully and take the time necessary to get them right. Rudd is determined to do this – his bureaucratic training tells him that this is the best, indeed the only sensible approach.
Until the Coalition stops crying ‘Ain’t it awful’, until it realizes why it lost, until it accepts that there is a well-disciplined, competent new order in Government, until it accepts that thorough process will now precede action, until Coalition members rid themselves of the anger that erodes their effectiveness, until they abandon populism in favour of thoughtful discourse,until they focus on sound and appealing policy instead of just devising a winning strategy, they will continue to have difficulty becoming competitive. It is up to Malcolm Turnbull to effect this transformation. His and the Coalition’s success depend on it.