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Opposition Campaigns Without Policies

March 14, 2011

Campaigning with Ryan Park, Labor's candidate for Keira in the Illawarra


In this election name the difference between Labor and the Coalition on schools? On hospitals? On law enforcement?

Hey, isn’t state politics supposed to be about schools, hospitals, trains, police? In the 1999 election the Liberals said they’d privatise electricity, recruit 2500 extra police and force the Governor back into Government House. In 2003 the Liberals said they would have mandatory minimum sentences and recruit two thousand extra teachers. There was policy on offer.

In 2011 what is the Coalition saying it would do differently on health, schools, policing? The commitment to widen the M5 is probably the only policy difference the public could nominate, the only one that filled a front page. Their commitment on new rail links is the one I spelt out in my June 2005 State Conference speech. (See my blog March 7, The Transport Plan All Endorse). Meanwhile public transport, with on-time running at 96 percent, is not shifting votes.

You haven’t heard about schools because the NSW curriculum is the benchmark for the rest of Australia. Class sizes have been reduced in the early years of schooling and test results in NSW beat those from the other states. Schools figured in other state elections – the 1999 election started with a teachers’ strike – but they don’t figure in this one.

Hospital emergency services lead those in the rest of Australia and all the major teaching hospitals have been rebuilt. This is not like the 1988 election where the Opposition was able to allege hospitals were being held together by “chicken wire”. The government is even rebuilding some it had already rebuilt once before!

Meanwhile a corruption-resistant police force, transformed by the reforms of The Royal Commission faithfully implemented, is putting downward pressure on crime. Law enforcement and crime figures don’t figure in this election.

NSW has kept its AAA rating through the GFC as a result of a wise budgetary policy that between 1995 and 2005 retired $10 billion in debt while spending $61 billion in new infrastructure.

As I said in The Melbourne Age last Sunday, “This government ought to be headed for nothing more than one of those routine, swing-of-the-pendulum defeats. The state hasn’t lost its triple-A [credit] rating. You haven’t got crying deficiencies in basic services. They don’t figure in the campaign at all. It’s not a law-and-order campaign, not a hospital-crisis campaign, not a let’s-fix-up-our-schools campaign. None of that.”

Where are the policy differences? Where, apart from the M5, is the standout, symbolic, headline-grabbing opposition policy? This is not a criticism of Barry O’Farrell’s tactics. His tactics have been vindicated. The media have bought them and he’s coasting.

The Government’s wounds – ministerial instability, the Metro, electricity – are self-inflicted and predate her premiership which makes Kristina Keneally’s day-to-day spirit, cheerfulness and drive all the more remarkable.

One Comment
  1. Commodus permalink
    March 16, 2011 1:54 pm

    The question is, is there a Greiner-style bottom drawer full of slash-and-burn policies, or will the O’Farrell Government be exactly as it seems – slowmoving, vague and replete with excuses for failure?

    The downside of O’Farrell’s small target strategy is that it has created vast expectations. As Premier, O’Farrell will have no specific promises at risk of being broken. But his vague assurances on every subject have built expectations that everything from trains to schools to cloudy skies, will magically resolve themselves in his first 100 days. And when this fails to occur, what next for O’Farrell?

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