Monday, July 16, 2012

Speaking to the Choir

As most of you would know, NSW Labor held their NSW State conference at the Sydney Town Hall over the weekend.

These conferences are important - not just because they are a time to for delegates to come together and vote on policy, but also because they are a time for a party to refocus. There are big speeches from leaders, and maybe a change in an important policy - but most importantly the media's attention is on that particular party for a weekend.

Leaders have the chance to give over-arching, wide reaching speeches about what the party believes and stands for. Inevitably, when deserved, the media may be distracted by a particular vote (as it was after the Queensland LNP conference), but if managed well conferences can almost hit a "reset button".

In those circumstances, I thought it would be instructive to have a look at Robertson's speech to the NSW conference to see what we could glean about what he sees as being the big issues.

The full speech can be seen here on the NSW Labor website. It's a long speech, so I'm not going to extract the whole thing here - please have a read of the full version if you get the chance.
In fairness, I should acknowledge that this is a speech to the party faithful, not a televised address.  Some level of "positive reinforcement" should therefore be tolerated in a way that might not otherwise if the audience was more general.

That said, BS is BS wherever it is said. [It has been drawn to my attention that it sounds like I am suggesting that Robertson's acknowledgement of the traditional owners is BS. I should clarify that the   BS comment refers to some of what comes later on - not the acknowledgement. I included the first paragraph just because it was necessary so that you can see his whole photo, and as an intro to what follows.] But more about that later.
I've written about the up-coming by-election here - Keneally has already stepped down, so we can expect that it will be soon. As I have said, the Labor candidate shouldn't be to troubled by the opposition.
It is interesting that Robertson would talk about a mandate. A lot of the talk since the last election (including on this blog) has been about what kind of mandate O'Farrell has. He has done a lot of things that he "neglected to mention" during the campaign - but many of those things were no less than you would expect from a Coalition government.

Unless we are talking about outright deception, I'd don't have too much of a problem with that. Election are all about accentuate the positive, and Labor can't pretend they didn't do the same thing.

But the reason the word "mandate" caught my eye was because so much has been said about O'Farrell's "blank cheque" and about precisely what kind of mandate the election win gave him.  The recognition of this mandate in Robertson's speech is, in that context, a little confusing.

Sadly for Robertson, however, his assertion about the public caring about what O'Farrell does isn't really borne out. The polls have barely moved an inch since the election.

I've speculated about why that might be here. True it is that there have been protests and petitions - but it seems that the vast majority of the people upset by O'Farrell's action were always in the ALP/Greens column. Either that or, despite everything what has happened, they still see O'Farrell as being better than the alternative.
Of course that's all 100% true. The problem is that O'Farrell was never boxed into making that a promise. Labor's ineptitude in the months and years leading up to the election meant that O'Farrell could get away with vague, non-specific statements such as the one quoted above.

Not that he has shown any reluctance to break actual promises when needed - but Robertson should perhaps have a look at his own party and wonder why performed so poorly that the voters were willing to elect someone who so obviously dodged actually promising to do anything.

Speaking of broken promises:
Now, in fairness, the gaol isn't "closing' per se - but what has happened (a massive reduction in inmate and staffing numbers) is certainly outside the "spirit" of the promise.

The issue was not helped, in my view, by the clumsy way that the matter was handled by the local member, Chris Gulaptis.

The only thing I would like to say is that I always find it a little distasteful when politicians go on site and sympathise with people - standing on a picket-line and purporting to be "worried about what would become of their town" - but maybe I'm just letting my cynicism show.
Tough to argue with any of that - except to say that he hasn't actually broken a promise yet, and selling the retailers was Labor's idea first.
Promises about the cost of living have always been, and remain, pretty stupid promises to make. In the first place, there is not as great deal that politicians (especially state politicians) can do to reduce the cost of living.

Second of all, Australians have a truly remarkable to whine about how expensive everything has gotten when in fact no such thing has occurred. You're on a hiding to nothing if you promise to keep cost of living low, as Kevin Rudd learned when he was Prime Minister.
There is a long (and slightly over-dramatic) bit here about what has happened with the National Parks (as I have written about here), but suffice to say it is a fair criticism and one we will, I am sure, be hearing a lot more about in the years to come.
Naturally Robertson is right to recognize that Labor has a pretty poor record of late when it comes to the honesty and trustworthiness of the people Labor has entrusted with power. It is strange to see him bring it up, however, until he continues:
This is a good idea - it's such a good idea it is a little baffling that this wasn't the policy in the first place.

Two things I want to say about it. Firstly, it is naive to think that all undesirable candidates will be excluded because of this process. Dishonest people don't wear a sign around their neck, and this "Committee of Party Elders" will, I am sure, not be immune to the temptation to approve candidates because they can win, rather than because they are the kind of people Labor want going forward.

Second of all, this sits at odds with the direct election of the party leader that has been bandied about of late. Either Labor trusts its members to choose the right person, or it does not - I don't really care either way, but to pretend you can have both at once is a little silly.
This is a good policy, although precisely what it is that announcing a policy two and a half years out from an election (and six and a half years out from a winnable election) proves is a little beyond me. But I can't fault the policy, even if it is just for show.
This is something we had better get used to - because we are going to be hearing a lot more of it.

The biggest political problem for O'Farrell with his changes to the Worker's Comp laws is that it is just so darn easy for Labor to hit the emotions of the electorate.

Between now and the next election there will no doubt be thousands of people whose treatment at the hands of the Worker's Comp laws will, at least intuitively, seem unfair. Whether it is or isn't of course is not the point - injured workers will be paraded before the electorate to demonstrate what O'Farrell's changes mean for the worker. It is easy, it is effective, and it's going to go on and on.

It may be a few years until we have an election, but it looks like Robertson has already started campaigning. Whether he is still there for the actual campaign remains to be seen.

1 comment:

  1. This is a good policy

    Not really, cos we've just seen Federal Labor cut such a program.

    The reason - because noone wants to do maths and science courses. Even subsidising the proverbial out of the HECS/HELP for them didn't see an uptick in enrolments.

    They need to look at why people aren't doing Math/Science courses and then decide what to do about it (if a state Government can do anything). But something tells me that the cost of tuition isn't the reason (what with HECS/HELP)....