Flat White

Advice for the South Australian Liberal leader

9 February 2017

6:45 PM

9 February 2017

6:45 PM

Dear Steven,

I used to have a boat next to yours at the yacht club and we spoke occasionally. Never about politics, so I was a bit surprised when you popped up in the seat of Norwood, sorry Dunstan.

I was involved a bit myself last century but dropped out and moved away. Coming back, we’ve gone a bit Third World-y, haven’t we? Seems to me that after fifteen years at the helm Labor needs a while out of it to change leaders and re-think policy.

The Labor Right needs to re-assert itself after the disaster of six years of Left Labor government.

Here’s how you could help.

First off, you really do need to be quite firm and even rude about their policies. The economy isn’t growing and is only kept afloat by government spending; by the state government through borrowing for mostly road building and the odd hospital, and by the Commonwealth (still borrowing) on what are really Labor programs like the NDIS, NBN and Gonski school stuff.

The submarine spend, a Liberal initiative, will help a bit when it happens.

Meanwhile, the old urban private sector is collapsing. In the belt from Elizabeth to Christies Beach, through the mostly Labor-held suburbs that you have to win, manufacturing plants have been closing for years, still are, and will be: cars, tyres, oil, food processing, sugar, fridges, air conditioning, washing machines, furniture – you name it, almost.

Whyalla is about to shut down with its steel works. Port Augusta will be lucky to survive without its power plant. Electricity is very expensive and extremely unreliable.

What’s taking their place? Not much, apart from public spending. And that’s mostly short term, which it can only be if it’s financed by debt.

Three to five thousand young people are leaving every year, partly replaced by migrants with lower expectations, and less productivity.


You have to be on the TV every night saying this. Not shadow ministers. Not federal ministers. You. I know. It’s a tough gig, and who wouldn’t prefer to be at the club, where I’ll be.

But that’s the job you sought. Get on with it. Indeed, start doing it properly. If you don’t want to, move over. There is still a year to go until the state election.

The other thing you need is a policy. That’s the thing that says what you would do to make things better. Creating that also is your job.

I know. It’s a bummer. But you have to do it. Get it through the shadow cabinet, Liberal state council, or wherever. Announce it. Re-announce it. Write it down. Read it out every time you open your mouth until you are sick of hearing it. At that stage maybe half the voters will have some idea of what it is.

No one else cares enough. Make sure the shadows keep reading it out, of course. But be aware: all the shadows can come second and still survive. One could even take over from you. It might suit some of them.

But you will be cooked. Humiliated. Again. A turkey in your own time – and in your own mind. I’ve tasted a small version of that biscuit and it’s awful.

People hate this Labor government. They do. It’s made their state a national laughing stock.

It can’t provide electricity. It can’t look after the children in its care. It can’t provide jobs.  It only looks after its own. And right now they are fighting over the few remaining safe seats and the top public sector jobs that sustain their ambition.

People hate that.

They are the world’s best spin merchants, and nothing more.

The people just need half an excuse to vote for you. They did last time, in droves, when you gave them no cause at all. You even told them to vote Labor. They still voted about 53 per cent for you.

Imagine if they had a good reason. Here’s three:

One. Say you will wind down the state’s subsidised renewable energy policy and re-open the Port Augusta power station, powered with local Leigh Creek coal. Cheap and reliable electricity. Again. Like it once was. Explain that clearly to the people, who haven’t studied physics. Get someone to explain it to you.

Two. Say you will do an audit of public sector activity in South Australia to find out what makes it the largest in the country, by far. How come we’ve got more public servants than anyone else, and what earthly good has it done us? Apart from providing more, high paid jobs for Labor’s mates? The rest of us are worse off, with more taxes and lower services.

Three. Finally, say you will attract private industry to South Australia by being able to offer cheaper power, lower taxes and lower operating costs – thanks to points one and two. You know all about the private economy, don’t you? Show us that you do. Explain it clearly.

And keep on remembering: you have to give people the reasons to vote for you.

They already want to.

Just give them the reasons.

Bob Catley, who was a professor and federal Labor MP, now sails quite a lot.

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