Friday, April 06, 2007

NSW Liberal Party Leadership Change

On Wednesday, the NSW Parliamentary Liberal Party unanimously elected Barry O'Farrell as its new leader, replacing Peter Debnam. The new leader quickly made a number of statements, distancing himself from Peter Debnam's leadership and policies; stating that the Party had recognised that it needed to change; and that he was not going to be (Liberal Prime Minister) John Howard's stooge.

If the change is to be more than a cosmetic face-lift, then the Liberal Party must change some of its policies. Doing so will test Barry O'Farrell's statement about not being the Prime Minister's stooge in NSW.

Policies that I believe they must change include:

  • Public Service: removing 20,000 public servants. (on Thursday 5 April, the policy was dropped)
  • Education; where a firm commitment to better fund public education, including schools and TAFE must be backed by policy. That policy should include support for centralised staffing, including centralised hiring and firing. Experiences in the US and Britain have shown that it increases the possibilities of inappropriate hiring and firing.
  • Health; where Area Health Services should be retained, and the policy of local boards is dropped, because they become limited in vision and scope, wanting resources that perhaps could be better spread over a larger regional area.
  • Police: a commitment to the Separation of Powers, where politicians do not ever interfere with police operations, or instruct police on who to arrest, and on what charges. We are not a Police State, and such a concept eats at the heart of any democracy.
  • Industrial Relations: commitment to, and retention of, the NSW Industrial Relations system, including State Awards, and a NSW Arbitration Commission
  • Government and Public Servant Ethics: ensuring that politicians, especially Ministers and Premiers, and Public Servants cannot work for companies with whom they have had direct or indirect dealings involving significant State Government contracts. The exclusion of employment time should be at least 1 full Parliamentary term (4 years). Furthermore, a policy that requires Ministers to actually be accountable to Parliament for the actions of their Ministry is required. Too often in NSW and Federal Parliaments, Ministers duck and weave to avoid. Accountability is not the same as personal responsibility, although in some cases Ministers need to take responsibility, too.

Instituting the type of policy changes outlined above will not be easy, since many of them clash with Prime Minster John Howard's policies (official, and unofficial). The changes he does make will determine whether Barry O'Farrell meant what he said about changes being needed, and about not being John Howard's stooge, or whether his leadership is just "air-brushing" - a soft sell of the policies largely determined by John Howard. Many of those are proving to be electorally unpopular.

The Analyst