Long slog on the bench may end for Liberals

Karam C Ramrakha ex Fiji politician and a self-confessed elections and news junkie writes of the doom that faces Kristina Keneally on March 26. Mr Ramrakha is a practising lawyer (email karamcramrakha@gmail.com.), phone (02) 98082760.

By Karam Ramrakha

On Remembrance Day 1975, Gough Whitlam, on being sacked, uttered the famous “Well may we say God save the Queen but nothing will save the Governor General.” Paraphrasing this, we may say that of Kristina Keneally, “Well may we say ”˜God save Queen Keneally but nothing will save the NSW Labor Party’.

Harking again to Gough Whitlam, in the elections which followed his sacking, his party was routed, and Malcolm Fraser who has never told us the real story of his collaboration/conspiracy with Sir John Kerr to sack Whitlam ended with a thumping majority. Barry O’Farrel is likely to have a massive majority if present poll predictions are correct. But Malcolm found his numbers a real headache and Barry will find himself with a similar headache with its surfeit of numbers. Do not forget that politicians all suffer from enormous ego and soon the caucus will be squabbling for spoils. But let me analyse the matter further.

In the 1950’s as a Law student in Sydney I joined Young Labor, and attended lectures at Sussex Street. The Indians of my generation were drawn to British Labor Party and its socialist agenda. For long the only support for India’s independence came from Laborites. To me the icing on that cake was the fact that it was a Labor Government headed by Clement Attlee who in 1947 granted India its freedom. What did/does the  Labor parties of Britain and Australia stand for is a matter of debate.

Essentially, I saw the Labor Party as a party dedicated to the disadvantaged, the poor and the working class and to entrench for them  decent working conditions.  Labor’s roots lay in the working class, “concerned and caring” rich and lastly, its intellectuals. But the party in Britain and Australia would drift away from its roots, and land into trouble. Harold Blair prevented the demise of British Labor Party by calling it “New Labor” as a middle of the road party.

In Australia, we have had a succession of leaders like Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, Bob Carr took the party away from its moorings and are now wondering how to get it back. When Bob Hawke said no child need to be living in poverty by 1999 he was echoing Labor’s deep concern for the poor and the disadvantaged.

Paul Keating brought in reforms in finance and banking which went far to the right and which would have caused many of his predecessors to turn in their graves. Carr disadvantaged all those who suffered personal injury and thus gave a tremendous leg up to the insurance companies. Now as Kristina Keneally makes a desperate last minute bid to retain power the leaders have come out of the woodwork and are trying to gain new members.

No leader has the courage to say NSW’s problems cannot be solved. There are too many people and  not enough resources.  The real problem is the capital Sydney with its narrow streets and really nowhere to expand. Carr was right in saying  Sydney was overpopulated.

Both major sides in NSW are now dashing out the promises. Kristina now says what she promises will be made into law. Remember Paul Keating’s LAW set in stone. At least Howard was honest to say as the saying goes that promises will be like pie crust made to be broken.

Leaders now have to give us set in stone, non-revocable promises or Mr Abbott will say – only believe what is scripted.

So we have an auction of promises. Pork barreling, to put it mildly. Then there is the quality of leadership. What credentials did Kristina have to become the leader. Even  the man she deposed, Nathan Rees, said she would be a puppet. A bad start.

She has not made any such move that would establish her as a credible leader in voters’ eyes. Trying to sell the farm smacked of leaving the Liberals with “scorched earth”. As a Labor man I shall vote for her of course. But there is one plus. Those whose puppet she might have been and who would have been pulling the strings are gone and she is now  left with the luxury of a young new team. But what she can promise is limited and she knows it.

On the other hand we have Barry O’Farrel who simply has to go through the motions and Premiership, the prize he coveted as he languished  in Opposition for 16 years, falls into his lap. I also  spent 16 years in Opposition and believe me it is a soul destroying experience because essentially Oppositions are usually quite powerless. They can make all the noise but in the end will be crushed by the brutal majority of  the Government.

But both sides, and, in particular, O’Farrel has to be careful not to make rash and unfulfillable promises. No Magic Barry. As a wag  said to me he will try to be an O Fagician. I was bemused when the Liberal MP who won the Penrith by elections a few months ago made the promise that the Liberals will make trains run on time. With and what, and with whom?

As I say, too many people and not enough resources. O’F who decried the 4 year fixed term will now revel in it. We will find that he will be totally ineffective and his real test would be to disprove that.

But a warning note. In the Federal elections Labor candidates were able to stem the tide and  Abbott has condemned NSW Liberals for that. What if the electorate decided the two sides were Tweedledum and Tweedledee and better the devil you know rather than the devil you do not know.

O’Farrel seems to have lost his lustre  and there is a real danger if he simply tries to drift into power the voters will turn away from him. We, Labor supporters, are somewhat disillusioned and to the point where we dare not make a pitch for Labor to be returned except to hope that those who voted Labor in the past will return to vote it in again.

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