The Liberal Party seems to be hell-bent on self-destruction at present. Incompetent and corrupt Labor Governments in Western Australia and NSW have remained in power while a Liberal Party leader in WA sniffs the seat of a female employee and the leader in NSW tries to sit on the fence in relation to electricity privatisations – eventually he 'swings around'. Federally we have Brendon Nelson trying to cut taxes on alco-pops in the face of a clear binge drinking problem among youth that induces horrific externalities (for example via road deaths) and also seeking to reduce the excise tax on petrol in the face of higher international energy prices and the prospect of climate change problems. The policy confusion is obvious – there seems to be little respect for Liberal policy principles and instead an obvious and almost embarrassing populism that seeks to regain leadership by offering only superficially attractive policies.
In this setting treachery within the Liberal Party is almost predictable. The Victorian Liberal leadership has been viciously attacked in a blog apparently organised by employees at state Liberal Headquarters – incidentally the blog can still be viewed. Now Brendon Nelson claims that the Shadow Treasurer has leaked an email that showed he did not support the cut in excise on petrol. It is a fiasco for a Party presenting itself as an alternative government!
The problems of inept policy and of intra-Liberal Party treachery are linked. It is imperative for the Party to speak with one voice on policy positions that are democratically agreed to. It is also imperative that the battle for political power within the Party remain within the Party. To accept a position where insiders can attack the Party leadership in the public arena is to accept permanent opposition and permanent political irrelevance. But this unity will be much easier to maintain if the leadership espouse policy positions based on Liberal Party principles rather than opportunism and cheap populism.
There is a broader dimension to this issue as well. The Labor Party is composed very largely of power hungry incompetents whose devotion to symbolism and the glib response will damage Australia. They need to be held to account for their political position when they get it wrong and they deserve support when they get it right. Democracy does not work without effective political opposition and currently the Liberal Party is behaving like a bad joke – not an effective opposition.