So, we have a change of the guard in the Liberal Opposition. I’m not sure that this is going to work that well. The worry I have is that the leadership teams of all parties need to have complementary personalities, a well-oiled partnership and a shared vision.
I served in the Assembly under the Chief Ministerships of Kate Carnell, Gary Humphries, Jon Stanhope and Katy Gallagher. I knew Rosemary Follett and Trevor Kaine quite well and I know Andrew Barr extremely well.
All of these Chief Ministers had strengths and weaknesses. But it was their strengths which made them successful. Their weaknesses were different and had some say in their departure.
I served with Jon Stanhope, Gary Humphries, Bill Stefaniak, Zed Seselja as Opposition leaders and I served in the Assembly long enough to get to know Jeremy Hanson. Again, they had strengths and weaknesses. But frankly, only Jon Stanhope and Zed Seselja were effective Opposition leaders in my view.
Kate Carnell led from the front in a “catch me if you can” style, going full speed ahead to advance the interests of Canberra. For a while her team followed. But it was her ego which brought her unstuck. Remember the Bruce Stadium grass? The overnight loan? The car crash after a cricket match? The media regarded her as highly newsworthy and indeed embraced her style until they grew tired of the stunts. When the media turned on her, it was only a matter of time.
Jon Stanhope’s team put relentless pressure on the Government of the day and it resulted in Kate’s resignation and the ascent of Gary Humphries.
Whilst the adage is that governments lose elections, oppositions don’t win them, it is also true that an Opposition must help a government lose the election. This happened for the 2001 election. An accident prone Liberal/Moore coalition was helped to defeat by a strong Stanhope opposition.
The opposition didn’t lay a glove on the Stanhope government in the 2001-2004 period. The leadership team of Stanhope and Ted Quinlan was far too strong for the parade of leaders and deputies which ensued in that term of the Assembly. They were out-played, out-classed and out-manoeuvred. The result was a majority Labor Government in 2004, with the lead Labor candidates in each of the three electorates achieving over a quota.
The Liberals didn’t contribute much to the slide in popularity of the Government in 2004-2008. The fall from grace of the Stanhope government had more to do with the unpopular policies at the time; the GDE, public art, an inefficient and expensive bus system, perceptions of the personality of the Chief Minister but the Opposition did nothing to endear it to the electorate.
The revolving door shut under the iron fist of Zed Seselja and he moulded the Opposition into a reasonably coherent voice. This time Labor changed its chief minster and Katy Gallagher ascended to the throne. But her style was difficult to attack. The Liberals’ fixation with playing the man instead of the ball worked against them. Personal attack became the game plan and it merely showed the team to be bullies and this was not a good look.
Nevertheless, Seselja came within a whisker of pulling it off. The result in 2012 was 8 all with Rattenbury the kingmaker. Like it was ever going to be a Liberals/Greens coalition! Nuh!
So, mid-stream a change of leaders on both sides occurred. Both leaders took off to the Senate and left Andrew Barr facing Jeremy Hanson. Both were good performers in the Chamber and both had good oratorical skills. But the leader/deputy combination was weighted on Labor’s side. The Barr/Simon Corbell team versus the Hanson/Alistair Coe team was a massive mismatch. Alistair Coe was never going to be able to match it with Simon Corbell.
As an aside, the Liberals should think themselves lucky that Simon Corbell has retired. They would be belted yet again.
So, what of the current crop of leaders? Barr/Yvette Berry versus Coe/Nicole Lawder! Another mismatch, methinks.
Andrew Barr and Alistair Coe will make good copy for the media in the Assembly to come but it is Barr who has the depth, the experience, the temperament, the resources and the mentoring. Coe cut his teeth (as Barr did) in the young politicians’ club, in his case the Young Liberals. He hasn’t had much time in the Assembly. He hasn’t performed all that well in the Committee system because he was overshadowed by Seselja and Smyth and he hasn’t had much effective mentoring.
I suspect he will grow as a member of the Assembly but I fear that as my mate, Ian, says: “He won’t last a clean shirt!”.
Labor has a Deputy with some small experience in the Assembly and as a minister and experience with the media. The Liberals have a Deputy with some small experience as an MLA but not much else.
The descent of Jeremy Hanson will be a massive negative in the Liberal’s quest for the Holy Grail. I will be watching the performance of Mark Parton and Elizabeth Lee to see if either of them have the goods to match the rather strong and experienced Labor team.
As for the Greens – it is Groundhog Day!