It was probably expecting a little too much for Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee to deliver much policy at her National Press Club speech this week.
But three years into this term, there was hope that Canberrans would learn more about the Canberra Liberals’ plans for the ACT if they managed to take government next October, apart from 35 previously announced commitments listed in a glossy handout.
This was more a branding exercise and reset for Ms Lee so she could do the ‘vision thing’ and show party members and supporters she has the goods to be Chief Minister.
That she did successfully, with a slick backstory video showcasing her family and migrant background, an accomplished presidential-style speech and a sometimes combative round with journalists.
The one policy announcement she did make – $100 million for suburban works – was not big on detail, but that really wasn’t the point.
Ms Lee was staking out her territory in the suburbs where rates keep rising for what some feel is little return as the Labor-Greens Government pursues vanity projects like light rail.
It was about getting back to basics and setting priorities.
This was forgotten people stuff, in line with Liberal tradition and values.
Part of Ms Lee’s pitch is that she is a progressive Liberal and a change from the previously hard right and socially conservative leadership that has failed to gain office in 22 years.
But she still needs to have points of difference and accommodate the right-wing elements in her team and those that still dominate the party organisation.
Ms Lee supported the Yes case in the Voice referendum, believes human-induced climate change is real, and backs the right of the ACT to debate and legislate all issues, including voluntary assisted dying.
She is a different Liberal leader, but also understands she can’t just be a mirror image of her opponent.
To this end, she is willing to tap anxieties about the cost of living to qualify her support for action on climate change by committing to not phase out gas or internal combustion engine vehicles, something straight out of the UK Tory playbook as it backpedals on its decarbonisation commitments.
She won’t be soft on crime, promising more police, reviewing bail and sentencing laws, and repealing drug decriminalisation laws.
On the latter, Ms Lee is happy to evoke parents’ sleepless nights and businesses fretting about drug-addled criminals.
Hell, you can even keep your wood heaters.
Whether that resonates with the majority of Canberrans will only be known on election night.
An area that Ms Lee will need to defuse is one that has brought the Liberals undone before – how they will pay for promised cuts to rates and charges and cheaper land for detached housing while at the same time committing to spend more on things like maintaining the suburbs.
The government is already accusing the Liberals of Trojan horse statements that really mean taking the razor to programs.
Ms Lee is too wily to fall into this trap, saying all policies will be fully costed as required and hinting at savings to be made through an overhaul of the government’s “dodgy” procurement practices.
It may seem political kryptonite to argue for “efficiencies”, but finding areas to trim is not necessarily a bad thing.
Given the government’s acknowledged procurement issues, the state of the budget, and the loss of the ACT’s coveted AAA credit rating, economic management will be a live issue.
Then there is the ‘tram’.
Ms Lee is making a virtue out of its early withdrawal of support for light rail, and there will no doubt be some sleight of hand during the year about the billions saved to at least give the impression that there will be more money to spend elsewhere.
We will have to wait for an actual policy to see what will replace light rail beyond just carrying on with the current arrangement.
It’s a risky position given light rail’s popularity and its endorsement in successive elections, but one the Liberals feel is worth taking.
Ms Lee also took aim at how the government has run schools and the health system.
The Liberals do have an education policy, committing to evidence-based methods to improve literacy and numeracy, among other things.
Significantly, Catholic Education and the independent schools’ lobby were in the room.
The government remains vulnerable on the performance of the hospital system, but we will have to wait to see how the Liberals will fix it, although Ms Lee took delight in calling out Chief Minister Andrew Barr for blaming the Abbott Government budget from a decade ago for the ongoing problems.
But her key message to voters was that if you are unhappy and want real change, then don’t look to the Greens. The Liberals offer the only real alternative.
Although winning a majority is probably a longshot, the Liberals’ best chance may be to gain the backing of any Independent that might come through the fray, something Ms Lee is open to.
If nothing else, the Press Club event showed Ms Lee is up for a fight and willing to do whatever it takes to win. But she will need a united team and organisation behind her.
It remains to be seen whether the party has learnt the lessons of the disastrous 2020 federal election, detailed in its own review of the campaign.