Monday, November 30, 2009

Remember '96 ...(or the Liberals part 3)

Much is being made over the repeated claims by Malcolm Turnbull that a failure of the Liberals to do a deal on an ETS is a win for the climate change denialists and the sceptics. Turnbull repeatedly claims that the party will be annihalated at an election if it goes with a policy of climate change denial.

There sre two interesting historic comparisons here. The first is about how to behave in opposition. The second is about how to win Government.

The first is the simple interesting story of unfair dismissal laws. When I put to a Liberal recently the proposition that a cabinet Minister when in opposition told me he did not intend to try to "govern from opposition" he replied that this wasn't true as the ALP had rejected the Coalitions change to unfair dismissal laws 44 times. I reminded him that once the Liberals got control of the Senate they implemented that policy - and lost the next election. Lesson - if opopositions try to save Government from bad policy they help the government stay in power.

The second is to remember how John Howard won in 1996. While it is nice to think of this as a stunning repudiation of everything Paul Keating and Labor stood for, all the soft left causes, the reality was somewhat different. In fact, Howard went to the 1996 election with the entire environmental/green movement on his side because of the promise of a $1B environment fund to be created from the proceeds of the sale of the first tranche of Telstra.

While the structure of this was as much about making the sale policy palatable it was also significant in getting on board - or neutralising - a significant block. This was after all the block that Richardson had secured to deliver the 1990 (I think) election for Hawke.

The conservatives within the Liberal party need to learn these lessons.

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