Promises not fulfilled

This Pearce Annual Conference will mark my end of term as Divisional President, a milestone that I view with mixed feelings. I was elected by the Division with a clear mandate to try to improve our Party and to make it more responsive to the organizational wing. In that I feel that I have failed and indeed I believe that the Party generally is in worse shape than I can ever remember….. and this from a self confessed optimist! But it is not all my fault…honest!

The journey
Going back four years ago to when I was first elected I, like the rest of the Division, could see that there appeared to be a lack oflistening and clear self interest to the detriment to the Party but at that time the root cause was not evident to me. Now after four years of being actively involved in the Executive of the Party I feel that I have a tolerable understanding of the dynamics in the Party. Considering that I earn my living as a consultant analyzing organizational performance and that I have no Parliamentary ambitions it might be considered that I am tolerably qualified to comment…usual disclaimers of course! This end of term is a good time to share some views, not as a President but as an ordinary member of the Party who, as President, has had the opportunity to experience a view of the Party not experienced by most ordinary members of our Division. The views are my own personal opinions and in no way represent any official view. Each will make their own judgment as to the accuracy of my comments.

The problems
When loyal and long standing members within our Division are telling me that although they have been active Liberals all their lives that they will simply not vote Liberal at the next State election – then I know that I and the rest of the Party have failed them and we have a real problem and that is not just some figment of my imagination. It is far too easy to be drawn into the symptoms of the disease rather than the root cause and to become involved in personality based issues. I have certainly been irritated at the lack of natural justice in the Party, the lack of transparency, the dirty dealings and the blatent disregard of the Party good for pure self interest, but rather than ranting on about such issues (which some might suggest are just politics) I would like to share my personal views on the root cause of our woes. Somewhere along the road, dating back to Noel Crichton Brown and ( as widely reported in the press) continued by his successors Senators Ian Campbell and Chris Ellison, Federal Parliamentarians and wannabe Parliamentarians now have an absolute dominance of influence throughout your Party. Any person in the Party seeking a career in politics, be it Federal or State, needs the patronage of these Senatorial powerbrokers. It is understandable that voices of concern are spoken in hushed voices behind closed doors. The power of the Federal Senators is now doubt a source of great bragging rights in the rarified air of Canberra. It is unfortunate that more consideration is not given to the longer term effects of their actions on the very Party that supported them to power.

The facts as I see them
Our membership is a fraction of what it once was, we have enormous difficulty obtaining financial support from our traditional supporters and in the organizational wing we appear to be financially unsustainable and we pin our hopes on obtaining public funding to support our administration. I have no doubt that this is seen as an easier solution than actually making the Party more attractive for people to join or to support. As a taxpayer I might question the merit of funding Political parties that are unable to attract financial support from the community and their members. In my opinion the State Parliamentary wing is now terribly divided and even the most optimistic would concede that we are unlikely to win power in the foreseeable future. I do appreciate that it is terribly bad form to be so forthright in our Party, yet those are my views and it serves no good interest by not being forthright and airing them to fellow members. I also have no doubt that the factional madness will resurface at the next pre-selections as the fighting over safe Liberal seats intensifies. One has to ask the question as to where we will find good Liberal candidates prepared to spend the time and resources to win all those marginal or Labor seats. Interesting times ahead I suspect but it does not bode well for the quality of our future Liberal parliamentarians. In any other commercial organization the stakeholders would be calling for drastic reform and revitalization of the organisation. What stops us?….the words of Machiavelli are so true “ Reformers have strong opponents in those that benefit from the status quo and only mild support from others” Those in the Party who should be showing leadership and encouraging change are actually the ones who are obstacles to fundamental improvement.

The Nightmare scenario
While we might be at the lowest point ever in this State we are certainly riding high at the Federal level, having a sound economy and bulging coffers. Few could deny the enormous economic achievements of the Howard Government yet sooner or later we will lose power Federally and we then have to ask what then? With a hopelessly fractured and dysfunctional organizational wing in the States and no ability to raise funds or offer a credible alternative to Labor…. what will the future hold for the Liberal Party? Labor in charge of Treasury Federally and in all the States this would surely be a nightmare scenario for all true Liberals. It would most certainly be a bitter inheritance for the Liberal Party if the current Howard Government were actually both sowing and fertilizing the seeds of our future destruction, as a Party we would have been left with a terrible legacy. In my view a continuation of the current behaviour patterns significantly increases the likelihood of that nightmare scenario.

Where to from here?
Well those who know me well know that I am actually an incurable optimist but at this time I do confess to finding the immediate future in the WA Liberal Party to be very bleak. Although I do understand it when people resign from the Party, I would suggest that this is not the wisest course of action to take. Indeed I would encourage all the members in Pearce to actively participate, to encourage their friends to join and to make our branches and our Division strong. In a time when branches in other Divisions are disappearing, by being active we can exert a greater influence and help to reform the Party from within. The tide will invariably turn and we will need to be unified and strong to assist in the reform process. It is unfortunate that we first have to fight the battle to reform our own Party before we can have a chance of beating the Labor Party. I wish both Danielle and Paul well in the challenges that lie ahead of them, they face no small task and I do hope that they have an appetite to show real leadership to commence what needs to be done. Do please participate because when we take no interest then democracy withers away and the result is “guided democracy” perhaps better known as dictatorship. Do be cynical and question and above all be extremely careful with the pre-selection process.

Peter Fray

A lot can happen in 3 months.

3 months is a long time in 2020. Join us to make sense of it all.

Get you first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12. Cancel anytime.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

12 weeks for $12