I spent much of 1987 and the early
months of 1988 living in Sydney working on the
Unsworth Labor Government’s election campaign. Looking back now I can see it was
an amusing and entertaining experience but at the time it was dispiriting and
far from funny. Every day we seemed to lurch from bad to worse in our vain
attempt to prevent an inevitable defeat.

The highlight (or should it be
lowlight?) of my memories was the Saturday morning meeting with Party secretary
Stephen Loosely, advertising agent John Singleton, pollster Rod Cameron, Premier
Barrie and his chief of staff Bob Sorbey when we finally admitted to each other
that we had no chance at all of winning. Our mission, we decided, was to try and
minimise the losses so Labor had some members left in the
Parliament.

So what to do? Cheap beer always
works, suggested Singo. In went the promise to lower licence fees on low alcohol
beer. Transport’s the problem, said someone, so we’d better promise to lower
train fares. Consider it done. But heh! Motorists stuck in a traffic jam as the
train rattles past will be annoyed that there’s nothing in lower fares for them.
Reduced motor vehicle registrations joined the promises list.

And so we went on until the Premier
said we should hang on a bit because we were spending hundreds of millions and
the state couldn’t afford it.

I recall a stunned silence from the
rest of us but can’t remember who actually told him that he needn’t worry
because we would never be in government and actually have to do any of the
things earnestly being put into our policy speech. And if by some miracle Labor
did manage victory then the answer would be easy. Just break all the
promises.

I was reminded of those long ago
days when I read this week of Premier Morris Iemma’s decision to re-open the
roads closed off to make the tunnel under the city profitable. What is a future
cost of $95 million or so in compensation between friends?

Nothing changes in politics, I
thought, except the people.

Peter Fray

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