The state and territory Liberal leaders are sitting down at the end of the week for a two day crash course in walking and chewing gum at the same time, organised by the party think tank, the Menzies Research Centre.

The event hasn’t had much media coverage – possibly because the state and territory Labor governments look so much in control.

Today’s Sydney Morning Herald has a good assessment of why this might be the case – but it only covers half the problem. Phil Coorey reports some shrewd comments from a federal ministerial adviser, “If you’re on the conservative side, why would you run for state opposition when you can go to the big house and be in government?” He quotes a nameless party official claiming the best and brightest staff go to Canberra, while those who don’t take jobs in the corporate sector, rather than try state politics.

That’s just people. What about policy? Um… If anything, this week’s Liberal love-in will completely expose the party’s failure on that front.

The stars of the show are Nick Greiner and his former cabinet office boss, Gary Sturgess. The fact that the Libs have to go back almost two decades into the past to find their speakers says volumes. Then there’s their message.

“I’ll be talking about the fact we’re in opposition in six states and two territories,” Greiner says. “To some extent at state level there’s been a dumbing-down of politics. The state Labor leaders have been very good at cheap populism and avoiding anything that looks difficult. If you listed all the tough or long-term decisions they’ve made, you wouldn’t have a very long list. At state level, there’s been reform fatigue.”

Er… Nick, mate – doesn’t that sound like the Libs in Canberra? You don’t get many policy ideas coming from their backbench. When issues like Snowy Hydro come along, the Prime Minister himself chickens out. They offer pap like last month’s LPG and ethanol packages.

Lucky for them there’s no one round to show them up. All the half-decent Labor pols are off running state governments.

Peter Fray

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