Doyaself a favour. Go down to the local library or second-hand hand bookshop and get a copy of The Liberals: Factions, Feuds and Fancies, the wonderfully idiosyncratic look at the party from 1986 by the wonderfully idiosyncratic and much missed academic Paddy O’Brien.

The eighties weren’t a great time for state Liberal parties, and there’s a great chapter in there on a bright hope – some bloke called Greiner. There’s a lot of talk on all his bright ideas. There’s also a lot of talk about a sclerotic and stale-smelling NSW that looks just like the NSW that Maurice Iemma runs, too.

Twenty years on and the generation of state Liberal governments Nick Greiner began have come and gone. Some – just some – of the policies have been implemented, the states smell whiffy and the local Liberal parties are a mess.

The feds are dishing out lectures about policy and personnel. The pundits talk about the benefits of incumbency and claim voters trust Labor with the services states are supposed to deliver. But if the Liberals want to get back into office, they need to tackle all of the above.

Incumbency is a factor. Public money is improperly wasted keeping governments in power. Personnel are a factor, too. But policy and service delivery are the big ones.

Absurd, expensive and inefficient institutional structures damage the economy and our quality of life – institutional structures stemming from the federal/state divide.

They’re too much for individual states to tackle, they’re sometimes rooted in the Constitution itself and they challenge the powers of pen-pushers in Canberra and around all the state capitals.

This is the big issue state Liberals need to tackle. A cooperative Commonwealth Government should be able to get them started. John Howard isn’t. Why? Easy. We’re talking about real reform. Do it in the states and you’ll have to do it in Canberra.

Peter Fray

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