The NSW election has been a painful process for everyone involved, so it’s no wonder that the local media has decided to concentrate its coverage on Peter Debnam’s budgie smugglers.

But all the coverage of his cossie means another Liberal big knob is being ignored – deputy leader Barry O’Farrell.

As the campaign continues, O’Farrell is being dragged into more and more Debnam press conferences, where he stands in the background, nodding.

O’Farrell almost became Liberal leader, but he fell victim to the party’s Byzantine bastardry. He’s considered competent. But what’s he doing at Debnam’s pressers?

Do the NSW Libs believe he is a popular figure? If this is so, why didn’t they make him leader? Or are they trying to lash him to Debnam’s sinking ship before the election, to ensure that he’s not too buoyant when the party goes down on March 24?

Both sides of federal politics want NSW out of the way. The voters aren’t enthusiastic about the major parties, making it virtually impossible to predict the outcome, especially how independents or minor parties may perform.

The election is being conducted on state issues, but there are just too many federal seats in NSW for the outcome to be ignored in Canberra. It doesn’t fit into the major parties’ poll narratives, but they will have to deal with the consequences.

Those consequences could be particularly painful for the Liberals in John Howard’s own division of the party.

NSW Liberals breathed a sigh of relief when the publication of Ian Hancock’s history of the state party was delayed until after the election. It apparently contains an illuminating chapter on hard right powerbroker David Clark.

The division of the past few years have crippled the Liberals’ chances in the state election. They may cruel O’Farrell’s chances. And they have the potential to embarrass John Howard in the lead-up to his most crucial election as Prime Minister.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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