The bedraggled ranks of the NSW division of the Liberal Party will struggle into the ballroom of The Westin Hotel in Sydney’s Martin Place tonight to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the victory of the Greiner Government in 1988.

Politically devastated by the defeat of the Howard Government and the humiliating loss of Bennelong, John Howard’s own seat, the party faithful are shelling out up to $12,000 a table to hear Nick Greiner’s clarion call for the future.

Greiner, 60, is expected to recall the way his team planned their election victory in March 1988 by setting a policy agenda which clearly delineated the Coalition from the worn-out Wran and Unsworth Governments.

The Hungarian-born, Riverview-educated Greiner, a Harvard Business School graduate, fashioned a platform based on economic reform and the corporatisation of large parts of the state superstructure. His name became synonymous with “NSW Inc”.

After Greiner fell in 1992, the NSW Liberal leadership became a revolving door: John Fahey, 1992-95; Peter Collins, 1995-98; Kerry Chikarovski, 1998-02; John Brogden, 2002-05; Peter Debnam, 2005-07 and now Barry O’Farrell.

None of the post-Greiner leaders managed to fashion a defining image of what they stood for nor what NSW would be like if they were in government. O’Farrell has three years until the next state election to take up Greiner’s challenge.

One thing he will need is a stable and effective party administration, something that the NSW division hasn’t been able to deliver. The party director’s position has been in revolving mode since 1988: Graeme Starr, 1986-88; Peter Kidman, 1989-90; Robert Maher, 1990-92; Barry O’Farrell, 1992-95; Tony Nutt, 1995-97; John Burston, 1997; Remo Nogarotto, 1997-2000; Scott Morrison, 2000-05 and Graeme Jaeschke, 2005-07. Lawyer Martin Laverty is the current acting director until a full-time appointment is made.

One MP who has focused attention on party reform is former leader Peter Debnam who told a recent breakfast gathering:

For years, the NSW Liberal Party has maintained an embarrassing little clause, which allows gatekeepers to lock some people out of “their” branches.

It is Clause 2.4.4 (4) of our constitution, which allows branches to reject people they don’t like. It’s the local veto rule. Local branches can veto new members.

No wonder we have less and less people in the party. It has to stop.

Debnam railed against the factional heavies of left and right saying:

Some branches didn’t want new recruits because they were a threat to the local power brokers.

That was and remains today just plain stupid. But it is the way some branches controlled by apparatchiks have operated for years.

Internal party reform, a revamped party administration, rebuilding election funds, settling factional warfare and developing a new set of policies to take to the 2011 election – O’Farrell has his work cut out for him.

He has two huge allies in his endeavours – the howling incompetence of Iemma Government ministers and the billowing ineptness of their senior public servants.

Peter Fray

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