One of the oldest maxims in Westminster political systems is that “oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them”. If this is true, then the recent performances of the NSW State Labor Government and, to a lesser extent, its Victorian counterpart should have Liberal leaders Barry O’Farrell and Ted Baillieu ordering new furniture for the respective Premiers’ offices they should inevitably occupy.

Yet opinion polls in both States consistently suggest that were elections held today, the two Labor parties would be returned to power. What, then, should O’Farrell and Baillieu do differently to convince voters they can form viable alternative governments?

  1. Water: in Victoria, drought remains a vote-turning issue. Promise to build a dam somewhere in Gippsland and urban households in Melbourne will cheer you on. In water rich NSW, O’Farrell could contemplate criticising his Southern counterparts for wanton destruction of the environment, a path that still goes down well in parts of inner Sydney.
  2. Law and order: the streets of all major Australian cities appear to be gripped by a wave of alcohol and drug-fuelled violence and hooliganism. Beer barns, 24-hour nightclubs and socialist magistrates are clearly to blame. Promise drunk tanks, more police and mandatory sentencing and concerned parents in their hundreds and thousands will place you on their Christmas card lists.
  3. Health: this is a most difficult area, as waiting lists and emergency response times have a habit of increasing no matter how much money is thrown at the problem. 1970s scifi movies like Soylent Green and Logan’s Run do offer solutions, albeit unpalatable ones. Promise to fund more nursing places, as graduates are rapidly elevated to sainthood, unlike hospital administrators who must be characterised as incompetent.
  4. Education: focus on the three Rs of “Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic”. At least 130% of people over the age of 25 agree that the younger generation is no longer taught properly and that standards have dropped. History of empires as a new/old subject will appeal to the still considerable number of Monarchists in certain electorates.
  5. The wireless: stay away from the ABC* and get on to the prime time shows of 2UE, 2GB and 3AW*. People love hearing their political leaders engaging in unfiltered talkback radio, as it shows they (ie, Baillieu and O’Farrell) aren’t afraid of public opinion. Who knows, the liberal leadership in both States might even learn something.
  6. Funding and the deficit: as Kevin Rudd has so ably demonstrated, great helmsmen do not worry about deficits and debt. Rather, they focus on service provision, infrastructure spending and house purchase subsidies. In early 2009 the Federal Government has offered to guarantee all State Government borrowing, so premiers-to-be should make the most of this blank cheque while it remains available. Canberra can always be blamed when the fiscal situation deteriorates badly.
  7. Sin taxes: gambling is both evil and popular. As a result, it’s a sure fire revenue raiser should negotiations around point six above become tricky. More pokies plus higher gaming taxes equals good public policy.

Although aspects of this list are firmly tongue-in-cheek, the dire straits in which the NSW and Victorian Liberals find themselves suggest these ideas’ time has come.

*The author regularly appears on both.