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  • Writer's pictureMichael Johnsen

Libs should learn from Nats

The NSW election has come and gone, resulting in a strong Labor win with an inexperienced team.

Premier elect Chris Minns is an intelligent and decent person and I congratulate him.

While Labor has increased its numbers, the Liberals have reduced its numbers and the Nationals have remained steady.

So, why have the Liberals decreased when the Nationals remain strong?

I put it down to two things, the first leads to the second: 1) factionalism; and 2) unknown candidates.

Factions within the Liberal party are its core problem. It used to be that the Liberal party would mock the Labor party for its factionalism. Now, the Liberal party is worse.

Many in the Liberal party won’t openly say it, but they believe in power and, to them, that means controlling the party even if it means being in Opposition. Sitting on the government benches is a bonus, which is of course, disappointing to the conservative centre population where all elections are won in Australia.

With formal factions, comes demarcation. With demarcation, comes power plays. With power plays, comes a lack of community focus. That lack of community focus leads to the realisation that candidates are needed, all when it’s too late.

While the factional power plays are happening, the party is not focussed on community aspirations and needs. This leads to the issue of unknown candidates.

The Liberal party, indeed, all parties, should have all candidates in place with at least two thirds of a parliamentary term remaining.

Essentially, they become ‘shadow members’ as spokesperson for the party in their electorate. I know, I’ve been there and was the go-to person on political matters within my region. Even the ABC referred to me as the ‘shadow member’!

By the time the next election comes around, the community knows the candidate, expects to hear from them, indeed, seeks them out to attend forums and functions. If done successfully, during the election campaign, the focus for a challenging candidate is more about community and policy, and that’s what people want to hear and read. The candidate will also, meaningfully, feed local knowledge to policy platform of the party.

The challenger doesn’t have to focus on getting known. Under that pressure, it often leads to amateurish publicity seeking, and undermines the professional integrity that voters expect of their political candidates.

In the years I spent being a candidate before being elected, my recognition rating increased from 55% to 95%, equal to that of my sitting member opponent in the 2013 federal election. The community knew me, even if they didn’t always agree with me. Then it came down to a genuine contest of ideas.

That also leads to community expectation. People want their representatives to have an opinion. They also want them to reflect the aspirations and needs of the community. This takes time. Expecting an unknown candidate to achieve this in a matter of weeks is simply asking to lose.

Of course, expecting a candidate to be in that role for years, is a big ask. And the parties need to support those candidates. That said, if they are not prepared to do this, they are not ready for the tough arena that is politics.

The Nationals have it right; not perfect though. Candidates in Nationals seats are usually well known; be it by their community affiliations and/or the ability of the party members to truly understand the community they live in. These local party members are the only ones that select their local candidates.

If the Liberal party wants to meaningfully engage with its local communities, they should emulate the Nationals processes. Toss out the formal factions, wave goodbye to the political operatives, and simply focus on their communities and policies.

Until then, the political wilderness is all the Liberal party can hope for.


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