December 13, 2004 | Graham

The way forward based on the research

Lawrence, welcome to our blog. I think we may well be making some sort of history here. It’s rare for political leaders to consent to any form of one on one debate. I’m sure it’s never been done north of the Tweed in an online forum.
I’m hoping that you will stick around to see this one out. As you say, it is a serious issue that ought to be debated. You may not know this, but I actually support the issue being debated by the Liberal Party at a special convention. I think the logic of the pro-Coalition case is clear, and I don’t have any concerns about putting both that case and yours to a vote.
I don’t, however, think there will be a convention. One reason is that John Howard has quite clearly said that he is not interested in an amalgamated party in Queensland, and believes in a coalition. There’s a lot of respect in the Liberal Party for John Howard. People accept that he knows what he is talking about.
I have respect for Howard, but I think people should make up their own mind. That’s one thing I think we both agree on. I’d like to agree on a few other things. I’ve said some harsh things about you, and I apologise. Can we just stick to arguing the factual issues in future?
Can we also agree that the information in Toby’s research is accurate? If there is more to the research than the power point presentation, could you also please post it to the site?
One other thing. I should make it clear that I’m not primarily interested in winning government. I’m interested in providing electors with good representation. Winning government is the reward you get for doing your job. So I’m not going to buy a “solution” to win government unless it also provides good representation, because it will fail.
So, if we are still in agreement, let’s have a look at Toby’s research. On slide 34 he puts his recommendations and says that to be successful you must “Get both Parties to co-operate fully now…no public disagreements”. That hasn’t happened. He says you need to engage John Howard and John Anderson and “Without their endorsement and involvement the plan will certainly fail.” John Howard and John Anderson have both rejected your plan. He says that you have to “Cut the merger deal and get a ‘no bickering’ agreement from all State and Federal factions.” There does not appear to be any chance of that.
As you can’t or haven’t done those things, then Toby’s advice is “Unless all four stages can be assured, the process is extremely likely to be a catalyst that drives many current and potential voters away, thus utterly disastrous for the Coalition and suicidal for its political advocates.” That’s really the take out message from the research. On the written advice of the researcher the merger will not succeed.
So, the issue ought to be now, how do we salvage our respective situations – the National and Liberal Parties. Fortunately I think there are some guides in the research, and I’d like to run through some of them.


The research appears to me to be very clear that one of the problems for the non-Labor parties is their continual bickering. Slides 7 and 8 contain quotes such as “[A merger] might stop all the infighting,” “They’ve never worked together properly, and couldn’t now”. Or slide 12 “They couldn’t agree on what to take to a picnic, let alone what to do if they ran the place.” It is also implicit in some of Toby’s analysis. Slide 23 “People want a decent opposition, but the fragmented Nationals and Liberals are not judged to be one…”.
In 1995 we were able to forge a winning cohesive team between the two parties. It was driven by perceptions of the two leaders – Rob Borbidge and Joan Sheldon were seen to co-operate most closely, to the stage where almost every press conference was a joint one.
You need to repair your relationship with Bob Quinn. It was damaged when you unilaterally broke the coalition after the last election and evicted the Liberals from the coalition offices. I wouldn’t think that it would be easy to make up. Wounds like that don’t heal overnight, and as a result of your actions the Liberals are desperately short of resources.
You also need to change your rhetoric. I’m not sure where you got your “world domination” view that some Liberals want to wipe the Nationals out – both parties have aggressively taken on the other from time to time. Many will interpret this claim as just more unnecessary aggression. Your threat to run in every seat in the state is also going to add to the perception that the Liberals and Nationals can’t agree on anything. In the light of this research that would be one of the things most likely to destroy public confidence in both parties.

Putting constituents first

The research also says that both parties are self-interested and not serving their constituents well. Slide 12 gives a hint of this when it discusses why the merged parties might be a less effective Opposition “Thinking too much about themselves, not the people they’re supposed to represent.” It’s a theme that is visible in Toby’s research, just not often stated. It was also present in the research that we did from the On Line Opinion site during the last state election.
I’d suggest that the first thing both parties need to do is get closer to their respective constituencies. You didn’t lose the last election merely on the basis of your campaign – you lost it because people regard the government as doing a better job for them than you would. I wouldn’t get Toby back to do this research. It is something that you and Bob Quinn need to personally do yourselves.
Next step would be to define exactly who your constituencies are. This will be firstly geographical. The Liberal party has mostly an urban footprint, while yours is rural and regional. There are areas of dispute and I think both of you have to look really closely at the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, as well as Cairns, Townsville and Toowoomba. There is evidence in Toby’s research (Slide 25) that your respective “brands” are not as attractive to each other’s voters as to your own. Using the language of marketing, you have to “segment your market” in order to maximise your vote – that is one of the advantages of a coalition or alliance over a merged party. Three-cornered contests should be a last resort, to be used in areas where there is a real question as to what voters want and which party would be better able to provide it.
Of course, segmentation only works if you are servicing voter needs. Third step would be to better define what you stand for, what electors demand of you, and how you communicate with them. I’d be holding workshops and meetings around your constituencies to find out what people want you to do, and to tell them what you intend to do. I’d also review your tactics and strategy on issues. For example I’m critical of the opposition parties in their response to the infrastructure crisis in this state, particularly in electricity. You’ve also failed to put the SEQ regional plan under any sort of decent scrutiny. That’s for starters. There is a whole swag of other missed opportunities.
I’m not sure what you are doing to recruit potential candidates, but that should be another high priority from which this whole campaign on amalgamation must be a huge distraction. Of course, you’ll need to agree with the Liberal Party on where you are running first so that you can offer potential candidates a clean opportunity. I’ve seen a number of good candidates pressured not to run by one non-Labor party or the other in the negotiations over seats. You need to try and avoid that.


If we both accept the research, then we both have to accept that your merger proposal is dead, and that your current efforts to force the Liberal Party to negotiate on it are making things worse for you and the Liberals, but in particular you. The question then is how do we rescue your position? I’m suggesting you do this by re-investing in your relationship with your erstwhile coalition partner and with your electorate. What do you think?
Of course, I’m happy to argue about the rights and wrongs of a coalition from a more philosophical and less public relations focused position, but I think current circumstances make that a waste of effort as the public relations considerations make an amalgamation impossible.

Posted by Graham at 7:08 am | Comments Off on The way forward based on the research |
Filed under: Australian Politics

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