December 14, 2007 | Graham

Liberal problems are deep-rooted, not structural

The Liberal Party always talks about restructure when it loses an election. This generally has little to do with actual reform, but rather tipping the field so that your enemies are at a disadvantage.
When John Moore took control of the Queensland Liberals after the 1983 losses he set about radically changing the structure, merging “areas” which were constituted on the basis of one per federal electorate, into “zones”, which generally consisted of three areas. There were also changes to the state executive, which if I recall rightly included institution of a formal management committee.
These changes didn’t make much structural sense, but they allowed Moore to radically reshape the personnel on the state executive by abolishing positions and creating new ones that had to be elected by totally new constituencies. There was a veneer of management speak to justify this, but the real motivation was political assassination.
The effectiveness of the reforms can be measured by the fact that a few years later they had to be almost entirely reversed – the zonal system was just too centralised and top-heavy.
Ironically, one of Moore’s lieutenants was Santo Santoro. Not surprisingly, just a few years later, those of us who had been demoted by Moore’s reforms were busy defending him from Santoro who had his own political assissinations in mind.
Now the federal party is talking about the need to reform and make a more “modern” party. The principle reform appears to be to give the federal executive even more power on the pretext that this will allow it to deal with the factions.
The federal executive had enough power to intervene in Queensland after the 1998 election debacle, but as I have chronicled, this was bungled because of John Howard’s preference for people who belonged to the wrecking faction. People like John Herron, Warwick Parer and Santo Santoro. Rather than dealing with factionalism it entrenched it even more deeply. I can’t see how greater powers to intervene would make any difference.
There is also an idea that the federal executive should have more power over the federal leader. The federal executive has always been weak, particularly when the party is in power – that’s the way that Menzies designed it. I sat on the federal executive when Malcolm Fraser was Prime Minister, and he didn’t pay much attention to us. I always thought it was a long way to travel for a nice meal at the Press Club (always a great seafood buffet).
It’s hard to see how you could make the federal executive any stronger. The party’s executives are generally consumed with management issues, and these are dealt with at a state level. Trying to do them any other way would involve enourmous travel expenses. And campaigning and policy, which is where the feds mostly failed, is carried out by the state director and convention and policy committees, respectively, not the state executives.
There is some possibility of using the federal executive to overturn preselections, but if that is deemed necessary, can anyone tell me what preselections during the term of the last parliament would have met criteria which would have justified that decision who weren’t dealt with adequately by their state divisions? I thought not.
Andrew Robb appears to be the chief proponent of change. He has been a consistent proponent of “reform”, and with the failure of every additional tightening of federal control to bring any benefits, he calls for more.
Anyone who thinks reform of the Liberal Party’s constitution will bring it back from the wilderness ought to check their ticket – they’re on the wrong tram.

Posted by Graham at 8:32 am | Comments (6) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. I was waiting to hear your positive constructive comments on how the administration CAN be improved…

    Comment by blind freddy — December 14, 2007 @ 5:37 pm

  2. You’ll have to wait for the newspaper article, but it’s all about personnel, it’s not about structure.
    And getting rid of the influence of people like Santoro is a prerequisite. So there is no magic bullet.
    BTW, I understand Santoro bailed someone of my acquaintance up at a function the other day to spend 20 minutes telling him he no longer has anything to do with the Liberal Party. Just the sort of thing you do if you don’t, not!

    Comment by Graham Young — December 15, 2007 @ 7:38 am

  3. Blind Freddy I think you are missing the point…these turkeys are worried about the administration when the problem is that there are NO MEMBERS to administer!!!

    Comment by exposethefakes — December 15, 2007 @ 9:55 am

  4. Graham Young:
    As a FORMER Liberal Party supporter, one of the multitude who was betrayed, harmed and ruined by that same party, it gives me grim pleasure to watch the Liberal Party destroy itself.
    Wonder what useful, responsive, vigorous political entity will replace it? How quickly? And whether its membership will be closed to such charmers as John Moore and his ilk?
    Naturally, if it is to succeed, such a new or revitalized political entity won’t be anti-veteran, anti-free-enterprise, anti-family and anti-Australian as has been the tired, stale, inflexible Liberal Party.
    by the way, your mention of great travel expenses involved in getting a workable federal executive surprised me. Way back in ancient history, in the days of the Mao Tse-tung’s [or Mao Zedong’s, if you like] Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, senior political figures did very well indeed communicating by nationwide telephone conferences over an old-fashioned copper-wire telephone system. Surely, with today’s internet and videoconferencing, the federal executive of the Liberal Party does not need advice on communications from Chinese octagenarians?

    Comment by Graham Bell — December 18, 2007 @ 9:30 pm

  5. Graham, I note your enthusiasm for the telephone. Not _Alexander_ Graham Bell is it? 😉
    But I don’t think that teleconferences can replace actual face to face conferences. Mao would have done it out of absolute necessity. If the Liberal Party did it, most likely it would be because it suited those who could be physically present. You can’t hang out in the kitchen and do deals with a telephone hook-up.
    Telephone works OK with organisations where there is no conflict, but by definition political parties are about conflict.

    Comment by Graham Young — December 18, 2007 @ 9:58 pm

  6. Graham Young:
    No particular enthusiasm for one communications technology or another; whatever works is fine. Face-to-face meetings are not the be-all-and-end-all of communications for organizaions in conflict either (remember, it was interminable meetings, meetings and more meetings — not economic contradictions or the Cold war — that destroyed the Soviet Union).
    Anyway, we are talking about a defunct organization here …. whatever political entity that comes to occupy the niche currently being filled by the Liberal Party will almost certainly have its communications issues well-and-truly sorted out so as to get on with higher priority matters.

    Comment by Graham Bell — December 18, 2007 @ 11:10 pm

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