POLITICAL party rooms can be frustrating places. They are where all the different views from around the nation get an airing. The indulgent marginal seat holder who thinks the personal vignette from their electorate holds the key to all we have previously misunderstood sits equally with the obsessed, the ideologue, the egomaniac and the vaguely normal.

Back in the day when I used to sit in the Liberals' party room in Canberra, every now and then I would jokingly turn to my mate Chris Pyne and whisper: ''Quick, pinch me, I must be dreaming. I think I've checked into the wrong hospital; I don't have this disease.''

Labor members in Canberra must be pinching themselves every day and asking when their nightmare will end. They know Australia is enjoying a mining boom, yet Labor is at war with the miners.

Australians are told the economy is in great shape and wonder why we have borrowed money like there is no tomorrow. The Reserve Bank seeing the need for a drop in interest rates to help things along will only confirm Labor MPs' suspicions about their ''she'll be right mate'' Treasurer.

Labor's foot soldiers don't know what song to sing because their senior people are handing out different song sheets. At a fundamental level Labor has to decide if its story is about creating more wealth or redistributing what we already have; about baking a bigger pie or arguing over who gets which slice.

Not agreeing on your key message is a real problem. Labor had an agreed policy to bring about an influx of temporary workers for big development projects. The Prime Minister knew all about it and so did the unions. But when the first big project to use the policy turned out to be Gina Rinehart's Roy Hill development, Labor fell apart.

How did a sensible policy to help create more jobs end up making Labor look disorganised? The blame cannot go to ministers Gary Gray, Martin Ferguson or Chris Bowen, who have a commonsense understanding that if Australia wants more jobs we need more development. In other words, they understand we need to make the pie bigger.

No, the blame lies with Wayne Swan, who seems to think first-year-university rich bashing is pretty smart. He's been beating the anti-rich drum and so when Rinehart's name was tied to the deal, there was a predictable anti-rich backlash within Labor.

Given the anti-mining, anti-rich climate Swan has so studiously developed, the unions felt free to give their much-loved xenophobic genie a run out of the bottle to prey on the ill-informed and vulnerable.

As a previous immigration minister, I am familiar with the dislike the unions have of the miraculously effective temporary work visa, the 457. The unions' self-interest drives them to oppose workers who may not think highly of the ACTU.

The PM, who seemed to forget she was trying to cultivate an image of inner strength, ignobly feigned ignorance of Labor's policy and sought to cast herself as some sort of saviour of the unions.

She did nothing to stop the claptrap. Indeed, her desire to be seen to do something led some to believe that something needed to be done. Gillard-to-the-rescue encouraged lazy shock jocks to fan the union movement's xenophobia. The PM had helped to divide us, when her job is to unite us.

It is not just big business that is damaged by Labor's failure to understand what needs to be done to allow business to grow. For example, the changes Gillard made to the labour market have meant many small businesses have decided not to open on Sundays. It is just another ill-conceived decision from a government that wants to give a bigger slice of the pie to workers with jobs, instead of trying to create more jobs. Now those who were happy to get the work on Sunday at the normal rate miss out.

When did you last hear the PM talking about making it easier to make more money? Does anyone in the Labor Party care that being a high-cost/low-productivity nation is holding us back? We have made future development of big projects risky. Where we will be if mining projects get put on ice until the problem is fixed?

In my home state of South Australia, BHP is looking to create the biggest mine in the world, at Olympic Dam. The final decision is to be made later this year. If the answer is no, the antipathy of Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan towards miners and making money will be partly to blame. After all, if you were a big miner, would you count on this government being there to smooth the way?

Even some of the stupidest kids in the schoolyard know that if you keep prodding someone, they will get annoyed. The shy or weak may go quietly, but the strong will fight back or move away. Rich people and companies are generally in the latter category, so why on earth attack them?

What if they walk away, take their money and run, and build new projects and make more money in other, more welcoming countries? Well, then Australians miss out on the jobs.

Gray, Ferguson and Bowen understand that. But Swan and Gillard can't seem to get the difference between standing up to the strong and scaring them right away.

Amanda Vanstone was a minister in the Howard government.