Faceless Libs should step aside
There could be blood. There doesn't have to be. It could be an elegant, seamless change of power, but eventually blood will flow if seamless change does not happen inside the NSW Liberal Party. On March 26 it is assumed the NSW Labor government will fall. Yet nobody can be sure if the NSW Liberals are fit to govern. Do they deserve the trust of the electorate? Do they even support their state leader, Barry O'Farrell?
We will get a signal on Friday night. The party will hold a state executive meeting, which will become a marker of whether the party is serious about earning the public's trust, or whether it prefers to remain a collective of opportunists riven by factional bastardry. The Liberals should have won the last state election but were too hopeless. Now they have a leader who can win but the party itself remains petty and dysfunctional.
The amount of public dummy-spitting coming out of the NSW Liberals is already approaching the scale and odour created by the NSW Labor machine.
While Labor is frantically jettisoning the lead in its saddlebags, with Joe Tripodi's pending exit topping a long list of departing Labor MPs, the Liberals appear to be entrenching their own brand of political poison. The state Liberals have their own Mark Arbib and their own Joe Tripodi.
The NSW party has already cost the federal party the 2010 election. Tony Abbott would be prime minister were it not for bungling in several NSW marginal seats. Somebody had to pay for this, but nobody did.
And what about all the dummy spits? They are endless. The latest came last week when Nick Berman, the mayor of Hornsby Shire, announced he was quitting the party and would stand as an independent at the March election. ''It is clear that the interests of factional warlords drive the preselection processes of the Liberal Party now and not the best interests of the constituents of Hornsby,'' said Berman, who was elected mayor with 62.5 per cent of the vote in the 2008 local government election.
''Over the past three years, I have found the NSW Liberal Party to be an increasingly insular, out of touch and poll-driven organisation with those in positions of authority prepared to do 'whatever it takes' to get the internal outcomes they desire.'' Sound familiar? Sounds like Labor's Sussex Street operation.
Who, exactly, are the ''factional warlords'' Berman was referring to? In this case, three largely faceless men: Nick Campbell, Alex Hawke and Michael Photios.
Also last week, Michael Yabsley, a former NSW MP and veteran fund-raiser, resigned from the post of honorary federal treasurer while directing an attack on the Liberals' federal director, Brian Loughnane, and president, Alan Stockdale, saying their leadership was opaque and the party was in danger of insolvency.
Then there was the spectacular double dummy-spit in September after the Liberal preselection for the blue-ribbon seat of Vaucluse. The mayor of Woollahra, Andrew Petrie, resigned from the party after receiving just one vote out of 150 from preselectors. Bizarrely, he perceived his own failure as the party's failure. ''I have shown leadership and loyalty, but I was shown none in return. The behaviour of the Liberal Party left me no choice but to resign.''
The same contest also produced a walkout from Peter Doyle, of the famous seafood restaurant family, who left in disgust after it became clear he would not get the numbers. Doyle has also raised a large amount of money for the party.
There are many other examples. But there is also an antidote to the malaise of self-absorption. It starts at the top. Both the federal leader, Abbott, and state leader, O'Farrell, want Arthur Sinodinos to become president of the NSW Liberal Party. Sinodinos, 53, is almost unique in the gravitas he has within the Liberal Party. For more than nine years he was John Howard's chief of staff. He kept the federal machine ticking over. He also knew when to leave. After he departed, Howard's political decline began.
Sinodinos is an economist, a former banker, is strong on policy, respected by business, and famously good with people. He is above factional politics.
He could have had a Senate seat but believes his most effective role would be inside the party. There have been several moves to install him as president but the existing president, Natasha Maclaren-Jones, a woman of almost no public profile and comparatively modest resume, has not been inclined to step aside. She was installed by the aforementioned Campbell, Hawke and Photios alliance. My understanding is that the blocking of Sinodinos has been by this group, because they regard him as a threat to their powerbases.
Who are these people? Campbell runs corporate and government affairs for the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson Australia. Hawke is a federal MP who does not appear to enjoy the confidence of his federal or state leaders. He has no role in Abbott's shadow ministry. Photios, a former state MP, is a part-time lobbyist.
The NSW Liberals now have a choice. Do they want the party to be run by Abbott, O'Farrell and Sinodinos? Or do they want the party run by the troika of Campbell, Hawke and Photios? The party can take the high road, install Sinodinos, and begin reforming itself. Or it can take the hard road, the antiseptic of media scrutiny. Sydney is the capital of the Australian media.
The NSW election is coming into tight focus. So too will the NSW Liberals. I think the party is open to some brutal scrutiny. Hard road or high road. Friday night.