The Labor Party has released a report on the Queensland election debacle. As far as it goes, it’s quite sensible, dismissing silly chatter about the election strategy and other trivia. The main causes of the disaster are identified as
* Too long in office
* Problems in the health system, particularly the payroll fiasco
* The asset sales
The first two of these can be dealt with pretty quickly. Obviously governments can’t last for ever, but reaching your fifth term is the kind of problem you want. As regards the health bungles, I’m reminded of the PM’s observation in The Dish. It’s accurate, but unhelpful to say that bungles like this are to be avoided if possible.
Finally, there’s the asset sales. The committee, probably wisely, avoids judgement on the merits of the issue, but concludes correctly that the decision to announce the asset sales, shortly after the successful conclusion of an election campaign based on a commitment to public investment was a disaster from which the Bligh government never recovered. The Committee also observes that the government’s defeat was made even worse by the hostile reaction from the party base, including unions. I’m not part of the Labor party base, but I certainly made strong public criticisms of the government’s case for asset sales. Given the scale of the resulting defeat, and the appalling policy decisions being made by the Newman government, it’s worth reassessing that course of action.
As an economist, I try to call the issues as I see them, rather than calculating the political consequences. So, I would certainly have expressed the same views on the bogus case advanced by Andrew Fraseer and the Treasury, even if I thought the result would be to reduce the government’s chances of re-election. But, in other capacities, as a blogger for example, I took a political stance against the government. Was this justified?
At this point, we need to push the analysis a bit further. The announcement of the asset sales was a political disaster for the government (as well as being bad policy in most respects), but it could have been recouped if, at any time in 2009 or 2010, Bligh had changed course and admitted that the policy had not attracted the necessary public support. Under these circumstances, her post-flood surge in popularity might well have been sustained. So, those who attacked the government in this period were in fact throwing a lifeline that, if grasped, could have saved it, or at least, allowed for a respectable showing and a strong basis for attacking the LNP. But that didn’t happen, and there was no way to unsay the valid criticisms that had been made of the government. So, the end result was to turn what would have been a thrashing in any case into a wipeout. Still, I can’t see that there was any reasonable alternative. At least now, there is some basis for a critique of the LNP, which there would not have been if I and others had given the Bligh government a free pass.