What Liberal victory in NSW really means.

1 baird and abbott

As soon as NSW’s election result is clear, TV is invaded by Libs who crow; get their heads on to talk down to us; explain to us, we, the poor, mentally defective, dumbclucks, the public, with our gnat-like attention spans and goldfish-like memories, what it all means. Things are dumbed down for us slowcoaches. God forbid we should make up our own minds or prove able to deal with complexity.

This is the ‘news’ cycle of modern politics, a ‘news’ which assumes that the past is a total mystery to all of us and that none of us can make sense of the present, on our own. Experts jostle each other aside in their rush to rescue us; bring us back on track; back into the fold; now they are back on top. They rope us in like novice climbers or kindergarten kids on a walk lest we stray away from the one true path of understanding and into danger. They know the way. Know the ropes.

Bishop is first, narrowly beating professional commentator Kate Carnell who makes so many TV appearances each week that she deserves her own channel. Scott Morrison Mark II is not far behind her, his reformed nature oozing from his every pore. A few days ago he was filmed hopping alarmingly around the room, imitating a kangaroo at a kindergarten photo opp. Big Scott was doubtless getting in touch with his wholesome, loveable and daffy inner cuteness whilst terrifying the children and disturbing adult onlookers. The teacher is now on stress leave.

Morrison seizes the chance to show off a clever word play. Baird is “popular but he’s not a populist”. But then, like a rat up a drainpipe he’s hopped aboard the success-through-explaining wagon, if only briefly before invoking the charmless, dour insouciance that is the average pollie’s handicap.

“What Mike Baird did, he didn’t just sell a change; he sold the benefits of change. Mike Baird has that winning smile and that incredible natural charm, which only a few people are blessed with.” Morrison drops out. It is really Bishop’s go and he’s run out of clever stuff.

‘Mike Baird’s re-election …,’ Bishop wags her finger, back stiff, head and hair up, her nose this way and that like a meerkat sniffing for danger, ‘Mike Baird’s election shows that people are ready for reform if it’s explained to them.’

Bishop’s pitch is nonsense. Baird’s party is flogging an asset in a thinly disguised cash grab. He is set to repeat Victoria’s mistakes where consumers pay vastly more today after Kennett’s privatisation than when the state was the sole power supplier. Baird’s move is a not ‘reform’ but a regression, a mistake, ill-advised act of desperation by a mob who mistake a budget surplus, the cash float in the till, for evidence of sound economic management. Bugger the people. We must balance our books.

It is an act of wilful blindness. Selling state-owned utilities services the big end of town and ministers to its need, its greed for profit at the expense of everyone else’s well-being. The people know this but in NSW they are between a crock and a hard place. A poll of swinging voters records their view that privatisation is short-term thinking, because government assets return money to pay for government services.

One respondent fears: ‘It will come a day when Australia is owned by Asia Pacific – China.’

Voters suffer Baird’s poles and wires sell-out not because they want privatisation but because somehow Baird fills their hope for a squeaky-clean telegenic celebrity-leader who is not Labor. Polls indicate half of NSW voters have doubts about his push to privatise. They show voters confused about whether the privatisation is a sale or lease, and little awareness that the Baird Government had proposed a 49 per cent lease. Baird the explainer is a mythic invention of the desperate Feds.

Power privatisation has not been well explained, moreover, because it is a rip-off. The deal will realise about one sixth of the long-term real value to the people of its poles and wires. Putting the paltry 20 billion into roads is an Abbott-level blunder. Public transport is a sound investment. More roads only induce commuters off public transport and into their cars. More congestion results.

This is what intergenerational theft truly amounts to. Forget the Liberals’ nonsense about cost blow-outs and their scapegoating of the old and the vulnerable, forget their resentment of our needs for pensions, education and welfare. When you privatise power you make life harder for future generations. Just like when you privatise tertiary education.

Bishop leads a small posse of LNP sock-puppets including Morrison and Joyce on her win spin patrol mission. She is out to kill rumours of any Abbott factor in NSW voting apart from her ceaseless self-promotion. The aspiring PM times her appearance for that TV sweet spot between knowing the result and when people stop watching and allows herself time to gate-crash Baird’s after-party to a rock star welcome.

Her victory script does not include mention of Sky’s exit poll of voters where 44 per cent of voters agreed that Abbott’s performance had hurt the Baird campaign. Whatever else she may be, Bishop is no party-pooper. But later we see she’s processed the information alright.

First on her agenda is praise for Mike the explainer of reform: the Foreign Minister thus revealing she can preach consultation even if no-one in her party can ever practise it. While she’s got our attention, however, a pointed bit of political point-scoring is a powerful second.

While setting us all straight about the reform story, Bishop, sinks her slipper into Abbott. She admires Baird’s ‘very strong narrative about what he wants to achieve,’ adding, ‘he’s authentic, he’s real, people trust him, they like him, people feel they know him.’ Baird, now boosted almost into orbit, a virtual Nelson Mandela of political leadership overnight, succeeds, in other words, by being everything Abbott is not.

Bishop’s pseudo-analysis cum megaphone diplomacy to Tone about his leadership deficit disaster, ought not to be taken too literally whilst Bishop is auditioning for his job. She is, after all, putting herself in his place, rather than doing any real explaining. Facts don’t matter much on such occasions. What matters is Baird won because he is not Tony. The rest of what she offers, especially on consensus, amounts to fibs, fairy-floss and fantasy, yet it is toxic nonetheless.

Consensus does not come merely by explaining or ‘getting the message out’ despite our leaders’ fixation with this lie. People have to understand and like your ideas and accept your policy proposals. They are not stupid and they don’t like duds.  Unable to deal with the electorate’s rejection of their bad policies, the LNP can only fall back on the explaining thing, the narrative thing rather than face than its own failure to create workable plans.

Federal Liberal failure to get real is cemented by its neocon market fetish, its attraction for ‘small government’ slogans; its poor planning and its indulgence of the big end of town. From its first budget, it would seem, it had no place in its thinking for a government’s duty to support and protect the vulnerable; to put ordinary people first. It got that message out so well any other is superfluous.

What Liberal victory in NSW means is that the other candidate with his party legacy of ne’er do wells and Eddie Obeids, held less appeal than Mike, Prince Charming Baird. It is not a mandate for reform. It is not the victory of an explainer. Electors are still confused by the whole poles and wires deal. They do not want privatisation as such but they see it as a fair price to pay not to have the other guy and to feel they are free of graft at last and can hope for the fresh start he represents to continue.

The message for Abbott couldn’t be clearer despite all the hard work of the damage control troops on Saturday night. Not everyone has forgotten the time when Abbott claimed a mandate; a time when his party got voted in not for any other reason than the fact that it wasn’t the Labor mob. Mike Baird ought to ignore his Federal well-wishers and look not his victor’s laurels but to the hard graft of building an inclusive government based around the needs of the people, not what can be bought and sold to profit the top end of town.