Montefiore: Liberals’ 2036 Manifesto Pilloried then Plundered by Labor

Journalists who wrote off Liberal leader Steven Marshall’s ‘manifesto’ 2036 did their audiences a disservice. A gold seam of political common sense lay within – applicable to both past and future SA governments.

Adelaide’s media people are distinguished by at least two features. First, only a minority are now baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964). Second, most hunt in packs.

And while the hunt is now more speedy than ever, given the pace of digital gadgetry, news hunting and gathering is also heavily distracted, such that the ‘perceived wisdom’ of the daily Facebook and Twitter uproars turns most busy journalists into lemmings, all heading for the same conclusive cliff once a view gets duplicated loud enough.

This was never more evident than when Liberal leader Steven Marshall in March 2016 dropped his party’s new ‘manifesto’ 2036 into the fourth estate feed bags and watched the Gen X and Y ponies munch.

The general conclusion was that the 76-page booklet contained nothing but motherhood statements, a view fed by lightning-fast digital feed chatter from Labor’s highly paid invisible puppet masters who work behind the lines.

steven-marshall-2036-manifesto-adelaide-review-2Was the local press’ reaction to the 2036 a short-sighted one?

This view rapidly gained currency. There was a grain of truth to it. ‘Getting rid of red tape’ has been a Liberal Party slogan since 1949 and South Australian conservatives ever since. But had members of the fourth estate read more closely, they might have stumbled on an observation whose truth-serum chemical composition represented something from which Labor wanted to very quickly distance itself.

“Key examples of the type of waste we will eliminate include: • Allowing capital projects to exceed approved budgets by hundreds and millions of dollars. • Giving excessive termination payments to [state] executives. • Spending hundreds of millions on Targeted Voluntary Separation Packages without reducing the overall size of the public sector. • Cancelling major IT projects before completion. • Excessive spending on party political government advertising and ministerial spin doctors.”

The first thing to notice, obviously, is that this ‘offer’ by a state political party makes an extraordinarily courageous promise to cease bad administrative habits and end a long SA tradition of public sector government management compromises – as condoned by state cabinet directed by its tribal allegiances. Sir Monty can’t think of a time in SA when aspects of the long-term salt damp in the foundations of contemporary government life were so succinctly described.

steven-marshall-2036-manifesto-adelaide-review-102036 has been accused of containing “nothing but motherhood statements” (image via Facebook)

It has been therefore crucial that state Labor discount it, and to shut down any bid by the media to magnify 14 years of its administration characterised by these rotgut symptoms. Those five pledges imply a guarantee of future political party behaviour that, if delivered, would go some way to begin addressing South Australia’s budgeting woes notwithstanding any other new policy or plan over the next term (2018–22).

In other words, in ‘eliminating’ appalling financial waste habits, some state money could be fairly quickly redirected to matters often out-voted when a budget is signed off. No wonder Labor hammered the booklet. But there were other reasons, too.

On the final page the Liberal leader promised to set up a state Productivity Commission to “review and remove all unnecessary regulation … to minimise costs on South Australians.” At the time, this idea attracted belated attention (and only by an academic, who praised it).

Hardly a month passes during which householders and small business people highlight instances of excessive state fees and charges, taxes in another name that consistently and annually rise. An objective new Commission and a courageous new government could be just the recipe to challenge long-standing SA political habits.

steven-marshall-2036-manifesto-adelaide-review-2The 2036 plan would seek to eliminate entrenched wasteful habit in SA’s bureaucracy, says Montefiore

Meanwhile, Labor’s successful March media distraction won’t stop its people from quietly plundering the 2036 booklet for policy ideas. The signs have been emerging in the past month as the new budget was bedded down.

Astute journalists might therefore note the list below, and tick off Liberal policies as they’re announced by Jay’s Labor team: • Separating Families SA from the education department quicksand and giving it a new, ‘elevated’ place, with more funding and resources (p31) [Labor announced this on June 21]. • Further boosting funding for non-government organisations supporting community care (p32). • Setting more demanding standards for local SA companies to do all SA public infrastructure builds (p40). • Developing new, effective rehab and education programs for prisoners so they can later get jobs (radical!) (p47). • Funding major upgrades to crumbling courts and incompatible IT systems within ‘to provide a better service for victims of crime’ (p48). • Implementing a ‘whole-of-agency’ approach to victims of crime, especially domestic violence (p49). • Reforming Independent Commission Against Corruption law to make the agency more transparent (p50). • Implementing the Murray Darling Basin Plan by 2019 (p58). • Providing ‘cost-of-living’ relief on the Emergency Services Levy by $90m annually for struggling families and businesses (p74).

steven-marshall-2036-manifesto-adelaide-review-8How much Labor policy was taken from Marshall’s 2036 agenda? (image via Facebook)

Next steps for the state opposition? First, get the arithmetic right with their page 25 claim: “By 2036 the oldest baby boomers will be 74 years old…” Wrong. (The right answer would be 90.) Second, announce all these policies now, and take them to the 2018 election, rebadging the booklet as the 2018 manifesto.

South Australians are tired of waiting for a competent and vigorous opposition to arrive. 2036 is a polling day too far away. Besides, by then the majority of the Liberal’s team of MPs (still oversubscribed by baby boomers) would be in their dotage – if not pushing up daisies.

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