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May 19, 2012

Failing in policy ... the Labor Party. Failing in policy … the Labor Party. Photo: AP

LABOR’S failure to establish a public consensus for its most controversial polices has been a significant factor in its decline, more so than the policies themselves, says one of the Liberal Party’s foremost policy experts.

Julian Leeser, the outgoing executive director of the Menzies Research Centre, said good policy would withstand the rapacious 24-hour news cycle so long as a case was made in advance and it was fought for with conviction.

However, he forecast that Tony Abbott, who has about 50 policies ready to go should an election be called, will leave it later than usual before releasing polices because they tend to sink without trace in today’s news cycle.

Mr Leeser has been at the Menzies Research Centre for six years, during which it has become central to Liberal Party policy development at both a sate and federal level.

Soon after Mr Abbott took over the leadership of the Liberal Party, he charged the centre with overseeing policy development.

Mr Leeser is leaving in July to take up a position at the Australian Catholic University and is not ruling out a political career. He narrowly missed preselection for the north shore seat of Bradfield after Brendan Nelson retired and has long been suggested as the successor to Philip Ruddock in Berowra.

In an interview with the Herald, Mr Leeser said one of Labor’s gravest mistakes in government had been the failure to establish a case for and then fight for its policies.

In part, this was due to continuing distractions caused by the hung parliament and leadership tensions.

”Take the Gonski review [into school funding] for instance. That came out and then you had the Rudd challenge,” he said.

He said the deeper problem began when Mr Rudd was leader.

”When John Howard would do a policy announcement, he’d spend the next few weeks driving around the country selling it and talking about it,” he said.

”This doesn’t happen now. They go from one policy announcement to another.

”It makes it difficult for a government to create a proper narrative.”

Mr Leeser said the most egregious example was the mining tax, a key recommendation from the Henry review into taxation commissioned by Mr Rudd.

”They sat on Henry for six months and then suddenly announced the mining tax. People just can’t digest that sort stuff,” he said.

”The process of reform is almost as important as the reform itself. You need to be able to bring the public with you and you need to show the public you’re prepared to take a few hits along the way but that you are on a certain and clear course.”

Mr Leeser said the Coalition had watched and learned and, if elected , would revert to the more traditional style of Mr Howard, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating.

”You define the problem, you explain what the problem has been. If you are going to use experts you think about the terms of reference that will take their views seriously.

”Then you spend a bit of political capital and you give people a chance to understand what’s going to come out of the reforms.”

Mr Leeser said he would like to see more Coalition policy that recognises the need to increase productivity to compensate for the downturn that will come with the ageing population.

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