Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Analysis of Alexander Downer's leadership and recommended strategies for him to succeed. -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

JIM WALEY: Only three months ago, Alexander Downer was the Coalition's saviour. Now, after a series of political pratfalls, there's open talk of finding a new Liberal leader, and more pressure came this week with Andrew Peacock's retirement from Federal Parliament. So can Mr Downer survive until the next election? We decided to ask our occasional political commentator, Graham Richardson, for his view, but Labor's former Mr Fix It offered to go one better, swap political sides for the day and lend a hand to the Downer campaign.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Paul Keating and the pundits may well be wrong. There's no doubt that despite all the dramas of the past few weeks, Alexander Downer is still in with a show. He can't win as he is but he can win as he could be, and for a few moments, I'm going to appoint myself as his campaign director and tell him how to win.

You can't win when you spend most of your time and most of your money talking to the converted.


IAN KORTLANG: The first thing he has to do is not allow the Liberal Party to define his leadership. They're less than one per cent of the electorate. Even if he were generous to them and gave them 5 per cent of his time, I think he's got to make sure that his diary reflects that. Only 5 per cent of his activities should be talking to the Liberal Party.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Winners must resist the great temptation of reinforcing their own prejudices. The big five accountancy firms may love the GST, but the majority of Australians don't. The blue rinse set may salivate at the prospect of banning homosexual behaviour, but the majority of Australians don't. The National Party may find many national parks and world heritage areas a waste of space, but a majority of Australians don't.

What the majority of Australians do want, however, is a leader who can overcome the extremists who try to hijack the agenda.


FRED CHANEY: If Downer is to succeed, he's got to show that he's got the capacity to demonstrate moral leadership. I mean, he's got to show that he's got some authority within the party. I think it's always the case that on difficult issues like that, that a leader has to determine what is the rational and reasonable course ahead and provide a lead. There'll always be elements in the party that will want to go down the ratbag route and you've just got to withstand that.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: The rank and file that today make up Liberal Party branch membership is no longer reflecting mainstream Australia. Downer will have to look beyond the party for ideas and inspiration.


IAN KORTLANG: Australia isn't made up of suburban solicitors and little old ladies, but the Liberal Party is. It's this whole thing of being defined by a group that are now totally unrepresentative of Australia.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Downer and the Coalition are constantly criticising the Government for pandering to special interest groups. What Downer must understand, though, is that to get from a 35 per cent hard-core vote to a 51 per cent majority, these interest groups must be stroked, listened to, and, at the very least, kept in the neutral corner. In the ethnic communities, the Liberal vote has declined alarmingly.


FRED CHANEY: Everybody says the Liberals lost the last election because of the GST and that may well be true, but if you look at the research that was done on the loss of the ethnic vote, for example, between 1987 and 1993, that reduction in the ethnic vote alone more than accounts for the loss in the last election.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Much the same can be said about Green preferences. They cost the Liberals a win in 1990 and can do so again. If Downer sticks to a States' rights line, he'll never get the Greens anywhere near that neutral corner.


PHILLIP TOYNE: So many of the environment problems we're facing are national problems, now - they're international. For Alexander Downer to say that he sees great risks to our federalism by the Federal Government entering into international agreements is to fly in the face of the fact that many environment problems are international now. We need international solutions more and more. We need national solutions rather than State-based ones.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: A few weeks ago on the Sunday program, a senior member of Downer's staff had this to say on the question of when detailed policy should be released.


GRAHAME MORRIS: Late in the term when you're getting close to an election campaign and they've got to make a decision, then they're starting to listen. Well, that ought to be the time when we're talking about our policies, and they're new and they're fresh.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: The Liberals did not lose because they announced detailed policies 18 months in advance of the 1993 election. Fightback lost them an election because it contained a consumption tax that a majority of Australians just wouldn't wear.


IAN KORTLANG: It was the Liberals who made the bar very high in terms of policy. I mean, look at the longest resignation speech in history, Fightback. I mean, that was a very detailed policy. You can't suddenly say: Hey, we won't do that any more. It doesn't work. They will have to have policies in the area and he's got to be better staffed when he goes forward.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Paul Keating is not loved by the electorate. Australians have never warmed to him and probably never will, but they do respect him. And how Downer handles his one on one battle with Keating will be crucial in maintaining party morale and satisfying the media.


FRED CHANEY: He's up against a fearfully tough opponent in the political sense and I think that long-developed thick skin will be absolutely essential, but he should be h imself, he should press on in the directions that he thinks are right for Australia, shouldn't be fazed by Paul Keating.

Having sat in the Reps for only one parliamentary term, Graham, I'd have to say I understand that's quite a big assignment, though.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: To summarise my gratuitous advice, Alexander, here's six steps you'll have to take:

Hardline, right-wing policies go down very well at Liberal Party meetings but leave the electorate in the cold. If Richard Court and the National Party have become the lowest common denominator in setting Liberal Party policy, you cannot win.

Have a long, hard look at those who advise you. Your staff advice has not been anywhere near as good as it will need to be. The Liberal Party must be able to provide you with better than what you've got.

Never regard special interest groups as enemies to be confronted. They are there to be won. At least give the impression that you're prepared to listen.

Jettison the States' rights line. It's old-fashioned and it reinforces the view that many people have that you spend too much time looking back.

The directions statement was okay but it can't and won't last till an election. Policies take time to develop, but from early '95, you'll be expected to start providing some of the answers. Trust must be earned. It cannot be assumed.

Take charge of campaigning and research. Be the hub of electoral activity, because when push comes to shove, it's your carcase that gets hung out to dry.

You can do it, Alexander, but you've got a long way to go.

Since this segment was filmed, two weeks ago, it's been difficult to know when to screen it. Downer's position has declined every day, and while not normally a quitter, I'll have to hand in my resignation as his campaign director. I did my best but this task was beyond me. He will never do all that I think he should do.

Now, the only question is can he hang onto his current job, that of Opposition Leader? And looking at all that recent speculation, you'd have to say that's a pretty heroic assumption. The dogs are barking too loudly for there to be nothing in that speculation. On the one hand, Hewson can't make a comeback because he's yesterday's man; Howard can't for the same reason; and Costello won't run because he won't risk his reputation on the next election which every Liberal will tell you privately is next to impossible to win.

So maybe, Downer could hang on. On the other hand, if he can't persuade the high-profile Michael Kroger to run in Kooyong, there'll be no respite from the damaging speculation that will inevitably come. They'll be saying that a good leader with a chance of winning will always attract quality candidates. Why can't Downer?

Alexander Downer keeps telling us that he is a determined man. If he can't shed the lead weight that is slowing his leadership to a crawl, he'll need all that determination and more. He'll need a miracle.

JIM WALEY: That opinion from Graham Richardson.