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New South Wales election: recriminations from within the Federal Liberal Party over the handling of the campaign

RICHARD PALFREYMAN: In Canberra, there are public recriminations from within the Federal Coalition this lunchtime, for the men who ran Nick Greiner's campaign. Federal Coalition frontbenchers lashed out at the New South Wales organisation, with claims that it had a lot to learn from the Victorian branch. It was even suggested that New South Wales branch was stupid and arrogant. From Canberra, Andrew Sholl reports that the New South Wales result has rocked some of the confidence of the Federal Coalition.

ANDREW SHOLL: With the election still in the balance, some in the Federal Liberal Party concur with the frontbencher Michael Wooldridge, when he makes an off-the-cuff comment like this:

MICHAEL WOOLDRIDGE: It's about time we learnt to campaign.

ANDREW SHOLL: That's a view to which the Deputy Liberal Leader, Peter Reith, another Victorian, also subscribes. He says the New South Wales branch should take a chapter out of his State's campaigning book.

PETER REITH: It would be a lesson for us all, I think, in terms of campaigning. The Victorian Liberal Party, of course, has led the way, I think, in the past in campaigning techniques. Petro Georgiou and Michael Kroger have certainly set a standard, as we saw in the last federal election, and we'll want to see that standard replicated around the country.

REPORTER: So if you had Kroger campaigning in New South Wales, you think they would have done better?

PETER REITH: All I'd say is that Michael Kroger is a very good campaigner. Good.

ANDREW SHOLL: On the other hand, New South Wales is the home State of the Federal Opposition Leader, Dr Hewson, yet he's very deliberately not made any comments about how the campaign was handled. At a news conference yesterday, he sidestepped the issue, making it clear that he wasn't about to offer any implicit endorsement to his State counterparts. His only comment was that at the federal level, the Coalition has now got it right, correcting problems of disunity and bad management that lost them the last four federal campaigns. But there's still a tinge of bitterness between the federal Liberals and Nationals in New South Wales. National frontbencher, John Sharp, speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, in what he thought was an off-the-record briefing, is quoted this morning attacking the Greiner Government for its perceived arrogance. `They're either amazingly stupid', he says, `or just so bloody arrogant that they're not worth worrying about any more'. Senior party figures on both sides, those who've taken the time to examine what went wrong, concede that incumbent governments, whatever their political colour, are going to suffer the anger of the electorate in a recession. Again, Peter Reith.

PETER REITH: Most people would reasonably acknowledge that Greiner has managed the New South Wales economy better. Their unemployment figure was lower, their inflation rate was lower. So, I think the bottom line is that the old hip-pocket nerve really lashes out during a recession. This is the worst downturn for 60-odd years. During the depression, governments got turfed out, regardless of their political colour.

REPORTER: But don't you think people can distinguish between Liberal and Labor - who's really hitting the hip-pocket nerve?

PETER REITH: Well, they can distinguish, but they're very quick to send a message to whoever is in power, and that's the point I think about the New South Wales election, and that's the most significant repercussions at the federal level. I think it ought to send a shiver up Mr Hawke and Mr Keating's spine.

REPORTER: And you're not worried about the consumption tax issue? You don't think that had any impact on the election?

PETER REITH: Well, it just wasn't. If anybody had anything to do with the New South Wales election, they saw through the Carr campaign, as Mr Willis saw through the Carr campaign. It was not an issue. The polls showed that, and, as I say, you only had to walk through New South Wales during the election to know that it wasn't an issue.

ANDREW SHOLL: The message that bruised electorates lash out at incumbents, is not going unnoticed in the ALP in Canberra either. The Federal Government here continues to bank on the economic recovery, that depending on who you listen to, is either going to arrive in the second half of the year or the trends that the end is near, will arrive in the second half of the year. It's also conceded that the continued speculation of a Hawke/Keating showdown for the leadership that made the headlines at the end of last week, knocked Bob Carr off the front pages, and thus diminished his chances of a win on Saturday. And senior figures, like National Secretary Bob Hogg, and the former New South Wales party boss, Stephen Loosley, have both publicly called for the matter to be resolved. Whether that's at a Caucus meeting in Canberra tomorrow - an unlikely scenario - but it's still not being ruled out completely, or even before the next federal election remains to be seen.

RICHARD PALFREYMAN: Andrew Sholl in Canberra.