Australia’s Lessons for Restoring Faith in Politics │ Angus Gillan
Forget the superficial, we care about the tangible: Governance and the New South Wales Liberals.
The result of the 18th May 2019 Australian federal election hangs in the balance, yet one thing is certain. The Liberals’ recent success in the New South Wales (NSW) state election is a lesson for governments worldwide in how to turn delivery into victory.
The Liberals have been elected on an impressive manifesto; receiving a renewed mandate from the people for the revitalisation of public services following the Federal budget in April. Key headlines include a $20 billion AUD extension to the North West Rail line and the fast-tracking of the Sydney Metro extension.
Ms Berejiklian’s leadership of the government has turned NSW fortunes around. Under Labor, NSW ranked as the weakest economy in Australia, now, under the Liberals it is the strongest. Their slogan of “Let’s Get it Done” rings true. Delivery has been supported by the party’s friendly face; which has seen Premier Berejiklian greet children and babies, present flowers to pensioners and chow down on a #DemocracySausage. This shows how trust has been built with the electorate over the last four years.
Simultaneously, Ms Berejiklain’s campaign has firmly taken credit for her party’s own achievements from 2015 onwards, eulogising their impressive number of 1000 “Top Projects”. Public services have experienced a boom with the opening of new police stations, helicopter bases, bridges and hospitals. Alongside this, upgrades have been added to existing infrastructure such as air-conditioning in classrooms and a host of clinical facilities in hospitals.
The Liberal party’s Social-democratic and Keynesian approach is demonstrated by a record breaking $89.7 billion AUD infrastructure plan which has added half a percentage point of economic growth to the NSW economy.
This is made possible by the economic history of the previous decade. Comparatively to Europe, Australia was not as devastated by the 2008 Financial Crisis, avoiding recession, and so retained trust in political institutions. Despite these differences, the delivery of policy and public services is a moral issue that unites all. Thus, success may counter the divides we see across national political discourses. Increasing quality of life and faith in democracy can defeat the ‘perception gap’ as some reports indicate Australians regard fact checking as far more important than most Americans. The NSW elections may then demonstrate that through delivery politicians can prove themselves trustworthy to the electorate.
The key to this is the Premier’s Implementation Unit, the Liberal’s Hammer of Hephaestus. Created in 2015 by Premier Baird, the Unit has instituted an official governance framework for delivery. One action of note is the requirement for ministers to provide routine personal departmental updates to the Premier. The provision of scrutiny and support from the head of the state secures accountability and increases transparency. The Unit derives inspiration and support from Sir Michael Barber’s Delivery Associates who also advise the Canadian and Mongolian governments, among others. Sir Michael ran Tony Blair’s Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit from 2001-05, and authored Instruction to Deliver, a guidebook for policy makers. He extols the importance of understanding delivery chains and setting measurable, bold, objectives while using data to track trajectories and outcomes.
By fostering respect for a value-for-money government and encouraging efficient forward planning the Unit has nurtured a business mindset in the public sector that allows the Liberals to “Keep NSW Working”. Those willing to learn the lesson of NSW do not need to copy their actions but their thoughts: gain a mandate, prioritise delivery, and claim the credit.
Some criticise campaigning on ‘we said we would do X and we did, now we’ll do Y’ as dry. But maybe we should hope global politics experiences a lot less rain.
Angus is a former Conservative Council Candidate, Postgraduate student at King’s College London.