Ken’s excellent post below on Sydney water contains this statement.
Bad governments exist in part because of even worse oppositions, and New South Wales is currently very poorly served by both major parties.
I think we’re seeing a new age of incumbency. Its produced to a large extent by sustained economic prosperity. In the 1950s and 60s and early 70s we had the Menzies Government at the federal level and long periods of incumbency for Governments like those of Playford, Bolte and Askin to name a few.
But I think the current age of incumbency also reflects the commoditisation of politics for several reasons. Poltical parties have much weaker bases in the community than they once did. This and the sickness (though not quite death) of ideological differences means that day to day politics is focused mainly on media management and Governments have a huge advantage over Oppositions in this area because they can make or frame most of the political news and oppositions find it exceptionally difficult to do anything but react.
And then there’s the growing abuse of incumbency with political advertising and the use of government to assist fundraising. In addition to the brazen political feelgood advertising begun by Paul Keating and continued with gusto by John Howard and state Premiers, there are also the fund raising advantages of incumbency. The ALP’s ‘Progressive Business’ has just organised Melburne Commonwealth Games parties where business can pay through the nose for access to the atheletes and of course Government politicians.
I suspect causation runs at least as much in the opposite direction as the direction that Ken is suggesting. That is being out of government reduces the perceived quality of your political performance and long periods of failure diminish the attractiveness of politics to those who might otherwise get into the game. So there’s a vicious circle where oppositions go downhill, fail to renew themselves and fall into bitter squabbling over the spoils of opposition. Examples include the Federal Liberals under the Hawke/Keating Government and the ALP under Howard’s Government. There are plenty of good analogues in the states.