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"I run this party like a business," says Marshall


Setting objectives, defining strategies and adhering to ‘KPIs’ are the new norm in the SA Liberal Party, according to leader Steven Marshall, who insists he has instilled a private-enterprise approach in the perpetually underperforming party.

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In a candid conversation with SA’s Rooster Radio podcast, which is featured regularly in InDaily, Marshall says he still speaks to his father Tony almost daily, and uses the former Marshall Furniture founder as a sounding board.

“My father always said what you measure is what you get,” he said, explaining that it’s a philosophy that’s become ingrained in the Opposition since the disappointment of its 2014 election loss, with independent Geoff Brock backing Labor to form government despite a near 53 per cent statewide Liberal vote.

“I run this as much as possible like a business,” said Marshall.

“We set our objectives as a party, and define our strategies and our tactics and have our key performance indicators.”

LISTEN to the full interview below:

The Liberal leader revealed the methods by which Opposition insiders rate the performance of their frontbenchers.

“We measure [the number of] media hits per week and give them a score, we measure the number of questions asked in parliament… well, let’s not go into all our secrets, but we measure a lot of things in the Liberal Party – because we want to improve our performance.”

The catalyst for this improvement came from an election defeat that surprised most pundits – including within the Labor Party.

“After the last election we had to take a good look at ourselves and think ‘what are we going to change what are we going to do differently?’” Marshall said.

“And we did have to make a lot of changes.”

Marshall is frank about his strategic approach, reiterating his belief that broad-based statewide polls are no longer a sufficient basis for political strategy.

In keeping with his business philosophy, he prefers a micro approach to “segment the market”, noting that, in commerce, “this concept of billboard and slogan is not that successful any more”.

“Years ago a company would have an advertising slogan for the whole population [but] they don’t do that any more… they segment their market,” he said.

“Every person has something different… you might be speaking to someone, let’s say they’re 70 and they’re interested in Liberal policy on debt and deficit… [their view would contrast with] someone who’s 30 – they might love debt because they’ve just borrowed the deposit for their home from their parents… they’ve borrowed 95 per cent of the value from the bank, they’ve got two leased cars and three plasmas on hire debt – they love debt!”

Marshall suggested the new Liberal approach would be less slogan-driven and more about “targeting the policy to the person… listening to what their values are and what’s important to them”.

“And you listen rather than telling them what’s important for them,” he said.

Marshall concedes the party had to “take responsibility ourselves” for the fact it could not form government in 2014, and start to “think strategically about what was in the best interests of SA”.

“The Liberal Party hasn’t been in the past the most robust party,” he noted, adding that he had focussed on three driving factors – teamwork, hard work and focus – to galvanise the party-room.

But while there’s no ‘I’ in team, he “absolutely” concedes that “I wasn’t happy with my performance at the last election”.

“I was new to the game, but there were things I could have done much better than I did,” he said.

“I needed to lift, and the team needed to lift, and that’s what we did.”

Having been a cleanskin at the 2014 poll, Marshall now finds himself as the second-longest serving of the nine Liberal leaders around the country – and the longest-serving Opposition Leader.

“There’s no substitute for experience in politics,” he notes, admitting he was “probably not” ready to take the reins from Isobel Redmond when he won the leadership unanimously.

But despite the self-reflection, Marshall maintains a scathing assessment of Brock – whom he rates as one of his most “annoying” political opponents – saying he “didn’t have the courage to go back to a state election” by backing the Liberals.

“It could have been very different if Geoff Brock had said ‘no, the people wanted a change in government, we have to go back to the people’,” he reflected.

“But we had to look at ourselves… there was no point whingeing, carping and complaining.”

The political focus on negativity and combativeness, he says, is “the curse of Opposition”, with his public persona largely limited to critiquing Labor.

“It’s not like the television station rocks up and says ‘well, tell us all your good ideas’,” he lamented.

“Even when we try to put out positive stories, it’s very difficult to get that cut through.

“That’s the curse of opposition, not just in SA but worldwide.”

Rooster Radio has also requested an interview with Jay Weatherill.

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