12/03/2008 - 22:00

A changing political dynamic

12/03/2008 - 22:00


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With most in-the-know political pundits confident the next state election will be held this December, it’s time to begin considering some possible outcomes.

A changing political dynamic

With most in-the-know political pundits confident the next state election will be held this December, it’s time to begin considering some possible outcomes.

For starters, State Scene steers clear of predicting which major party – Labor or Liberal – will form the core of the next government.

The main reason for this is that we’re still some nine months out from the vote, so it’s early days.

Another is that neither party has performed impressively, which makes any prediction at this stage doubly difficult.

So unimpressive have both been since the February 2005 election – which Labor won by only 1,000 or so votes – one feels compelled to yearn for the emergence of a third force not linked to either dull party machine.

That, incidentally, isn’t as unlikely as it may seem, because the signs are one-time Liberal deputy leader, Dan Sullivan, who left that party last month, may well create precisely that third force.

State Scene has heard Mr Sullivan, one of the Liberals’ best tacticians, believes the paucity of talent and imagination on both sides leaves ample room for a long overdue revival in political thinking and action.

As, and if, things further evolve in this quarter, State Scene will more closely consider them.

In the meantime what of some other possible outcomes? One can safely predict that, of Western Australia’s 59 lower house seats, at least four will not be won by Labor, the Liberals, or Nationals.

Of these, three will almost certainly be won by candidates who’ll market themselves as independent Liberals and one as an independent Laborite.

The former includes three women – Janet Woollard, Liz Constable and Sue Walker – representing Alfred Cove, Churchlands and Nedlands respectively.

It’s most unlikely the Liberals will find candidates capable of toppling any of these three.

Labor has a similar problem in the seat of Kalgoorlie, with former Carpenter government minister, John Bowler, ready, willing and able to go for it as an independent.

So, of the 59 seats up for grabs in December, four would appear beyond the reach of the two major parties.

And another four are likely to be in the same category, since they are seen by the National Party as set to tumble into their bag.

The first is the seat of Moore, now held by Liberal, Gary Snook.

Moore has been markedly expanded under the latest redistribution, taking in some of the old Greenough that’s been held since 2004 by the Nationals’ Grant Woodhams.

The Snooks-Woodhams clash is set to be a closely run affair and could go to the Nationals.

The remaining three the Nationals will almost certainly win are Central Wheatbelt, Wagin, and Blackwood- Stirling.

In the former, Nationals leader Brendan Grylls is a virtual certainty, even without Labor preferences.

The same applies in Wagin with Nationals deputy, Terry Waldron.

And it’s also difficult to imagine Terry Redman not winning Blackwood-Stirling for the Nats, which explains the manoeuvring by former Liberal leader, Paul Omodei, to shift to the upper house.

The outcome is, therefore, that another four seats must be removed from the 59 that neither Labor nor the Liberals may win.

For Labor to form the next government it must therefore win 30 of the remaining 51 seats.

If it wins only 29, that would put Mr Bowler into a very interesting position.

Here’s a man who is Labor through and through, and who will likely take Kalgoorlie, which has since 2001 been represented by Liberal, Matt Birney, who is leaving politics.

How will Mr Bowler play his hand? He could, for instance, deny Labor another four years in power by throwing his hat in the non-Labor direction.

However, if he chose not to do that he’d have three other options open to him.

Firstly, he could remain an independent backbencher and vote on each piece of legislation as he saw fit; something that would keep a Labor government in permanent doubt.

Secondly, he could demand a ministerial position; something Mr Carpenter removed him from because of his contact with lobbyist and former Labor minister, Julian Grill.

If Mr Bowler demanded a ministerial spot there would be lots of humble pie eating by Premier Alan Carpenter and Attorney- General Jim McGinty.

And finally, he could be less demanding and instead insist on a prestigious parliamentary post, like, say, speaker of the Legislative Assembly.

Only time will tell which of these he’d prefer if Labor fell just short of gaining the necessary number of seats.

State Scene realises former Labor minister, John D’Orazio, can be seen as identical to Mr Bowler, but he’s excluded from consideration since it’s far less likely the Liberals will preference him ahead of a Labor candidate because they so severely criticised him before he became an independent.

What then of the remaining seven seats that neither Labor nor the Liberals is likely to win – the three held by the independent Liberal women – Doctors Woollard and Constable, and Mrs Walker – and the Nationals’ four?

This seven-seat bloc means the Troy Buswell-led Liberals could also face a tricky post-election situation if they win 23 seats.

To form government Mr Buswell would need all seven to come across into his camp.

In one fell swoop the four Nationals and three independent Liberals would therefore find themselves in a position of unprecedented power.

All could, for instance, demand ministerial slots, which, among other things, would mean only eight spots left in a non-Labor cabinet for Liberal MPs to share.

That’s a drastic cut into the 15 ministers the Carpenter cabinet presently has.

Mr Grylls would be able to demand that not only he and his deputy, Mr Waldron, should become ministers, but could also negotiate Messrs Woodhams and Redman into cabinet.

Let’s not forget, however, that Mr Grylls has publicly committed the Nationals to never joining a Liberalled government, something he may or may not stand by if crunch time comes.

If he and his three colleagues abide by that commitment, they’d find themselves in the same position as Mr Bowler.

All four Nationals could stay outside a minority Liberal and Independent Liberal government, thereby leaving the Buswell team in ongoing uncertainly about the fate of its legislative program.

Also not to be overlooked – though this is certainly less likely – is that Premier Carpenter could move to outmanoeuvre Mr Buswell by offering the Nationals a place, or two, or more, in a Labor ministry, if the election outcome numbers fell accordingly.

Nationals MPs in a Labor cabinet?

Impossible, most will probably say.

But that suggestion isn’t as unlikely as some may presume.

Not widely realised in WA political circles is the fact that South Australia’s Labor government, headed by Mike Rann, includes Karlene Maywald, a Nationals MP.

Mrs Maywald is Minister for the River Murray, Regional Development, Small Business, Consumer Affairs and Science and the Information Economy.

She’s also Minister assisting the Minister for Industry and Trade and Minister for Water Security.

Since she’s the only Nationals member of South Australia’s parliament, she is the state parliamentary leader of her party.

Mr Maywald entered the Rann ministry in 2004 after signing an agreement with Labor that’s allowed her to reserve the right to vote against the Rann government over any legislation affecting her electorate or the business community.

What this suggests is that if the numbers fall a certain way at this state’s coming election, Western Australians could easily see one or more such Maywald agreements signed either by Mr Carpenter or Mr Buswell.

Interesting political times may indeed be ahead of us.


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