13/08/2008 - 22:00

Barnett, Libs have it all to do

13/08/2008 - 22:00


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With three Liberal leaders - Matt Birney, Paul Omodei, and Troy Buswell - humiliatingly dumped since Colin Barnett's resignation after his failed bid to oust Labor's Geoff Gallop in 2005 - the Liberals have Mr Barnett again leading them.

With three Liberal leaders - Matt Birney, Paul Omodei, and Troy Buswell - humiliatingly dumped since Colin Barnett's resignation after his failed bid to oust Labor's Geoff Gallop in 2005 - the Liberals have Mr Barnett again leading them.

Clearly resurrection wasn't something he could turn down even on financial grounds, since his base salary promptly leaped from a backbencher's $123,780 to an opposition leader's $179,481. And, with some luck, it could reach a premier's $287,170.

And with politicians' salaries set to rise by about 5 per cent this Friday, Mr Barnett will be pulling in nearly $190,000 as opposition leader and well over $300,000 if he replaces Mr Carpenter on September 6.

But if he fails, there's nothing stopping him remaining Liberal leader for a year or so before making way for close ally, newly elected Murdoch MP Christian Porter, to take over in late 2009.

And that extra year or so at the top would mean a welcomed boost to Mr Barnett's life-long superannuation payments.

Those were his dollar stakes in the Buswell dumping.

What remains unclear is precisely who launched the 'bring back Colin campaign'.

Was it, as so many contend, solely the editorial staff of The West Australian?

Or was it perhaps a few close to Mr Barnett - those so close and so in-the-know that they were able to keep The West's editorial staffers fully abreast of developments inside and across Liberal ranks?

Liberal insiders have identified two who qualify for such back-seat roles - one an MP, the other a candidate who panicked a month or so ago because of bad vibes over Mr Buswell while door knocking.

That said, the next question needing consideration is how likely is it that Mr Barnett will snap-up that $300,000 prize next month?

To begin analysing the possibilities it's important to keep the number 30 in mind, because that's how many seats a side must win in the 59-member lower house to form government.

For Mr Barnett it's quite a formidable task, since a huge 29 seats are well and truly Labor's, either impregnable (like Girrawheen), rock solid (like Maylands), very solid (like Balcatta), to quite solid (like Forrestfield).

In other words, Labor seems well positioned despite Alan Carpenter and Jim McGinty heading-up what can only be described as an unimaginative and mediocre government.

But their decision to call an election six months ahead of time indicates they clearly fear something.

Is it the possibility of summer power black-outs or discontent with daylight saving?

Or is another Corruption and Crime Commission report due?

However, even if one or two seats in the 'quite solid' category tumbled into the Barnett dilly-bag, there are others outside the 29-seat category that could go the other way, that is, fall out of the Barnett dilly-bag into the Carpenter-McGinty sack.

Consider the Barnett-led camp's following problems.

The first that needs highlighting within those remaining 30 seats is that four - Wagin, Central Wheatbelt, Moore and Blackwood-Stirling - are set to be won by the Brendon Grylls-led Nationals, which leaves Mr Barnett only a possible 26 seats remaining.

Moreover, Mr Grylls has made it clear that he and his three lower house colleagues aren't interested in being ministers.

In other words, forget dreaming about another conservative coalition.

The Nationals in future intend playing both sides off for the benefit of non-metropolitan or bush voters.

The Grylls-led Nationals are adamant they'll be standing aside in future, which means if Labor offers what they want they'll back them on the floor of the lower house.

However, if the disunited Barnett Liberals were to find themselves in a position to offer something better for the bush, they'll back them. But not in coalitions.

State Scene realises many claim Mr Grylls's present cast-iron resolve in this regard will buckle if the Liberals do well.

I've put exactly that proposition to him - and he's looked me in the eye and said - "Never, never again".

Coalitions, he says, are ancient history.

That leaves Mr Barnett needing 30 seats from a field of 26 seats - the 30 minus the four refusing Nationals - which is impossible.

Mr Barnett, even if he does well, by which State Scene means if he wins 26 seats, would at best only be able to form a minority government, one relying on the four Nationals who wouldn't join him in coalition.

And it's here that an entirely new factor - one that's so far been overlooked - walks onto WA's political stage.

Let's say Mr Carpenter wins all his impregnable-to-quite-solid Labor seats, giving him 29 seats, one short of being able to form government.

And let's say Mr Barnett wins the remaining 26 minus the four National seats, which is far from certain.

What would that mean?

Firstly, it puts the Nationals in a potent position to start talking turkey, as they say in the bush, on which side to support and under what conditions.

Secondly, when it comes to offering the power to form a government surely WA Governor Ken Michael would feel under some obligation to offer the majority party - in this case Labor - the first offer of the Treasury benches since they'd have 29 MPs, to 26 non-Laborites plus the four Nationals.

However, unfortunately for Mr Barnett, the situation in that crucial 26-seat category isn't as clear-cut as may initially seem.

Here are some complications.

Among those 26 seats are several that Mr Barnett is likely to have great difficulty winning, if indeed he even stands Liberal candidates.

State Scene puts no fewer than six into this group.

They include the three held by Independent Liberals - Janet Woollard, Liz Constable and Sue Walker.

True, efforts are being made to coax them across, and he may succeed in one or two cases.

But only a brave person would predict all three women can be counted on to offer him full and unconditional backing.

This qualification may not trim the 26-seat number down to 23 seats, but it certainly means the 26 figure is far from rock solid.

Moreover, many Liberals have been viewing the two provincial seats of Geraldton and Albany as set to fall into their dilly-bag.

That, however, remains a brave prediction with their current Labor incumbents - Shane Hill and Peter Watson, respectively - far from easy marks.

This takes that 26-seat figure further downwards for Mr Barnett.

And there's another problem; the seat of Kalgoorlie, which Mr Birney isn't contesting.

Although many see Kalgoorlie as being Liberal on the basis of the past two elections, that's a brave claim since those figures reflect Mr Birney's two performances.

With Mr Birney now out of the race, and with sacked Labor minister, John Bowler, contesting Kalgoorlie as Independent Labor, it's quite likely to go to him or Labor candidate, Mathew Cuomo, rather than to a Liberal.

If Mr Bowler wins Kalgoorlie he'd be able to negotiate himself into becoming lower house speaker if Labor found itself with only 29 seats.

And the Liberals are far from assured of winning Collie-Preston that's being contested by their frontbencher, Steve Thomas, who faces a tough fight.

Also problematical is Mr Buswell's fate in his seat of Vasse, where he could easily be challenged by the man he toppled as leader, Paul Omodei, and the MP he snatched Liberal endorsement from, Bernie Masters.

If Messrs Omodei and Masters exchanged preferences, one of them could topple Mr Buswell.

It's being said a uniform swing of 4 per cent will see Labor ousted.

There was no way that would have happened with Mr Buswell as leader.

But Mr Barnett has more than a Carl Lewis hop, step and jump to do before he can sit back and smile as he's pulling in over $300,000 a year.


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