20/05/2016 - 14:35

Barnett fighting history in 2017

20/05/2016 - 14:35

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Colin Barnett may be battling the odds to make a third term, but he’s certainly up for the fight.

Barnett fighting history in 2017
DETERMINED: Colin Barnett is methodically drawing the election battlelines. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Colin Barnett may be battling the odds to make a third term, but he’s certainly up for the fight.

The buzz on the terrace is that Colin Barnett and his Liberal-National government have just about used up their shelf lives, with the recent state budget having only reinforced that view.

The shelf life theory was promoted by former prime minister John Howard, who knew a thing or two about holding on to power.

When first elected, the leader and government are at eye level ‘on the supermarket shelf’, and possibly – provided a reasonable amount of luck – for long enough to be re-elected. At some stage after that, terminal turbulence will set in.

Then you move up or down the shelf, as demand wanes, before eventually disappearing.

Mr Howard lasted 11 years to become the second longest serving PM. But unless events break Mr Barnett’s way – iron ore prices might rocket again – he appears destined to join his predecessors Richard Court and Alan Carpenter as a victim of Western Australia’s ‘third-term curse’.

Since 1989, when four-year terms first applied, no premier or government has survived beyond two terms. Mr Barnett appeared well placed to break the hoodoo early on, but that now seems increasingly problematic.

Not that the premier is running up the white flag. He might appear somewhat gaunt on television, and has developed a limp due to a tennis injury caused by a rolled ankle or muscle tear (take your pick), but he has a strategy to claw back the lead opened up by Labor and Mark McGowan in a recent Newspoll on voting intentions.

Mr Barnett outlined his plan to 800 guests at the annual post budget breakfast, where the premier and treasurer of the day set about wooing voters on the merits of their initiatives. There were few sweeteners to promote, but the premier thought it time to emphasise what he sees as major points of difference with the opposition.

“For example, talking about growing agriculture doesn’t make a lot of sense if you turn your back on the science of genetically modified crops and the ability to increase productivity,” Mr Barnett said.

“Talking about tourism and the potential job growth there doesn’t make a lot of sense if you are unwilling to do anything about normalising night and weekend penalty rates. You are just not going to get the jobs growth.

“Similarly if you are want to continue to see the massive growth of our huge mining industry, it doesn’t make sense if you don’t support uranium mining or fracking, if you are going to put up some of those old obstacles and delays to develop it.

“If you believe science has got a future, how can you not support a new museum when that arguably is the most significant scientific institution in our state?”

You can sense the battlelines being drawn, despite the buzz.

Communication key

The long federal election campaign is placing extra pressure on party leaders to produce a daily positive message; and there is no shortage of armchair critics as Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten roam the country.

Mr Turnbull’s policies have been described as weak in sweeteners. His sales pitch has been criticised as being directed too much towards the better-educated voter. He’s been advised to flick the switch to populism.

Mr Shorten has come under fire for allegedly downplaying aspiration, and backing increased taxation and higher spending. Both men would benefit from the experience of earlier leaders.

The prime minister should follow the example of his one-time business partner, the former NSW Labor premier Neville Wran. Mr Wran was a leading industrial barrister before entering politics.

He reluctantly agreed to sell his Jaguar car on becoming a politician, when advised driving one was not a good look for a Labor MP.

Mr Wran was a brilliant communicator who was equally at home waltzing with Princess Diana or dropping his ‘aitches’ and sharing a middy with blue-collar workers in the pub.

Mr Shorten would be well advised to take a leaf out of either Bob Hawke or Paul Keating’s book. Both wanted to improve the lot of battlers. They believed growing the economy was the best way to fund relevant assistance programs, thus generating more government revenue, rather than increased taxation rates.

Whomever wins the contest in getting his message across will emerge victorious on July 2.


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