12/02/2016 - 14:47

Barnett holds the key

12/02/2016 - 14:47


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The premier’s ‘follow-me’ style makes his performance in the lead-up to the next state poll vital for the government’s chances of re-election.

LEADERSHIP: Colin Barnett is front and centre of most major policy announcements. Photo: Attila Csaszar

The premier’s ‘follow-me’ style makes his performance in the lead-up to the next state poll vital for the government’s chances of re-election. 

Colin Barnett has already led the Liberal Party to two election victories, but he will have to create history if he is to rank alongside party luminaries such as Sir David Brand and Sir Charles Court.

Politics is all about gaining government and staying there as long as possible; and Mr Barnett will have to deliver a third triumph to stand alongside Sir Charles, who was a three-time winner.

Sir Charles emerged victorious over then Labor premier John Tonkin in 1974, and went on to win further three-year terms in 1977 and 1980, before retiring in 1982, aged 70. The difference here, though, is that Mr Barnett is aiming to become the first premier to secure a third four-year term, since the longer tenure was introduced in the late 1980s.

The benchmark was set by Sir David, however, who won power in 1959 and led the coalition to a further three victories. His extraordinary run came to end by the narrowest of margins in 1971.

Mr Barnett’s performance in the months ahead will be crucial to his government’s electoral fortunes because he has imposed himself so firmly over its decision making process. He’s also been playing a lone hand due to the lack of an obvious successor, with potential heirs apparent Troy Buswell departing due to one indiscretion too many, and Christian Porter leaving to the federal arena.

The premier won a by-election for Cottesloe in August 1990 and is in his 26th year as an MP. Add to that his eight years as a senior minister in Richard Court’s government (1993-2001) and he is clearly the most experienced member in the lower house. He is also its most visible.

For example, the move to challenge Chief Justice Wayne Martin’s rejection of the Environmental Protection Authority’s approval for the circa $400 million Roe 8 road project was announced at a news conference by the premier. Environment Minister Albert Jacob was by his side.

When the Treasury’s mid year budget review was revealed to the media just before Christmas, it was Mr Barnett who made the opening remarks before handing over to Treasurer Mike Nahan.

Just imagine long-term federal treasurers Paul Keating (Labor) and Peter Costello (Liberal) cooling their heels on the sidelines while Bob Hawke and John Howard respectively set the scene at media events for major Treasury announcements. It wouldn’t happen.

Then there were times last year when it appeared that Mr Barnett and Transport Minister Dean Nalder had been attending different meetings over the timetable and route for the link into the Fremantle port. It was hardly reassuring for voters.

Plus there were signs late last year that the premier had taken his eye off the ball. He labelled South Australian premier Jay Weatherall ‘a dill’ over the issue of naval contracts. Most unstatesmanlike. And he seemed unconcerned that 400 workers would lose their jobs because of the planned closure of a potato chips factory at Canning Vale.

No doubt they contributed to the slump in the government’s approval rating in last month’s Newspoll, and why Labor’s Mark McGowan leads Mr Barnett as preferred premier.

But come the new year there are signs the premier, who now weighs in 20 kilograms lighter than three years ago, has his mojo back. After the tragic fire that consumed Yarloop and threatened Harvey, Emergency Services Minister Joe Francis was cool about an independent inquiry. The now-trim Mr Barnett sniffed growing public support, visited the region with his minister, and quickly announced one.

A subsequent Roy Morgan poll on voting intentions conducted earlier this month was much better for the government.

The legal challenge to Chief Justice Martin’s ruling could be time consuming, with doubts now being cast on construction of Roe 8 starting before next year’s election.

In an election environment this would actually benefit the incumbent, because there would be no vision of confrontations between residents and giant earthmoving equipment, with the picturesque Beeliar Wetlands as a backdrop, on the evening television news as polling day nears.

The election campaign success manual says you sideline controversial issues and batten down the hatches well before voting day.

Mr Barnett will have to do plenty of that if he is to join Sir David and Sir Charles on the Liberal election honour board.


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