17/06/2016 - 13:52

Barnett hopes to contain federal fallout

17/06/2016 - 13:52


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The federal election could have ramifications for Colin Barnett’s leadership; how big depends on the size of the swing against the Turnbull government.

Barnett hopes to contain federal fallout
BLAME GAME: Colin Barnett is trying to soften any fallout from the July 2 poll by criticising his federal counterparts over the GST. Photo: Attila Csaszar

The federal election could have ramifications for Colin Barnett’s leadership; how big depends on the size of the swing against the Turnbull government.

The state Liberal Party is bracing for the fallout from an expected adverse swing, and the loss of several seats, in the federal election on July 2. 

The party’s immediate post-poll challenge will be how to deal with the reaction from nervous state MPs, who could lose their own seats if the slump in support is repeated at the March 2017 state election.

The expected setback could well revive speculation about Colin Barnett’s leadership, as the finger of blame is pointed.

The size of the swing will be crucial to what will follow, but Mr Barnett and his government are almost certain to be targeted.

The premier has moved quickly to head off any backlash against him or his administration, noting the ‘lack of action’ by the federal government towards the state’s low return for the GST.

For every dollar collected by the GST in Western Australia this year, the return will be just 30 cents – easily the lowest of any state.

“If there is any pushback in this campaign from Western Australia it will be over the GST issue because the people of this state understand it very, very well,” Mr Barnett told ABC News.

In fact an anti-Liberal swing in federal seats is inevitable. The Liberals’ two-party preferred vote in WA peaked at an extraordinary 58.3 per cent at the 2013 election. An unpopular federal Labor government and the introduction of the mining tax, which was electoral poison in the west, resulted in voters dumping Labor in their thousands.

The Liberals retained 12 of WA’s 15 federal seats, which compares favourably with the virtual clean sweep after the Whitlam Labor government’s dismissal in 1975. Labor’s only win in the west then was by Kim Beazley Snr in the party’s stronghold of Fremantle.

The Liberal vote will come down from the dizzy heights of three years ago, and Labor is confident of making up ground. The seats in its sights as likely gains this time are Cowan, Burt and Hasluck, and possibly Swan (on a good day).

The Liberals would still hold the majority of WA seats, but the drop in support would be enough to set the hares running.

And again, attention would turn to Mr Barnett.

It is an issue Liberal MPs, in particular, would need to think long and hard about. The premier is by no means a populist, and trails Labor leader Mark McGowan in ‘preferred premier’ polls.

And Mr Barnett has already flagged that, if he should lead his party to victory next year for an historic third four-year term, he would retire before the next poll in 2021. That’s both being honest and an invitation for Labor to mount a campaign that a vote for Colin Barnett is a vote for Deputy Premier Liza Harvey, or other aspirants such as Mike Nahan, Dean Nalder or Joe Francis.

However, those Liberals who would prefer an earlier change would be wise to consider the lessons of history. Four premiers have been replaced mid-term over the past 34 years, and only one of the successors has gone on to victory at the subsequent election.

Legislative Council president Barry House, who was elected in 1987, reminded the Liberal Party room recently that Sir Charles Court had stood down after almost eight years as premier in 1982. Ray O’Connor, who replaced Sir Charles, lost to Labor’s Brian Burke a year later.

When Mr Burke quit in 1988, he handed over to Peter Dowding, who led Labor to a narrow victory in 1989. But his colleagues sensationally forced his hand amid declining polling and he resigned a year later, with his abrasive style of leadership a factor.

This ushered in Australia’s first woman premier, Carmen Lawrence. She called the ‘WA Inc’ royal commission, and had to deal with the fallout. Her government was ousted by the Richard Court-led coalition in 1993.

Geoff Gallop took Labor back to power in 2001 but when he was forced to retire due to depression in 2006, Alan Carpenter led Labor back into opposition after his shock early 2008 poll.

So, with the exception of Mr Dowding, precedence is not kind to premiers who acquire the job mid-term. The Liberals would be wise to keep that in mind.


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