15/12/2017 - 11:35

Barnett to leave parliament next month

15/12/2017 - 11:35

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Former Premier Colin Barnett has called time on a nearly three decade parliamentary career, which included leading the Liberal Party to a surprise victory in 2008, and heading a government which increased social support spending and invested substantially in infrastructure.

Barnett to leave parliament next month
Colin Barnett served as Premier from 2008 until 2017.

Former Premier Colin Barnett has called time on a nearly three decade parliamentary career, which included leading the Liberal Party to a surprise victory in 2008, and heading a government which increased social support spending and invested substantially in infrastructure.

Mr Barnett announced he would be resigning in late January 2018 as the member for Cottesloe on ABC Radio this morning.

The move was widely anticipated after Mr Barnett led the Liberal Party to an election loss in March this year, suffering double digit swings across the state.

“I am genuinely not about legacies, I know that sounds odd but I’m not,” Mr Barnett said.

“I made myself a number of promises certainly when I became Premier.

“That was to give it my best shot, to be very much pro-development and to lead a government of integrity and one that had care and compassion for people in need.

“I didn’t achieve everything I wanted to and made mistakes no doubt, everyone makes mistakes.

“But I feel satisfied in my own heart and soul that I kept to my commitment that I made publically and to myself.”

A distinguished career

Mr Barnett won the seat of Cottesloe in 1990, having been an economics lecturer and chief economist of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of WA.

He served in a number of portfolios in the Court Liberal government, including as Minister for Regional Development and Energy, where he led the privatisation of the state’s gas retailer and distribution network.

Mr Barnett led the Liberal Party from February 2001 until 2005, after the party lost that year’s state election, despite a small swing towards it.

That election was notable for two reasons.

One was Mr Barnett’s pledge to build a multi-billion dollar canal to carry water to Perth from the state’s north.

The second was an awkward press conference where Mr Barnett denied an error in his budget projections and was eventually forced to backpedal.

Mr Barnett’s coalition had led by as much as 12 percentage points on a two party preferred basis but came short on election day.

In the next four years, Matt Birney, Paul Omodei and Troy Buswell led the party, until Mr Buswell was removed as leader in August 2008.

Mr Barnett, who had planned a retirement to his hobby farm, took the helm, with Labor Premier Alan Carpenter attempting to catch him off guard by calling a snap election.

On the back of a campaign targeting Labor’s perceived lack of achievements, Mr Barnett won seats and formed a slim minority government with backing from independents and the Nationals.

Premiership

In eight and a half years at the helm, Mr Barnett embarked on a major public works program, building eight new hospitals, a new stadium, sinking the rail line in the Perth CBD and creating the new Elizabeth Quay precinct.

Other projects included the Forrestfield and Airport Rail Link, which is still under way, and the Gateway WA road project.

This was at a time when a huge number of private resource sector projects got under way with support from his government, including the Gorgon and Wheatstone gas plants. 

There were minor economic reforms, such as deregulation of Sunday trading hours and red tape reductions.

He also dramatically increased spending on social services, which featured big funding injections into disability support, child protection and mental health.

Health spending, for example, grew 80 per cent across his eight years in office, and similar rises occurred in other social services portfolios.

Aided by an economic boom, he cruised to a big parliamentary majority in a March 2013 election.

But the public projects came at a substantial cost, a problem exasperated by an agreement to boost expenditure in regional areas through the Royalties for Regions program and revenue issues driven by the redistribution of GST income to other states.

That led to the state’s credit rating twice being downgraded, as net debt was projected to peak around $40 billion.

Gradually, Mr Barnett had to change course on a range of promises, such as scrapping the MAX light rail line to Mirrabooka, in a bid to limit the continued budget bleed.

As the state's economy stagnated due to the end of the mining investement boom, voters turned on the government in a big way, and the Liberals lost 18 seats in the March election.

Liberal leader and former Barnett government Treasurer Mike Nahan said Mr Barnett had made a lasting contribution to WA.

“History will recognise Colin Barnett for transforming Western Australia into a dynamic, modern, progressive and cosmopolitan state that all Western Australians can be proud of,” Mr Nahan said.

“He will be remembered for delivering major infrastructure projects including Elizabeth Quay, the sinking of the railway line dividing the city and Northbridge, the world-class Perth Stadium, the new Perth Children’s Hospital, the Gateway project, Forrestfield Airport Link and the many new schools, hospitals and other vital infrastructure around the state.

“He will be remembered as the Premier who facilitated the job creating and economy transforming Gorgon and Wheatstone projects.

“He should also be remembered as a progressive and reforming social services Premier.

“Mr Barnett made significant inroads to settling the largest native title claim in Australia with the South West Aboriginal Land and Seas Council and facilitated the recognition of Aboriginal people as the first people of Australia into our WA Constitution.

“He established Australia’s first mental health minister, making the biggest ever injection of funding into the not-for-profit sector and invested in record levels in health, education, police, mental health, child protection and disability services – all this in the context of the global financial crisis and record migration to the state.”

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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