17/03/2014 - 10:13

Business recruits could help Libs

17/03/2014 - 10:13

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Rather than a disaster, Troy Buswell’s political exit ought to be an opportunity.

Business recruits could help Libs
OPTION: Michael Chaney’s experience in running Wesfarmers and being a sensible critic of poor policy suggests he has what it takes to be premier.

Rather than a disaster, Troy Buswell’s political exit ought to be an opportunity.

A period of uneasy calm seems to have settled over state politics a week after former Treasurer Troy Buswell’s public life imploded.

Such moments in time don’t last long, however, as the battered survivors move in to pick up the pieces and start the process of rebuilding.

Already it has been highlighted that, with the excision of Mr Buswell from a prominent cabinet position, there is now no natural leader with the credentials or inclination to replace Premier Colin Barnett in this term.

That has led to some in political and business circles to consider the possibly of parachuting in a candidate from Canberra or industry.

With three years until the next election there is time to make such a move, although it would require a metropolitan member in a safe seat to resign because even if Mr Buswell quits politics, his seat of Vasse is an unlikely place to launch the career of a ready-made future premier.

I thought I would devote this column to speculating on who might be a possibility – whether or not they have any desire for the job. Let’s just suggest that, in times of crisis sometimes, people may need to be conscripted into a role for the good of the community.

Firstly, to federal politics.

This is challenging. Despite Western Australia’s Liberal Party being well represented in Canberra, those with true profile and the credentials already have important roles in the new government, which they are unlikely to relinquish.

Julie Bishop, who more than a decade ago flirted with the concept of returning to state politics as leader, is now deputy leader of the Liberal Party and foreign minister.

Mathias Cormann is finance minister; David Johnston is defence minister; Michael Keenan is justice minister; Michaelia Cash is minister assisting the prime minister for women; Ken Wyatt is getting plenty of prominence in his work on indigenous policy; and Christian Porter has already renounced state politics.

It is hard to see any of these people being willing to leave the main game in Canberra to take on the risky move of shoring up the state’s Liberal leadership.

Stranger things have happened, though.

Perhaps business is a more likely place to pluck someone who has an appetite for risk and much less to lose.

For many who have made a quid or achieved significant success in business during the past decade or more, politics may well be an enticing change as the economy slows, especially for those who have witnessed the damage that Labor in Canberra and its union backers wrought with short-sighted policy.

I have often suggested Andrew Forrest would be an obvious choice to make the transition from business to politics. He already has a foot in both camps. However, I wrote him off long ago as state player – it would be prime minister or bust for the iron ore magnate.

Others who have significant achievements, however, may see state service as a worthy option – and perhaps, we need more than one to make this move to bolster the ranks of a much-depleted cabinet and provide alternative leadership options for the future.

I would think that Michael Chaney, for instance, has the energy for one more major job as he nears the end of his time chairing National Australia Bank, Woodside Petroleum and the University of Western Australia.

His experience in running Wesfarmers, chairing these large organisations and being a sensible critic of poor policy suggests to me that he would make an excellent premier, especially if he landed the job with full support of state Liberal parliamentarians with the mandate to build a team with leaders who could replace him within five years.

But why would Mr Chaney want the hassle? He doesn’t need to, for sure, but his family has a history of such service and few laypeople would come as well credentialed and bring the required gravitas to the position.

In my mind, another candidate could be David Flanagan, who as founding CEO and now non-executive chairman of Atlas Iron appears to be looking for the next challenge. Already regarded as an eloquent speaker with an everyman’s touch, Mr Flanagan’s political passions were ignited by the introduction of the mining tax in 2010. I suspect that, once those flames are fanned, they are hard to douse.

Despite his North American accent, former BC Iron chief Mike Young definitely has strong political opinions and a voice he uses well through letters, talkback radio and, most recently, as a key subject of an ABC documentary in WA.

I would also suggest that Brightwater Care Group chief Penny Flett, a former Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA president, would make an excellent leader of this state should she harbour such ambitions. The experience of her health bureaucrat husband Peter Flett would be a bonus when it comes to steering government.

Finally, I ought not ignore City of Perth Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi. She has proved an adept politician and used the benefits of her platform to stand head and shoulders above others in local government. Ms Scaffidi has built a strong connection to business leaders in this state that would rival most state politicians and is often seen as a voice of reason.

The challenge for Ms Scaffidi would be to transition from the bottom tier of government, which often takes a defensive stance, to one that sits in the middle of local and federal politics and must be able to dish out harsh medicine, as well as receive it.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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