13/02/2008 - 16:04

Carpenter seeks affirmation as he outlines his vision

13/02/2008 - 16:04


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Just how lonely is it at the top? Premier Alan Carpenter is at the height of his powers, giving the nod today to almost $400 million in new cultural infrastructure, bringing to $2 billion the commitments in this space in the past week.

Carpenter seeks affirmation as he outlines his vision

Just how lonely is it at the top? Premier Alan Carpenter is at the height of his powers, giving the nod today to almost $400 million in new cultural infrastructure, bringing to $2 billion the commitments in this space in the past week.

Yet, Mr Carpenter used much of his address at a Committee for Economic Development of Australia luncheon seemingly seeking reassurance from the audience that he was on the right track at a time that he described as an epoch, a period that people will look back on and marvel.

The premier sought to paint a picture of a government that was in touch with the state's needs, that had the intellectual horsepower to meet big challenges and was thinking long term.

His was a government of vision, he appeared to say. He didn't mind, he admitted, being called Carps the Builder, as he had been tagged by the cheekier side of the Western Australian media.

Against this, Mr Carpenter knows he must contend with calls that the spending of the past week is all about an election within the next 12 months and a very great self-indulgence for the people of Perth - far removed from the wealth generating areas of the state.

Acknowledging that he had to be re-elected to see his agenda through, the premier said he hoped the public understood his vision and that it was about the longer term, that he was "pitching up past politics".

"I hope there is a growing sense of awareness of what I am up to'" Mr Carpenter said.

"It is an agenda that goes way beyond the normal political agenda."

"I hope that people see me as premier that leads a government that wants to make big decisions ... decisions in the long-term interests of the state, bold decisions."

"I want to be the premier of a government which achieves great things for the state."

Mr Carpenter sought to make that a historical statement, flagging moves to retain children at highschool or training until 17 and the go-ahead for a desalination plant at Kwinana as visionary moves that foresaw the current challenges of skills shortages and climate change.

However, in the same breath he admitted that housing affordability was one horse that had bolted past the present Labor government, and remained to be reined back in.

On the foreshore, he said it was part of building a modern, vibrant, world-class capital city which was a major element of his government's long-term thinking.

"Our city of Perth is going through a dramatic transformation."

If he was looking for affirmation, he received it from the conservative audience before him - which clearly approved his foreshore concepts, especially his commitment to getting on with an idea that has languished for decades.

But today's audience are the type of people who've been calling for visionary government and strong leadership for a long time.

Much will depend on how the electorate sees it, even if Mr Carpenter thinks he's speaking to the opinion leaders.

With a treasury bursting with money, he knows he's in a unique position of being damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.

Former premier Richard Court was lambasted for spending a few million dollars on a the bell tower at Barrack Square and attacked by the then Labor opposition for seeking to build monuments to himself.

Today, everyone thinks the bell tower is too small and that Mr Court should have spent four times as much (still a trifle in today's environment) to create a landmark.

Mr Carpenter will have witnessed that and wondered whether he'll be seen as a monument builder too.


Addendum: The announcements culminating in today's foreshore decision reminded me of a funny exchange at a CEDA function two years ago, when Alan Carpenter was a newly installed as premier.

An audience member asked the new premier whether he might commission a "grand yet frivolous" building so that his descendents would know "how prosperous these times were".

No doubt with images of headlines such as Carps' Folly appearing before his eyes, the wily politician said at the time: "When it is time for me to go, I will announce it."

Clearly there is nothing frivolous about this past week's $2 billion commitments for new stadiums, museums, circles and squares, so we can safely assume Mr Carpenter has no intention to go anywhere for quite some time.

He wants to be remembered for ushering through significant changes without paying the unfortunate political price for being the one writing the cheques.






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