02/10/2007 - 22:00

Close but no cigar for Libs

02/10/2007 - 22:00

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Several years ago, nearly all of State Scene’s left and right-of-centre political pals and contacts suddenly began using the term ‘urban legend’.

Close but no cigar for Libs

Several years ago, nearly all of State Scene’s left and right-of-centre political pals and contacts suddenly began using the term ‘urban legend’.

Since then I’ve encountered such legends regularly and often.

The most recent was carried on page one of the July 31 issue of The Australian, a newspaper State Scene once worked for and now happily subscribes to and enjoys reading.

At the bottom of that page was a story headlined “Labor support jumps to 44pc”.

Paragraph one said: “Support for the West [sic] Australian Government has reached its highest level since Labor annihilated the conservative parties at the 2005 election, piling more pressure on the near-terminal leadership of Liberal leader Paul Omodei.”

The first glaring error is that the state in which we live isn’t West Australia, but Western Australia, in other words, as correctly carried in the banner of this newspaper – Western Australian Business News.

For reasons State Scene has never understood, WA’s only daily tabloid, The West Australian, has the shortened version in its title, and many people incorrectly use it when naming our state, which is often described as Australia’s western third.

I never hear people referring to Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland collectively as the east states. They’re invariably called, the eastern states.

Interestingly, in earlier decades, Western Australians, called Sandgropers because of the Perth coastal plain’s obvious attribute, had another name for eastern staters, namely, t’othersiders.

So why do so many, especially eastern states journalists, refer to Western Australia as West Australia? Good question; but one I’ve never had satisfactorily answered.

Leaving that aside, the paragraph’s next error was far graver since it claimed “…Labor annihilated the conservative parties at the 2005 election…”

Who, apart from the Sydney-based staff at The Australian, could have claimed that Geoff Gallop-led Labor annihilated the combined forces of the Colin Barnett-led Liberals and the Max Trenorden-led Nationals in February 2005?

Apparently lots of people. But that doesn’t make it correct.

It’s an urban legend, something Google defines as “A kind of folklore consisting of stories often thought to be factual by those circulating them.

“Urban legends are sometimes repeated in news stories and, in recent years, distributed by email.

“People frequently say such tales happened to a ‘friend of a friend’ – so often, in fact, that FOAF has become a commonly used acronym to describe this sort of story.

“Urban legends are not necessarily untrue, but they are often false, distorted, exaggerated, or sensationalised.”

State Scene couldn’t have put it better.

The simple fact is that the alleged annihilation of the Barnett-Trenorden-led conservative forces never happened.

However, lots of ‘friends of friends’, and now The Australian, persist in claiming that it did happen.

So incorrect are they all that State Scene believes Dr Gallop’s abysmal February 2005 performance contributed significantly to his decision a year later to resign the premiership.

Unlike the many FOAFs going about claiming Labor inflicted a crushing defeat upon the conservatives, he knew the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, which was that he had only just scraped back into power in 2005.

That said, let’s have a closer look at the facts, which here means the actual figures, from WA’s February 2005 election.

Here State Scene must say they were carried in this column just after that election and Liberal frontbencher, Rob Johnson, even quoted these in State Parliament – but with no impact since an urban legend has sprung up claiming otherwise.

Firstly, Gallop-led Labor won government in February 2001 with just 37.2 percent of the primary vote. In other words, a truly dismal showing that means it never deserved to govern.

The only reason this unbelievably dismal performance handed Labor power was because the Liberal-National coalition performed even more dismally – gaining just 34.3 percent  – since a huge 9.6 percent of voters opted for right-of-centre One Nation.

That was crucial in Dr Gallop gaining the premiership with that dismal 37.2 per cent, which gave him 32 lower house seats and thus power.

Then came February 2005, the election at which The Australian claimed Dr Gallop “annihilated the conservatives”.

This time Dr Gallop scored 41.9 per cent of primary votes and again won 32 seats.

Labor regained the Pilbara seat held by retiring Labor independent, Larry Graham, but lost two others – Murray and Bunbury.

But it won Kingsley from the Liberals, since they bungled by foolishly pre-selecting a weak and divisive candidate, Colin Edwardes, prompting some Liberals to secretly assist Labor’s candidate.

There’s a nuggety little story there that’s never been told.

That meant the overall seat breakdown remained unchanged, with two Labor gains and two Labor losses, and the coalition scoring 39.9 to Labor’s 41.9 per cent of the primary votes.

Under no stretch of any imagination can that 2 per cent difference be considered an annihilation.

Keep in mind that the Liberal leader was the unimpressive Colin Barnett, who produced his $14 billion Kimberley canal pie-in-the-sky plan, claiming it would cost $2 billion.

On top of that, he bungled presenting his election costings on TV just before election day.

Despite his woeful performance, Mr Barnett missed toppling Dr Gallop by just more than 1,000 votes.

This little-known fact, to urban legend spreaders at least, is backed by the following calculations.

For Labor to have lost the 2005 election, just four seats needed to have been lost to the conservatives.

Labor’s four most marginal seats – those it won by the narrowest margins – were: Albany, won by just 358 votes; Kingsley, by 383; Geraldton by 490; and Riverton by 847.

Halve each of these four differences and add one vote to each answer, total those answers and the final figure is 1,042 votes.

Those 1,042 votes are all Dr Gallop held power by in a statewide electorate of a million or so voters.

If that’s an annihilation State Scene obviously uses dictionaries that carry markedly different meanings.

Perhaps that once-famous American monthly comic, Mad Magazine, has published a dictionary to compete with America’s great Webster’s and it’s on The Australian’s bookshelves.

The fact is Dr Gallop just – and I really mean just, by 1042 votes – scraped home.

If Mr Barnett hadn’t pursued his outrageous canal idea, and if he’d properly briefed himself the evening before releasing his costings, he, not Dr Gallop, would have become premier and Alan Carpenter would today be a Labor shadow spokesman.

Finally, a comment on the latter segment of The Australian’s first paragraph, about the latest poll “piling more pressure on the near-terminal leadership of Liberal leader Paul Omodei.”

Here, The Australian is, of course, quite correct.

Mr Omodei has made no headway against Mr Carpenter, and is unlikely to. Nor are the Liberals outperforming the mediocre Carpenter government.

It seems fairly obvious a leadership spill is coming; but not soon.

Maybe even early next year, after several crucial questions are resolved.

Firstly, there’s the finalising of the present redistribution process.

Secondly, there’s that Crime and Corruption Commission report on the Smith’s Beach affair that’s yet to be tabled.

The latter is needed to see if Vasse MLA, Troy Buswell, who gave evidence, gets the all clear.

The former, because while Mr Omodei is leader he (Omodei) is assured of being earmarked, that is, unchallenged, for the new Blackwood-Stirling seat.

Some even suspect he toppled failed Liberal leader, Matt Birney, to ensure he’d be unchallengeable for this seat.

If so, he’d have no objection to standing aside after the redistribution is completed as he’d have the Blackwood-Stirling Liberal endorsement.

No-one State Scene knows in Liberal ranks believes they’ll topple WA’s unimpressive dollar-flush, big taxing and less than impressive Carpenter government in February 2009.

And there are not too many optimists about on February 2013.

Although WA’s Liberals were not annihilated in February 2005, both February 2009 and 2013 look bleak, with annihilation certainly possible in 2009.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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