13/03/2007 - 22:00

'D' is for disastrous direction

13/03/2007 - 22:00

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Despair, despondency, dejection. Pick any of these ‘d’ words and it will describe the mood within the parliamentary wing of the state Liberal Party. The reason is obvious.

Despair, despondency, dejection. Pick any of these ‘d’ words and it will describe the mood within the parliamentary wing of the state Liberal Party. The reason is obvious.

During the past year four ministers – John D’Orazio, Norm Marlborough, Tony McRae and John Bowler – have been sacked; the last three because of links to the ubiquitous Brian Burke-Julian Grill lobbying team.

In addition, education minister at the time, Ljiljanna Ravlich, was demoted after struggling with her duties.

But despite receiving clandestine coaching by Mr Burke on how to handle the Outcome Based Education issue and The West Australian’s campaigning editor, Paul Armstrong, she’s been promoted in ministerial ranking.

Several senior public servants – Gary Stokes (Industry and Commerce); Paul Frewer (Water); Mark Brabazon (Environment and Conservation); Wally Cox (Environ-mental Planning Authority); and Mike Allen (Planning and Infrastructure) face torrid times because of their well-publicised links to the Burke-Grill team.

One mayor, Stephen Lee (Cockburn), a deputy mayor, Sam Salpietro (Wanneroo), a former mayor, Beryl Morgan (Busselton), and former Busselton councillor, Fraser Smith, have also been enmeshed with the Burke-Grill team.

And Rockingham Mayor Barry Sammels has disclosed that his council paid Mr Grill and met Mr Burke at his Trigg home to discuss how to lobby the Gallop government on a railway line.

Three (now former) ministerial chiefs-of-staff – Rewi Lyall, Nathan Hondras, and Simon Corrigan – have been named as part of a long-term Burke-created, and therefore pro-Burke, ‘dream team’ to become the next generation of Labor MPs.

Local mining identities Andrew Forrest (Fortescue Metals Group), Rod Smith (Precious Metals Australia), and Miles Kennedy (Kimberley Diamond Company), and property developers David Mackenzie (Canal Rocks), Chris Lewis (Australand), Trevor Delroy (Eclipse Resources), David Cecchele (Urban Pacific), and David Lombardo (Tirana Holdings) have been identified as clients of the Burke-Grill team.

Labor power broker and Attorney-General, Jim McGinty, the only MP fully informed of the Corruption and Crime Commission’s (CCC) surveillance unit’s eavesdropping on the Burke-Grill team’s telephone chats said: “These people, Brian Burke in particular, are like cannibals, they kill and devour their own friends and supporters…”

Mr McGinty’s factional ally, Agriculture Minister Kim Chance, nearly matched that by calling Mr Burke “toxic”.

Not since Labor’s 1950s great split, during which Mr Burke’s father’s political career was destroyed, have Labor MPs spoken so caustically of former colleagues.

But despite such bitterness and the sizeable cast of political pals and hopefuls, helpers plus clients named or quizzed by the CCC, Paul Omodei’s Liberals seem unable to get a significant polling boost or even the hint of a likely election victory.

The latest Westpoll showed Labor falling from 44 to 39 points; the Liberals rose from 35 to 37; with Labor well ahead on a two-party preferred basis at 51.2 points.

Little wonder failed Liberal leader, Colin Barnett, has begun looking to lift his profile.

Without pointing the finger at Mr Omodei’s unimpressive performance at the Peel by-election, Mr Barnett has come out all guns blazing and claiming the Liberals are to blame for being stuck in a losing groove.

Party solidarity, hard work, burying hatchets and discarding non-performers is what’s needed, Mr Barnett claimed.

“Some of our members who have been around for a while need to start performing,” he told a newspaper.

“They need to forget the past and stop worrying about whether they have been wronged.

“They need to forget all of that and just get on with it.

“If they are not going to pull their weight they should think about their futures and either retire or signal they will not stand at the next election.

“There are too many who have been there too long and their best parliamentary years are behind them. You want people whose best years are in front of them, not behind them.”

The Liberals’ failure to gain electoral grip from CCC revelations was made more telling by the fact that the one time their federal colleagues focused on the Burke-Grill team it gravely wounded Labor leader Kevin Rudd, who’d met Mr Burke three times over 2005.

Local MPs must be wondering why WA’s Liberals can’t get more mileage from the CCC revelations.

Understandably, rumours of moves of a leadership spill are surfacing.

The handful of long-time Barnett loyalists who helped Mr Omodei topple failed leader, Matt Birney, are said to have had exploratory talks about their dismal – another ‘d’ word – prospects.

Factionally unaligned South West Liberal MP, Steve Thomas, has  also stressed the need for solidarity to help overcome the lack of a standout Liberal performer.

“A champion team will beat a team of champions,” he said.

“We have a long way to go and we have to be galvanised if we are to have any chance of winning the next election.”

That suggests Mr Thomas and possibly others are thinking along the Barnett lines of burying hatchets and toning down factional bitterness.

All this, of course, means Mr Omodei’s days seem to be numbered.

An anti-Omodei coup will be sudden and unexpected, like Mr Rudd’s removal of Mr Beazley.

But before a leadership pact is struck with Mr Barnett, he’ll be unambiguously told that if he wants the numbers he’ll have to stop behaving like the last time he was leader. Then, he isolated himself from all he distrusted, as well as his deputy and the shadow ministerial team.

Seemingly bright spark, but ultimately  hair-brained ideas like the $14-billion-plus Kimberley canal Mr Barnett foolishly marketed as a $2-billion project will all be vetted and approved by a policy and strategy team.

Reining in Mr Barnett certainly won’t be easy, because he sees himself as brighter than most, if not all, of his colleagues, something most see as being very wide of the mark.

That said, those coming to the view that Mr Omodei must go and be replaced by Mr Barnett, despite his many faults – since he’s all that’s available – don’t foresee victory in February 2009.

Two years is an eternity in politics and the emerging Barnett backers simply feel that, although he’ll more than likely lose to Carpenter-led Labor, the margin will be smaller than if Mr Omodei remains leader.

A leadership change is therefore seen by some as necessary to minimise electoral damage, not as leading to the defeat of Labor.

Why, it’s worth asking, does such a defeatist – another ‘d’ word – exist?

State Scene’s guess is that the emerging backers of the idea of resurrecting Mr Barnett know he’s unlikely to enhance them with imaginative, far-sighted and winning policies.

Look at the Kimberley canal and before that when as energy minister he foolishly sold-off the Dampier to Bunbury natural gas pipeline, thereby creating a privately controlled monopolist – something the Carmen Lawrence government’s farsighted Carnegie Report specifically warned against.

On top of that, during October the electoral boundaries for the February 2009 contest will be unveiled, and no-one in the Liberals’ ranks expects these to favour the conservatives.

For that Mr Barnett must carry a huge slice of the blame, as must his allies when he was leader. These include those in the faction of senators Ian Campbell and Chris Ellison who, despite repeated warnings, dumped Liberal MLC Allan Cadby so their pal, Peter Collier, could leave his teaching job.

Not surprisingly, Mr Cadby returned their career destroying favour by ensuring Labor’s electoral legislation became law by casting his balance of power vote Labor’s way.

That said, it’s worth recalling Mr Barnett narrowly lost to Geoff Gallop-led Labor in 2005 – by fewer than 1,500 votes in the four closest seats, in fact.

If he loses again in 2009 by such a narrow margin because of that self-inflicted redistribution he’ll only have himself and the myopic Campbell-Ellison faction to blame.

The odds, however, are that the McGinty redistribution means the Liberals won’t get within cooee of such an outcome.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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