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Doug acts to avoid a close shave

MOST WA State elections have at least one Bush-Gore Florida-style close shave.

But, unlike Americans, West Aussies seem to be used to such ballots and the coming election, likely to be held in February, seems set to have at least one close encounter.

The seat most in the firing line is Alfred Cove, now held by the Minister for Fair Trading, Lands and Parliamentary and Electoral Affairs, the Honourable Doug Shave.

Mr Shave goes into the campaign badly scarred over his mishandling of the mortgage broking sector.

My first contact with him was a decade or so back when he, then a publican, headed the Australian Hotels Association. It was a meet-the-media affair and he carried it off well.

I next saw his name in a newspaper article that I’m sure referred to him somehow being involved in a Fremantle ALP branch fracas, prompting me to believe he was a Labor man.

But apparently not, for soon afterwards he surfaced as the endorsed Liberal for Melville, which he won after what most journalists agreed was an impressive door-knocking performance.

His first big electoral headache came in December 1996 when he just beat off former Federal Liberal candidate Penny Hearne who had earlier performed credibly against Labor Leader Kim Beazley.

She scored 10,148 votes to Mr. Shave’s 11,182 after distribution of preferences, meaning he came within 518 preference votes of losing Alfred Cove.

So it’s not entirely surprising the seat has attracted another challenger from the Liberal side – and a woman again – Dr Janet Woollard of the Liberals for Forests.

Dr Woollard, a former director of the WA Centre for General Practice Research and Evaluation Ltd., is a post-doctoral researcher with a formidable academic record.

Her emergence has reminded some Libs of the last time a well-qualified woman appeared without Liberal Party endorsement, and won.

That was the 1993 Floreat (now Churchlands) contest when Dr Liz Constable toppled endorsed Liberal, Mike Huston, who, like Mr. Shave, was linked to the party’s once powerful Noel Crichton-Browne faction.

My Alfred Cove contacts say Dr Woollard has been door knocking the area for months and shows no sign of letting up, so has matched Mr. Shave on what he sees as his turf.

But Mr Shave is a dogged behind-the-scenes fighter and his intelligence network can’t be ignored.

As long ago as July last year, well before Dr Woollard emerged as his major challenger, he had launched a behind-the-scenes move.

Not one to take risks, he wrote to the then acting head of the department he oversees as Electoral Affairs Minister, Ms Fiona Colbeck, complaining that a new green group was using the word “Liberal” in its name.

That letter recently surfaced in Parliament with Independent Liberal, Phillip Pendal, reading several paragraphs.

“I am writing to express my concern at the prospect of a new political group seeking recognition under the title Liberals for Forests,” Mr. Shave wrote.

“It would appear that there is a real likelihood that many electors would think that by voting for candidates designated ‘Liberals for Forests’ they would be voting for the Liberal Party in a real sense.

“In fact their votes will be directed against the Liberal Party. Media reports strongly suggest that it is the intention of the new grouping to recommend preferences to other parties, including the ALP, ahead of the Liberal Party.

“Liberals for Forests would therefore be more closely affiliated with the ALP than with the Liberal Party.”

Since then ALP State secretary John Halden has announced Labor won’t be contesting Alfred Cove so that part of Mr Shave’s letter lost validity.

But there’s still the other leg; his objection to the use of the word Liberal in the old growth forests defenders’ name.

Liberals for Forests have already been informally told it’s most unlikely the Electoral Commissioner will agree to having their name carried on ballot papers.

There is an appeals process against such decisions but it’s cumbersome and the way the legislation is worded it’s most unlikely they’ll ever see Dr Woollard’s name alongside the words, Liberals for Forests, on ballots. So on this issue dogged Doug Shave will get his desire.

The latest amendments to the Electoral Act, which took effect in October, show the Liberals reinforced their longstanding opposition to others being permitted to use the word Liberal on ballots.

But Mr. Shave has moved on other fronts. Alfred Cove, he knows, has many elderly voters who look favourably upon One Nation.

That’s why he’s been pow-wowing with WA One Nation’s chief John Fischer on a deal to get their preferences ahead of Dr Woollard.

One carrot being dangled before Mr. Fischer is Liberal Upper House preferences for South Metropolitan.

These may just make the difference for Mr. Shave between being addressed as the Honourable, or plain old Doug.

He’s also turned to some of Alfred Cove’s big moneyed men. Last week he had a gathering at one of their homes where the hat was passed around.

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