18/02/2009 - 22:00

Early poll an ongoing disaster

18/02/2009 - 22:00


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Labor’s state election loss last year may have changed the way the party works in WA forever.

Early poll an ongoing disaster

HAD former premier Alan Carpenter not called an election last September but opted instead for a poll last, or perhaps even next Saturday, many things would be different.

First of all, Mr Carpenter would, in all likelihood, still be premier.

Early elections tend to be regarded as unnecessary panic manoeuvres; last September's was most definitely seen that way.

Australians don't like prime ministers and premiers behaving like panic merchants, preferring that they demonstrate a firm grip on all situations. Unfortunately for Mr Carpenter it was an impression he never conveyed.

That said, it's important to recall that the Colin Barnett-Brendon Grylls governing alliance only snatched power by 65 votes in the deciding marginal seat of Riverton.

So, if 33 Riverton electors had voted Labor rather than Liberal, that seat would have remained with Labor, thereby making the overall seat tally: Labor 29; Nationals four; Independent Liberals two; and Liberals 23.

That's 29 seats all. A dead heat.

However, there was still the 59th seat, Kalgoorlie, which was won by former Carpenter Labor minister, John Bowler, under the independent Labor banner meaning he, not the Nationals, would have held the balance of power.

Since Mr Carpenter is believed to have offered the Nationals six ministerial spots in a proposed Labor-National alliance government - thereby easily out-bidding Mr Barnett - it's fair to contend that a desperate Labor would also have outbid anything the Liberals could offer Mr Bowler.

We can therefore be fairly confident that if those 33 votes had gone the other way, WA would now have a Carpenter-Bowler Labor government.

So much for early elections.

Another outcome of the Carpenter snap panic poll was that east coast-based Laborite power brokers were thoroughly peeved off with him, and they've understandably concluded that both he and their Perth-based party are thoroughly incompetent.

Keep in mind that Labor's wise men in the east were already tending to that view, because at the 2007 federal election Labor made sizeable gains everywhere except in WA, where it actually slipped back one seat.

Also not to be forgotten is the fact that national Labor leader Kevin Rudd had, shortly before toppling Western Australian Kim Beazley, consulted former Labor premier and besieged local lobbyist, Brian Burke, several times during special low-key Perth visits.

Mr Rudd was undoubtedly well briefed by Mr Burke on the state of play in WA, including the local party's many weaknesses.

The Carpenter snap election call and the WA Labor Party's consecutive dismal electoral performances are the reason Labor's eastern wise men were finally able to dispatch to Perth one of their shrewdest operators, ex-senator Robert Ray, to thoroughly look into all the dusty cupboards and find every single skeleton.

Although this humiliating ordeal understandably rankles local Laborites, especially warring faction chiefs, when one loses an unlosable election straight after a dismal federal election performance you're not exactly well-placed to argue that all is rosy in your backyard.

Although State Scene has some reservations about the Ray report - like its claim that Mr Carpenter's handling of the debilitating lobbying issue was "nothing short of superb" (page 5) - overall it's as candid and insightful a document as you're likely to get in the wake of an unexpected narrow defeat.

Also keep in mind that the version of the Ray report released to the media had 15 sections expunged, meaning the undoctored version carried many more hard-hitting remarks for Labor eyes only.

All that, however, is water under the bridge. What of the future?

It's clear that the consequences for local Laborites are far from over.

In recent weeks, word has leaked that WA Labor is to be firmly shackled by its east coast controllers in a way that hadn't been anticipated.

Put bluntly, WA Labor is to become a colonial outpost branch beholden to the Sydney and Melbourne-based party machines, forever being told what to do and how and when to do it.

WA's colonial Laborites will now have to do what they're told by a cohort of Sydney-Melbourne Labor boffins, most especially ones specialising in media spin.

And whenever outsiders take charge of your spin (the nice way of saying crafty propaganda) then in this day of image management you're well and truly a colonised yokel.

Let's be candid. Basically the WA Labor Party has lost control of its own destiny.

Things have come to that.

In light of this it's not surprising rumours are circulating across local Labor ranks that paramount Labor factional chief, Jim McGinty, may already have laid the groundwork for early retirement from parliament.

Mr McGinty is not the type to sit around taking instructions and orders, most especially when they come from afar.

That's one of the main reasons he was able to emerge as a Burke opponent as long ago as the early 1980s.

He's always preferred calling the shots, not being someone else's punching bag.

To now expect him to change his old ways and become a yes-man on issues like political strategy and tactics is to expect the unlikely.

Mr McGinty has many other options, including fishing off Augusta and perhaps even some teaching and part-time legal work.

Whatever he eventually opts for it will not be to become an obedient servant and soul-destroying counter-jumper who hops through hoops devised by a coterie of distant spin doctors.

Why is all this such a tragedy for WA Labor?

The answer is twofold.

Firstly, it means that the ever-expanding tendency of centralising governance in Australia, with all power residing in the Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne triangle have now extended from Canberra's many departments into the state's oldest political party.

Not only has WA become a colony in terms of governance, one of the state's once great parties is now set to also follow the same dependent path.

Western Australians have therefore, without fully realising it, moved up yet another notch in living in a satellite state.

Secondly, the Ray report has been used not to be the basis of advice to assist WA's troubled Labor Party but rather to ensure that it is brought under the control of the eastern states-based spin machine.

Western Australians are to now be fed an endless diet of political spin devised well beyond their borders. How humiliating and insulting.

WA Labor should tell its eastern cousins to scram because they intend to retain full control of the local branch and only deal with substantive policy proposals, not spin.

That, however, is probably asking too much since a submissive colonial cringe mentality has prevailed inside Perth's Labor headquarters for too long.



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