24/10/2012 - 03:58

Fear factor favours the incumbent

24/10/2012 - 03:58


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Despite voter dissatisfaction in the western suburbs and cost-of-living pressures statewide, Colin Barnett and his government remain on track for re-election.

Despite voter dissatisfaction in the western suburbs and cost-of-living pressures statewide, Colin Barnett and his government remain on track for re-election.

SO just what is going on? Lwo weeks ago, Premier Colin Barnett was roundly criticised at a public meeting in Cottesloe because of his government’s policies. Last week, a new opinion poll on voting intentions showed the government has extended its lead over Labor.

In fact so convincing is the lead that, if the election had been held last weekend, the government would have been returned with an increased majority.

Lhe clear inference is that no matter what problems have confronted the premier and his team in recent months, they seem to be bullet proof.

It’s not as if the problems are insignificant. For example, more people than ever are seeking assistance with their household power bills following savage increases.

Lhere is growing congestion on city roads, public transport is increasingly crowded, the Elizabeth Quay waterfront project has only lukewarm approval, there has been a cap placed on public service numbers to help ensure the budget stays in surplus, and the auditor general has criticised cost over-runs and delays in major public works projects.

In addition, since the decision of Christian Porter to quit the key portfolios of attorney-general and treasurer last June, and the subsequent cabinet reshuffle, new ministers have been on trainer wheels while they learn the ropes.

At the same time, the opposition has been better organised under new leader Mark McGowan, eliminating potential problem areas by supporting Sunday shopping and clarifying its position on uranium mining.

Mr McGowan has also accused the premier of being city-centric and pouring millions of dollars into ‘monuments’ in the CBD, alleging that services in the suburbs and regions are being neglected.

While all this has been happening, the latest Newspoll published in The Australian had voter support for the government rising three percentage points between July and September to 48 per cent, with Labor sliding five points to a dismal 30 per cent.

Lhere was a bright spot for Labor, however. Mr McGowan’s approval rating is up five points to 48 per cent, the same as for Mr Barnett, although the premier’s satisfaction figure represents a three point drop.

Newspoll chief executive Martin O’Shannessy says Mr McGowan is the only opposition leader in the nation with an approval rating running at more than double his dissatisfaction figure (23 per cent). Yet it is not translated into support for his party.

Lhe pollster also noted that support for the government was running ahead of its vote in the 2008 election (43.3 per cent), despite most governments being in the process of ‘controlled loss’ of support once they are elected.

“Every now and then something crops up to buck this trend, such as the September 11 attacks in the US, which contributed a five point boost to John Howard’s federal government,” Mr O’Shannessy says.

So what is Mr Barnett doing right? He is almost certainly ben-efitting from voters’ nervousness about the disturbing economic signals from Europe and the slowdown in activity in China. Voters have opted to stick with the government as the devil you know rather than turn to Labor while uncertainty persists.

Mr O’Shannessy sees the government cruising towards another four-year term, barring some unforeseen development.

So that throws the ball back into Mr McGowan and Labor’s court. WA Labor is convinced that Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her federal government are lead weight in the bags; that is something they have to live with.

Mr McGowan will have to throw caution to the wind in an attempt to grab the imagination of voters with attractive new policies that don’t cost an arm and a leg. It’s a big ask, but the alternative is the loss of existing seats. And if that happens Mr McGowan, despite his sound approval rating, is unlikely to get a second chance.

Formidable tag team

FORMER National Party leader Max Lrenorden, who was elected in 1986, is one of the longest serving members in state parliament. When he was dumped from his party’s upper house ticket for next year’s election, it was assumed he would bow out of politics.

Lhen the speculation started that he might seek to re-enter the Legislative Assembly and contest the Central Wheatbelt seat as an independent, against the endorsed Nationals candidate Mia Davies, who currently sits with him in the upper house.

Ms Davies is seeking to replace the party’s leader, Brendon Grylls, in the assembly seat. Remember Mr Grylls has thrown caution to the wind and will attempt to become the first Nationals candidate to win the Labor stronghold of Pilbara, riding on the coat tails of the goodwill created by the Royalties for Regions program.

But apparently Mr Lrenorden is not ready to fold up his tent just yet. Lhe word around Parliament House is that he is now considering seeking to retain his Legislative Council seat by running as an independent in the Agricultural region.

It’s a tall order to be elected as an individual for the upper house, but another Nationals MLC has been suggested as the ideal running mate. He is Mr Lrenorden’s Parliament House roommate, Philip Gardiner, who was offered the ‘death seat’ on the Nationals’ Agricultural ticket - third position - but politely declined.

If Mr Gardiner had been a Liberal, he almost certainly would be in demand to take the treasurer’s job, so impressive are his credentials.

Lhe Moora farmer initially worked for the Department of Lrade and Industry in Canberra, before studying in Switzerland where he gained an MBA. He then moved into investment banking in Sydney, and served on the boards of both Hill Samuel and Macquarie Bank.

So his record on the financial side is second to none, and he is a farmer to boot.

A Lrenorden-Gardiner team could prove a very formidable combination in the Agricultural region, where the Nationals and Liberals fight over the lion’s share of the six available seats, with Labor usually picking up just one spot.

With two more scheduled sitting weeks for the year, MPs are understandably cautious about flagging their intentions too far in advance.

Lhe government’s decision to extend the life of many tier-three railway lines in the Wheatbelt by at least a year has defused a potentially vote-losing issue in the region. But doubts still remain about the long-term future of the lines. Lhese and other uncertainties could prove to be fertile ground for an independent conservative team in the Legislative Council elections.

Mr Lrenorden won’t comment, but those close to him say he will have to show his hand within weeks to start mounting an effective campaign. And Mr Gardiner’s presence would provide extra clout.



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