15/07/2016 - 14:30

Federal failings mould state strategy

15/07/2016 - 14:30


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Malcolm Turnbull’s campaign failings have highlighted the danger of giving your opponent a free kick, and WA Liberals are sure to heed the warning.

Federal failings mould state strategy
PLAN: Although some doubt Colin Barnett will lead the government to the March 2017 poll, the premier will be well aware of what’s needed to win. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Malcolm Turnbull’s campaign failings have highlighted the danger of giving your opponent a free kick, and WA Liberals are sure to heed the warning.

The federal election failed to produce the result Australia needed – a government with the necessary majority to implement its policies. However, the result has already helped reshape the agenda leading into the poll in Western Australia next March.

Sure, Malcolm Turnbull will continue as prime minister and lead a coalition government, but the election failed to give him the numbers to successfully legislate for the construction industry watchdog, ostensibly the key issue causing the double dissolution poll.

It was the prime minister’s goal to win enough seats in both the lower house and the Senate to enable the tough measures – strongly opposed by Labor and the Greens – to be carried at a joint sitting to help bring the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union to heel.

The last joint sitting (in 1974) enabled the Whitlam Labor government to legislate, despite firm opposition, for the introduction of Medibank – ‘socialised medicine’, according to the Australian Medical Association and the coalition parties at the time – the forerunner of the current Medicare.

Labor’s scare campaign, dubbed ‘Mediscare’, got under Mr Turnbull’s guard during the recent campaign, with the Liberals claiming it was a major reason they were denied the majority needed to pass legislation at a joint sitting.

So Australia will now have a government that lacks the authority for its proposed industrial measures and will be extremely nervous about initiatives that might cost it support in the opinion polls.

Mr Turnbull’s political skills will be tested as never before. Having failed to take the country with him in the campaign, can he regroup and win support for policies that accommodate the times – budget deficits for the foreseeable future, new forecasts for lower iron ore prices that will only hit the budget bottom line, and a rejuvenated opposition barking at his heels?

‘Labor is back,’ Bill Shorten declared as he finally conceded the result.

“We are united, we have found our voice,” Mr Shorten said.

“We have more MPs and senators and they are more determined than ever.

“The 2016 campaign was defined by our Labor values – protecting Medicare, standing up for Australian jobs, championing better schools. These are things the Labor Party will never stop fighting for.”

Mr Shorten also boldly asserted that Australia would be going back to the polls within the year. That’s the last thing the nation needs. For a start, unless it is another double dissolution election, the Senate would not be included.

So what would be the point of that?

Under the Constitution, the senators can only be taken to an election within 12 months of the expiry date of their terms, except in a double dissolution. So the short-term (three year) senators elected on July 2 can only face the voters after June 30 2018.

Any election before then would just involve the lower house, something that has not happened since the early 1970s. A move in 1978 by then prime minister Malcolm Fraser to have synchronised elections for both houses failed at a referendum by the narrowest of margins. WA voted against the change.

The recent poll produced a swing of just more than 4 per cent to Labor in WA. No-one knows how much state issues intrude in federal campaigns, but the improved vote has given WA Labor a shot in the arm, and produced a quick reaction from Premier Colin Barnett.

The premier has never been keen on selling Western Power, although the state’s dire financial situation (and the prospect of a $12 billion boost to government coffers) led him to dabble with the prospect, at the urging of Treasurer Mike Nahan.

Now, political expediency has caused him to go cool, if not cold, on the idea. Why get belted around the head by Labor – as his federal colleagues did over Medicare – leading up to the March poll?

And the proposed sale of Fremantle Port could go the same way.

Such moves won’t improve the budget bottom line or state debt, but if Labor’s not fussed, why give your opponents a stick to beat you with?

The other issue is whether Mr Barnett will lead the government into the election. The city is abuzz with rumours, despite his assurances that he will stay on.

It promises to be a bumpy eight-month ride to the moment of truth on March 11.


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