01/08/2006 - 22:00

Finger pointing’s not enough

01/08/2006 - 22:00


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No doubt there are many people in Western Australia, State Scene among them, eagerly awaiting a copy of one-time Liberal leader Colin Barnett’s forthcoming book, Black Swan, to see how he explains his loss at the February 2005 election.

No doubt there are many people in Western Australia, State Scene among them, eagerly awaiting a copy of one-time Liberal leader Colin Barnett’s forthcoming book, Black Swan, to see how he explains his loss at the February 2005 election.

Readers should be reminded that, despite all the ballyhoo of Geoff Gallop having been easily returned to power, he in fact won by just more than 1,000 votes in the four closest seats won by Labor.

What this means is that if 1,000 or so voters in those four just won seats had voted for their Liberal candidates, Mr Barnett would now be premier.

Mr Barnett, therefore, came within a whisker – WA had about one million registered electors – of getting to sit on that big leather swivel chair that’s somewhere up near the top floor of the Stirling Centre on St Georges Terrace.

Ignore Labor’s claims that it won the election easily.

It didn’t, despite Mr Barnett’s lack of popularity within Liberal parliamentary ranks and overall failure to win the hearts and minds of the public.

Moreover, State Scene knows lots of Labor fingernails were chewed to the quick during the 2005 campaign.

But let’s return to what little we’ve been told of the still-being-written Black Swan manuscript.

According to the report that alerted us of this forthcoming and belated election post mortem, four issues are canvassed.

Firstly, John Howard will receive a blast for not having backed the Tenix Group’s Kimberley-to-Perth open canal dream that Mr Barnett claimed would cost only $2 billion.

Mr Barnett will claim Mr Howard’s silence, especially during the campaign’s last week, cost him any chance of snatching what some claim would be an unlikely victory.

However, the way State Scene recalls it, Mr Barnett went into the campaign well ahead of Labor and steadily lost ground.

In other words, he was the likely winner at the outset but less and less so as his campaign unfolded.

In anyone’s language that’s called incompetent campaigning, whereas Labor must be judged as having campaigned quite competently.

Mr Barnett’s slide was capped off two days before election day with an unprecedented bungle over his costings and his dogged contradicting of journalists who promptly noticed these when that fateful press conference began.

All channels broadcast his reaction that evening and Liberals State Scene spoke to then immediately concluded this spelled the end of Mr Barnett’s premiership dreams.

In addition, he had an inner sanctum called ‘team blue’, with state Liberal MPs pushed aside.

Team blue included several Federal MPs of doubtful abilities and some boffins from the Liberal Party’s Canberra-based secretariat, who called the campaigning shots.

Team blue and Mr Barnett, like Labor, knew Western Australians were concerned about the two previous dry winters, so they grabbed at the Tenix engineers’ canal dream, which swung the entire campaign around to ongoing queries about an uncosted pie-in-the-sky commitment.

To team blue’s amazement, and Labor’s eventual delight, the open canal proposal swamped every other issue, which meant Labor no longer had to answer a series of embarrassing questions about its unimpressive first four years in power.

Mr Barnett claimed it would cost $2 billion. Since then an expert report has estimated it would be more like $14.5 billion.

That report also highlights that an open canal is dangerously exposed to cyclonic north-west flooding, so could be inoperable over crucial summer months and would lose half the water through evaporation.

Why was Labor let off the hook?

Why was Labor’s dismal record not put under the microscope?

Yet, it’s being claimed that Mr Barnett will be blaming John Howard.

Because there’s still so much guessing going on over what team blue did and why it did it, all State Scene asks of Mr Barnett is to give the WA public the facts about this failed group without pointing fingers.

What’s needed are the cold hard facts. Nothing more.

Whose idea, for instance, was it to make an uncosted canal the centrepiece of the Liberal campaign?

Who on team blue backed it? Name them please, Mr Barnett.

Was Mr Howard told of the canal idea before its announcement? If not, why not? Was the nation’s treasurer, Peter Costello, told?

What was Mr Howard’s initial response? Did he later back away, that is, change his mind about the wisdom of such an expensive and uncosted proposal? And if so, why?

Secondly, Mr Howard is apparently due for another public blast for announcing, during the last week of the campaign, that Australia would send extra troops to Iraq.

Mr Barnett saw this as deplorable timing and embroiled him in a foreign policy controversy.

Now, this is really from left field and the first time State Scene has encountered the claim that Australia’s involvement in liberating Iraqis from the Saddam Hussein regime was even a marginal issue.

Let’s hope Black Swan’s pages support this unexpected contention with irrefutable evidence such as polling outcomes.

State Scene is certainly prepared to be convinced.

Thirdly, the book will outline what Mr Barnett calls ‘big picture thinking’ for WA and this will be a mixture of economics, politics and personal experiences.

This will be welcomed.

However, let’s hope Mr Barnett doesn’t forget to include a section on his involvement in the Court government’s unwise decision to sell-off the Dampier-to-Perth natural gas pipelines to Epic Energy.

As State Scene has long contended, this publicly owned asset should never have been sold because it meant WA’s gas consumers lost control of a strategic economic asset.

That serious error of judgment – motivated almost certainly by the Court government’s inability to resist the temptation of getting its hands on to $2.4 billion – has never been fully explained.

Because of this shortsighted move, WA now has a monopoly infrastructure asset in the hands of the corporate world; something that shouldn’t have occurred.

Furthermore, Epic Energy’s bankers have since sold it to Alinta, with an $80 million or so WA taxpayer subsidy paid, and the pipeline may soon be taken over by yet another party.

And finally, Mr Barnett is due to criticise the role of Canberra’s domination of the states.

He will apparently claim WA is being intimidated by Canberra and therefore isn’t achieving its true potential.

Mr Howard will be named a ‘centralist’, which he is, and some-one who hasn’t been supportive of WA. Here Mr Barnett must be loudly and vigorously applauded.

It’s a pity some of his Canberra Liberal colleagues – namely and especially the silent three ministerials, senators Ian Campbell and Chris Ellison and Julie Bishop – don’t show such courage. Obedient ministerial careers for them appear to come first.

It’s about time they showed some fortitude and confronted the Howard-Costello duo for emulating the wasteful Whitlam years.

Once again, let’s hope that Black Swan doesn’t simply go in for finger pointing and name calling.

Mr Barnett, as a former Court government minister, a party deputy leader and leader is surely capable of outlining, in considerable detail and with knock-down arguments, why the Howard Liberal government has back-flipped by adopting the Whitlam centralist approach.

If Mr Barnett does this much, Black Swan will become a major and original scholarly contribution that could come to be regarded as a valuable text for university politics and history courses.

The last thing WA readers want is a verbose finger-pointing tract.

What’s needed is a detailed, insightful and objective description of what happened during the 2005 state election, and why.

If Black Swan lacks such qualities it will be promptly sold-off by its publisher as a remaindered book and not become a major piece of serious political writing and analysis.

Keep your fingers crossed that Black Swan is a pleasant and revealing surprise, not a series of myth-making chapters aimed at justifying a failed campaign.


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