Gay push could catch Barnett from behind

WA’s political battle lines for 2001, at least, seem to have been drawn.

And strangely, not on bread and butter, resources develop-ment, or even business issues; but the lifestyle, so to speak, of three minorities, prosti-tutes, homosexuals and les-bians, as if WA were San Francisco.

That’s where Premier Geoff Gallop believes he’s found the post-Court Liberal Oppo-sition’s Achilles heel.

Within 24-hours of the 30 Liberal MPs reversing their 17-13 votes against Colin Barnett, having opted for outsider Julie Bishop, to 17-13 his way, Dr Gallop was congratulating his new opponent.

But once niceties were out of the way – in a single sentence of a press release – the Gallop advice, perhaps preaching is the more appropriate word, followed.

“As a so-called moderate Liberal, I would expect Mr Barnett to support some of Labor’s reform agenda,’’ he said.

“Prostitution law reform, gay and lesbian equality and property rights for defacto couples are just some of the issues Labor will be looking to progress with Mr Barnett’s support.”

Clearly, burning issues for Dr Gallop. But hardly that for a million or so West Aussies who arise each Monday for a hard week’s yakka and endure high State taxes and charges and many fewer perks than MPs.

Dr Gallop seems hell bent on becoming WA’s belated Don “It’s Grossly Improper” Dunstan - remember him? - the Adelaide lawyer who so impressed so many impressionable young aspiring Labor minds three decades ago. And Dr Gallop wants to take Mr Barnett down his path.

But no one’s ever called Dr Gallop a political amateur. After all, he leads a party in which intricate factional manoeuvres are the Wheaties and Vegemite of every day.

Somehow he’s kept Labor’s show on the road, with few ructions and resignations. For that he ought be credited. And his climb to top job was far less overt and bumpy than Mr Barnett’s.

So why is Dr Gallop highlighting his Dunstan-style agenda now? The reason, pure and simple, is because that’s where he suspects the Barnett-led Liberals are least united. So strike there, and hard.

That, he believes, is where a split is likely to emerge between Mr Barnett and 13-plus traditionalist Liberal MPs. And he may not be far off the mark.

Mr Barnett wasn’t denied leadership first time round because of his stands on resource development or economic issues.

Putting aside, for the moment, his overt ambition, which so irritates many colleagues, he’s seen by most of them as rather too left of centre and trendy to boot.

Dr Gallop calls this being a “moderate Liberal”; they see it as “leftishness”.

Word splitting aside, basically what’s at issue is that many of Mr Barnett’s colleagues suspect his ideology more closely resemble that of an Al Gore or a Hillary Clinton than say, a George W. Bush.

Al and Hillary can be counted on to get on to many of the causes and bandwagons WA Greens and some Labor MPs also find irresistible.

Unfortunately for Liberal traditionalists, election night so depleted their numbers they had to look beyond their ranks to block Mr Barnett.

After Richard, however, there was only Col left!

Mr Barnett, for example, has never made it a secret he’d like to see the Upper House scrapped, for WA’s governance to resemble New Zealand’s unicameralism.

The idea is, of course, old 1920s ALP policy, inserted into its plank as a reform agenda by the late Melbourne lawyer Maurie Blackburn, the man who also landed Labor with its infamous and long time electorally costly socialisation plank.

It’s Mr Barnett’s attraction to such issues, stemming probably from his impression-able high school days, which leads so many of his traditionalist-minded colleagues to shun him.

And right now the statistics of the Liberals’ election night massacre are being carefully assessed by their numbers boffins and the results are showing they should perhaps lean more towards a One Nation outlook rather than chasing Gallop/Green-style reform agenda backers.

When the statistics are finalised, Mr Barnett will be expected to take note and think twice before going off chasing his many other hobbyhorses.

Dr Gallop suspects all this. That’s why he’ll continue tempting Mr Barnett with calls to back Labor’s Dunstanite agendas.

If he could coax him into breaking ranks with tradition-alists on such potentially divisive issues during 2001, Mr Barnett could be in danger, from behind.

Another Liberal leadership spill – even if bungled - would further weaken Mr Barnett’s already tenuous hold, mean-ing Labor would be assured another term, to perhaps promote other Dunstan-style agendas.

But not all in Labor’s ranks will sit easy with this Gallop tactic. Labor also has trad-itionalists and they watched the Libs snatch their longtime Kalgoorlie mining seat where Labor’s lawyer candidate forgot some basic traditions.

If that continues, WA’s next election – 1400-odd days off - could be Kalgoorlie on a larger scale.


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