28/06/2019 - 14:50

Harvey makes bold policy push

28/06/2019 - 14:50


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OPINION: Liza Harvey hasn’t taken long to put her mark on the Liberal leadership in WA.

Harvey makes bold policy push
Liza Harvey is looking to cut through with some bold policy moves. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira.

OPINION: Liza Harvey hasn’t taken long to put her mark on the Liberal leadership in WA.

Traditional Liberal Party supporters are holding their collective breath wondering what further surprise announcement will emerge from their new leader, Liza Harvey.

Those looking for a fresh approach haven’t been disappointed, but in breathing new life into the party it appears there could be some significant realignment going on. Where it all ends will be the key.

The election of Mrs Harvey and her deputy, Bill Marmion, is clearly designed to reposition the party for revival after its drubbing at the 2017 state election.

The party was struggling to cut through under the leadership of Mike Nahan, who had agreed to take on the job after the election when no-one else put up their hand. His was a caretaker role though it was not politic to concede that at the time.

Just look at some of the policy areas Mrs Harvey has ventured into in an attempt to assert her authority and give the party a new image: public servants are entitled to pay increases above what the McGowan government is providing; Western Power would not be on the market under a government she led; and further deregulation of shopping hours is off the agenda.

The pay issue is really low-hanging fruit. A soft wages policy under the Barnett government gave Western Australia some of the best-paid public servants in the country. But those pay rates get built into the system unless they are cauterised, which is what the McGowan government is attempting to do with its annual $1,000 increases during the current term.

Mrs Harvey’s stance would not help the state’s balance sheet but it will lead to some fancy footwork by the government as the 2021 election approaches.

Labor took a firm stance against the Liberals’ election policy to sell Western Power, which is responsible for the poles and wires in the south-west grid, claiming it would lead to substantial increases in power costs. Guess what? It wasn’t sold and charges rose significantly anyway.

But it’s the new Liberal leader’s stance against any further deregulation of shopping hours that has raised most eyebrows, as it reverses what has become an act of faith within the party.

The theory is that, in a free market, retailers should be allowed to open whenever they want. And many in small business don’t want government interfering in their activities. Mrs Harvey, who ran a fishing tackle shop with her late husband at Scarborough, knows the views of small retailers only too well.

Remember when the Labor government pulled back on the usual extra trading hours leading up to Christmas last year? It was short sighted but, instead of pushing for the usual extended hours before Christmas, Dr Nahan called for unrestricted trading, which was quickly shot down.

Mrs Harvey has identified that thousands of small retailers don’t want unfettered trading. The businesses that do are the big supermarket chains. Wesfarmers, for example, when it also owned Coles, pushed hard for extended trading. In fact Tony Howarth, as a Wesfarmers director, publicly took then premier Colin Barnett to task for not pursuing the issue more vigorously.

But some Liberals believe Mrs Harvey has hit the right note from a political perspective. The big supermarkets contribute nothing to the party and are only interested in their market share and profits. They are equally at home under a Labor or Liberal government.

However, the small business operators are voters. Both major parties not only want their votes but also any donations they might want to make.

Labor gets significant donations from unions, and many Liberals feel they need to tap in more strongly to small business.

These policy changes haven’t pleased traditional Liberal aligned groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of WA, the HR Nicholls Society or the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance.

The CCI didn’t pull its punches.

“Opposing the state government’s wages policy, denying the state billions of dollars in infrastructure spending that would be unlocked from the proceeds of partially selling Western Power, and supporting the most restrictive retail trading hours in the country, are not policies that will help the WA economy recover,” it said.

While Mrs Harvey’s pragmatism has shone through so far, we’ll have to wait and see how long that deep breath will last.


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