15/03/2005 - 21:00

Joe Poprzeczny: State Scene - Cadby dumping may haunt Liberals

15/03/2005 - 21:00

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Western Australia’s Liberals have emerged in far worse shape from the February 26 election – at which they attracted 35.6 per cent statewide voter support – than after the February 2001 election when they scored only 34 per cent.

Western Australia’s Liberals have emerged in far worse shape from the February 26 election – at which they attracted 35.6 per cent statewide voter support – than after the February 2001 election when they scored only 34 per cent.

And this despite several other apparently more favourable outcomes this time.

After the 2001 defeat former premier Richard Court promptly resigned, but attempted to parachute Curtin MHR Julie Bishop into his seat to help thwart Colin Barnett from realising his long-known leadership ambitions.

After last month’s election loss Mr Barnett promptly stood aside without attempting to anoint a successor.

But despite the 1.6 per cent rise in party support and the smooth leadership transfer to Kalgoorlie MLA Matt Birney, things have markedly deteriorated, with some Liberals even fearing they’re set to find themselves in a position akin to Queensland’s Liberals, who have minimal presence in their state’s parliament.

There are several reasons for this deterioration, which began in 2000 with Mr Court’s inability to handle what was then called the mortgage brokers’ affair – some dubbed it a scandal – during which hundreds of retirees were swindled of their life savings by sharp local moneymen.

It was obvious then that because Liberal minister Doug Shave was out of his depth overseeing this crucial issue he should be stood down or at least moved sideways to a less sensitive portfolio.

But nothing happened. Mr Shave sat tight with Mr Court’s apparent backing.

That affair, plus the rise of the now virtually defunct Queensland-founded One Nation, which gained nearly 10 per cent backing, helped sweep Gallop-led Labor – which only gained 37 per cent of the 2001 statewide vote – into power.

The time bomb for the Liberals (and Nationals) has always been what’s called one-vote-one-value (OVOV).

WA’s present electoral arrangements have long favoured non-metropolitan electorates by having far fewer voters in each, something Labor has campaigned against for decades since this generally favours the conservatives.

During 2003 and 2004 Labor’s master strategist Jim McGinty made several unsuccessful efforts to get OVOV legislation through the upper house, but instead found himself in the supreme and high courts, where he also lost.

The only benefit for Labor was that this forced the conservatives to raise $300,000 from anti-OVOV vested interests to meet Labor’s taxpayer-funded judicial moves.

Not widely realised is that the Liberal parliamentary contingent has two wings – those opposed to OVOV, the so-called ‘push from the bush’, and those who either back it or feel the present arrangement is too unfair so needs modification.

For years Mr Barnett belonged to the latter group.

But after becoming leader he switched to the ‘push from the bush’ to help thwart the McGinty legislative and judicial moves and curry favour with the Nationals, whose very existence hinges on rural voter weighting.

Another like the earlier Mr Barnett was former upper house Liberal Alan Cadby.

While Mr Cadby was a Liberal MP he acceded to party discipline and voted against OVOV.

This, however, dramatically changed last year when a powerful group called the ‘northern alliance’, which included Mr Barnett’s chief of staff Richard Ellis, succeeded in disendorsing him.

Not surprisingly Mr Cadby resigned from the party and signalled to Labor he was prepared to discuss OVOV.

All State Scene’s sources say he’s now set to back Labor legislation to scrap WA’s anti-city voting bias.

Dumping Mr Cadby was the Liberals’ big mistake, even graver than leaving Doug Shave in charge of the mortgage broking sector, since the former’s vote will be crucial until late May, when he leaves parliament.

One of those behind the disendorsement of Mr Cadby was Mr Ellis, whose boss, Mr Barnett,  could surely have seen and warned of the dangers of the northern alliance’s move. Another heavily involved in unseating Mr Cadby was Colin Edwardes, husband of one of Mr Barnett’s strongest backers, Cheryl Edwardes, and then a senior staffer of Liberal Senator Ian Campbell.

Surely Senator Campbell also saw the consequences of Mr Edwardes’ move. Perhaps he and Mr Barnett were completely oblivious to the inevitable.

But many Liberals are asking that, if they weren’t oblivious, then why didn’t they instruct Messrs Ellis and Edwardes to back right off.

Their failure to block those staffers means Mr Cadby now threatens to overturn WA’s malapportionment, which in turn means the Matt Birney-led Liberals will find it that much harder to topple Gallop-led Labor.

Some Liberals fear that once the Cadby-backed McGinty OVOV legislation, which will create at least five safe Labor urban seats, takes effect it’ll be at least three elections before the conservatives can win power.

But there’s even worse news for the conservatives.

Some believe Mr McGinty will turn the screws even tighter, something he could do with three additional measures.

Firstly, he could move with Mr Cadby’s backing to ensure that the upper house’s president is no longer barred from voting on bills.

If that happened Labor, on present voting support, would find it easier to control the flow of legislation in that crucial chamber.

Secondly, Labor could introduce optional preferential voting so ballot papers without all boxes marked would become valid votes.

Presently Labor voters are disproportionately represented in having such ballots invalidated.

And finally Labor could, after the new crop of McGinty-created urban seats emerges, adopt a policy of not always contesting some potential conservative seats, thereby allowing independents to emerge, as happened with Dr Janet Woollard in Alfred Cove in 2001.

Such a policy would result in Labor voters backing independents against Liberals and in many cases denying Liberal candidates victory, thereby reducing their parliamentary numbers.

More Liberals than care to raise their hand fear that WA’s next non-Labor government may not emerge until late well after 2010.

And many in this presently mute group see the Shave and Cadby affairs, most especially the latter, as the reason they’re in their precarious position.

If all this eventuates, neither of the party’s past two leaders – Messrs Court and Barnett – nor Senator Campbell will be favourably considered by future Liberals.

Forget about blaming Perth’s Bell Tower – as many were prone to do after the 2001 election loss – and the $2 billion Kimberley canal now, for the expected Liberal slide.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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