11/01/2005 - 21:00

Joe Poprzeczny - State Scene: Labor may rue missed opportunities

11/01/2005 - 21:00


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“WELL, here we are again” were the words former prime minister Paul Keating uttered when announcing the 1996 Federal election he would lose to John Howard.

“WELL, here we are again” were the words former prime minister Paul Keating uttered when announcing the 1996 Federal election he would lose to John Howard.

Premier Geoff Gallop will soon be uttering a similar phrase.

But will he suffer Mr Keating’s fate?

The signs are certainly not propitious.

Shortly before Christmas, Westpoll showed Labor support slumping from 36 to 34 per cent between November and December, with that for the Coalition rising from 44 to 45 per cent.

Soon after, Newspoll showed Labor nosediving from 38 to 35 per cent between July-September and October-December, with the Coalition rising 41 to 49 per cent during the same period.

Moreover, Dr Gallop’s ratings in the ‘better premier stakes’ showed him with just 48 per cent backing, while 38 per cent gave him the thumbs down.

Although it may still be too early to pronounce him and his master strategist, Jim McGinty, politically dead, they’re certainly not looking healthy. And they alone must shoulder the blame, since they head what’s been a big taxing, unimaginative and non-reformist government.

Nothing about the Gallop-McGinty years is memorable beyond that trio of unenviable features.

Together they’ve failed to capture voters’ imaginations.

Together they’ve failed to mould Labor into a low taxing, forward-looking, democratically oriented party, which explains why their support hovers below 40 per cent when it should be well over 50.

Had they been imaginative they would, among other things, have distinguished themselves from their predecessors, the high-taxing Court-Barnett-led Liberals.

Little wonder Labor has opted for silly pre-election stunts, such as committing $5 million to a study on the viability of channelling Kimberley water to the South West.

They’ve obviously forgotten such a study was undertaken a decade ago after former Kimberley MP Ernie Bridge began publicising the long-bandied about idea of piping Lake Argyle’s water southwards, which the media promptly dubbed ‘Ernie’s Pipe Dream’.

And, as many predicted, the Bridge proposal was found wanting on cost grounds.

So why go through that exercise again?

Without putting too fine a point on it, and to slightly modify Mr Keating’s 1996 utterance,  ‘Well, because we’re here again’.

Clearly, the Gallop-McGinty duo desperately wants another term.

The question is, how did they get themselves into the deep polling rut they’re in.

A Labor insider recently told State Scene the reason lay in the fact that Western Australia’s conservatives form what he called “the natural parties of government”.

In this he disagrees with the prime minister, John Howard, who, despite knowing that non-Labor has governed Australia for 70 of its 104 federated years, rightly insists we are without natural parties of government.

WA is an exception, according to the Labor insider.

He told State Scene he regularly meets a range of business and other people who, while always civil and friendly, “will never vote for us”.

But his “natural party of government” contention over-looks the fact that Brian Burke was comfortably re-elected.

Even Mr Burke’s luckless successor, Peter Dowding, retained government for Labor.

True, John Tonkin-led Labor (1971-74) was a single termer.

But surely the Gallop-McGinty duo hasn’t been sitting about since 2001 secretly expecting a re-run of the Tonkin 1974 contest in February 2005.

Haven’t they been gearing up to repeat Brian Burke’s 1986 re-election and Peter Dowding’s 1989 performance?

That question needs answering and only the duo can answer it.

If that’s so, we’re forced to say their unimpressive modus operandi since 2001 is immediately understandable.

Nothing they’ve done over the past 47 months has been imaginative or statesmanlike.

They’ve always played it safe, ever so safe, except for their reckless raising of taxes, which we were told during the 2001 campaign wouldn’t be done.

Dr Gallop won that campaign primarily because his conservative predecessors failed to properly regulate a tiny band of local fast-money men who swindled elderly investors, and because Pauline Hanson’s local followers stripped nearly 10 per cent of their votes, with many of these preferences eventually going to Labor.

That meant the Coalition scored a dismal 34 per cent of the primary vote to Labor’s unimpressive 37 per cent.

After preference distribution this panned out to 53 per cent to Labor and 47 per cent to the Coalition.

Brian Burke in 1983 and 1986 won 55 to 45 per cent two-party preferred, as did Richard Court in 1993 and 1996, whereas Westpoll now has the Coalition leading Gallop-led Labor 56 to 44 per cent.

Clearly what was required of Labor after February 2001 was a series of bold and imaginative initiatives, ones that showed Labor to be a far-sighted, outward-looking, modern, low-taxing reformist party.

Strangely, Premier Gallop briefly showed he might be capable of doing precisely that.

But before anyone could sneeze he slumped back into unimaginative mode.

State Scene has recounted one issue several times that perfectly demonstrates this, but will do so again here.

In April 2000 Dr Gallop announced that, when in government, he’d call a referendum to give Western Australians a say on whether they wished to elect State governors.

Predictably, conservatives such as Colin Barnett stayed mute, meaning they want the present outdated undemocratic process of only premiers selecting heads of state retained.

However, when it came to the 2001 election campaign, Dr Gallop didn’t include his April promise. He quietly dropped it from Labor’s manifesto.

When State Scene subsequently highlighted the undertaking, Labor’s upper house leader Kim Chance conceded this farsighted democratic promise was briefly on the drawing boards but dubbed it as simply flagging an idea, meaning the referendum was canned before election day.

Gallop-led Labor wasn’t even brave enough to go into a campaign with a democratic promise it had earlier made.

Even before February 2001 it had, therefore, battened down the hatches, crossed its fingers and hoped victory came not through forward-looking, statesmanlike and democratic policies, but rather through conservative incompetence and divisions.

There’s a series of similar unimplemented democratic policies in a Labor accountability document, which await adoption by another party or another Labor leader in another era.

It’s therefore difficult to resist the temptation of saying that Labor’s four-year do-nothing strategy seems set to reap its deserved reward.




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