22/02/2005 - 21:00

Joe Poprzeczny: State Scene - Labor not alone in favouring friends

22/02/2005 - 21:00

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With Western Australia’s second election of the 21st century just days away it’s worth recapping some of the campaign’s stand-out points and to also consider something that never eventuated.

With Western Australia’s second election of the 21st century just days away it’s worth recapping some of the campaign’s stand-out points and to also consider something that never eventuated.

Firstly, Premier Geoff Gallop got off to an appalling start by actually defending his ongoing dishonoring of his 2001 campaign promise not to increase taxes.

In fact he increased taxes in each of his first three budgets, something he told a pre-campaign luncheon group he regretted.

And while some may have interpreted this to be an apology, it wasn’t.

“We had no choice but to increase taxes,” Dr Gallop asserted. “Was it regrettable. Absolutely.”

In other words those at the luncheon were given a defence of the breaking of that promise not just once, nor twice, but three times.

Next came another Gallop promise – to unify Perth’s CBD and Northbridge by sinking Westrail’s ugly Victorian-era railway yards between the Horseshoe Bridge and Mitchell Freeway, something that has been bandied about since 1911 when then state architect, William Hardwick, proposed ridding Perth of the eyesore.

Unfortunately this promise got off to a worse start than Premier Gallop’s dishonored 2001 no-tax hikes.

A close reading of his press release reveals that the ugly yards are to be sunk from the Horseshoe Bridge to Lake Street, only a quarter of the way to Mitchell Freeway.

Beyond Lake Street – or more than 75 per cent of the yards – they’ll be capped by a concrete slab, over which structures may eventually tower.

Under Dr Gallop, therefore, the simple and quite precise English verb ‘sink’ has come to mean not that, but rather to ‘cover’, suggesting that Orwellian Newspeak is alive and well under Gallop-led Labor

And when will all this be done?

The press release indicates it’s to be some time around 2017, when Dr Gallop’s a Canberra politician, has returned to Murdoch University, or has retired on a handsome premier’s pension.

There’s little else to say about Labor’s uninspiring and lacklustre campaign.

Understandably, Treasurer Eric Ripper has hardly been seen and, except for the Government’s best ministerial performer, Clive Brown, the others also seem to have gone to ground.

But what of Liberal leader Colin Barnett, who Dr Gallop dubbed Mr Grumpy because of his generally dour demeanour?

After a slow start he managed to wrong-foot Dr Gallop by announcing he’d build a $2 billion Kimberley-to-Perth aqueduct that some engineers from the eastern states convinced him was feasible.

For a week or so not only were Dr Gallop’s ministers – except Mr Brown – even more difficult to find, but Labor’s campaign stalled with the party’s upper echelons floundering to devise arguments to counter Mr Barnett’s headlong rush for an aqueduct.

This further aided the Liberals who had already unveiled their campaign slogan Decisions, not Delays, which targeted Dr Gallop as a ditherer.

Despite all this, when Westpoll was released mid-way through the campaign it showed Labor and the Coalition neck-and-neck.

And roughly the same 50-50 split existed across several crucial marginal seats.

This was welcome news for Labor, which had entered the campaign with a lame-duck and allegedly sick federal leader who had to be coaxed into promptly resigning to clear the deck for Dr Gallop, who trailed the Coalition by 12 points, and was seemingly destined for feather duster status.

All the signs in the campaign’s last week indicated that many Labor seats would be either retained or lost on minority party preferences.

Mr Barnett’s decision to highlight the unbudgeted Kimberley aqueduct suggests that, as premier, he’d be an even bigger spender and thus tax slugger than Dr Gallop, so it failed to give him the expected bounce in the polls.

But it at least blunted the Gallop-promoted ‘Mr Grumpy’ message.

Win or lose, on balance, the Coalition must regard the promising of a costly aqueduct as having been a polling plus.

But sometime before the campaign was launched the Liberals held some interesting information under wraps, which they failed to pull out of the draw.

Its codename was FOG.

An insider tipped off State Scene about a year ago that FOG denoted Friends of Geoff.

What was happening was that this person, and maybe others, were carefully documenting every single pro-Gallop, pro-Labor Party, pro-union and Labor-friendly businessperson who gained a well-paying job or qango position from the Gallop Government.

In other words, all the Government’s “jobs for the boys, girls, mates and spouses” weren’t going unnoticed.

The FOG plan envisaged heavily publicising more than 100 names during or before the campaign.

State Scene actually saw an incomplete list of Labor’s remunerative FOG gravy train passenger list, and so can confidently report that Dr Gallop’s cabinet hasn’t been slow in hiring and strategically parachuting mates into well-paid government and qango positions.

In one case a Labor backbencher’s spouse picked up a $100,000-plus job.

In another, one of Dr Gallop’s academic mates on a professorial salary scored a part-time qango position that pays $20,000-plus annually.

And in another, a former Labor MP from another state was looked after here.

Yet here we are, near the end of the last week of a perhaps close, but a definitely dull and uninspiring campaign, and nothing on FOG.

Why?

Perhaps the Liberals believed the unbudgeted Barnett aqueduct had ensured victory.

But according to a well-placed source, FOG was killed off because of the decision by Kingsley MP Cheryl Edwardes to leave parliament and flick-pass her vacated seat to husband, Colin, a long-time Liberal Party activist and one-time controversial Wanneroo councillor.

Moreover, an independent candidate for Kingsley, John Gersch, was so angered by the Edwardes family’s job swap that he’s highlighting it in campaign literature.

A five-paragraph Gersch advertisement recently carried in The Wanneroo Times began with the following words – "Had enough of arrogant politicians?"

It continued: “The Liberal Party must reckon we’re dumb – with Cheryl Edwardes retiring they think they can just slot her husband Colin into the seat and we’ll all vote for him because we can’t tell the difference.

“Cheryl Edwardes will be getting more than $1 million in parliamentary superannuation when she retires – isn’t that enough for one family?

“In Kingsley we need a representative who will deal with the real issues – law and order, the health system and community facilities – not just some career politicians.

“Do the Liberals think we’ve forgotten Wanneroo Inc? Vote for Trevor Gersch.”

Mr Gersch’s succinctly worded view, which seems to be quite widely held across the Kingsley seat, may well have sunk the likelihood of a FOG campaign being launched since FOG would so easily be portrayed as a Barnett pot calling the Gallop kettle black.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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