29/06/2004 - 22:00

Joe Poprzeczny - State Scene: Labor realignment looming

29/06/2004 - 22:00


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One thing we can be confident about if the next, or second, Gallop-led Government is sworn in is that the 14 chauffeur-driven politicians who’ll attend Government House won’t be the same as those now in cabinet.

Joe Poprzeczny - State Scene:  Labor realignment looming


One thing we can be confident about if the next, or second, Gallop-led Government is sworn in is that the 14 chauffeur-driven politicians who’ll attend Government House won’t be the same as those now in cabinet.

An enormous amount of factional and other pressure will be exerted to replace up to half the current ministers, meaning seven or so probably won’t be raising their right arm before Governor Sanderson to swear they’ll loyally (and hopefully efficiently) perform ministerial duties.

That many cabinet posts will be grabbed at in the weeks prior to the swearing-in ceremony, if, indeed, the manoeuvring hasn’t already begun.

And grab is the apt word, since Labor’s four factions – left, centre, right and new right – will all be grabbing as many ministerial spots as they can possibly get away with.

Among those assured of a place, first and foremost, is Dr Gallop.

Unlike his conservative counterpart, Colin Barnett, he’s under no threat of being removed as leader.

Mr Barnett will be challenged within about a fortnight of election day if victory eludes him, whereas Dr Gallop could continue as leader for quite some time, even to rechallenge in 2009, in the unlikely event of a conservative victory later this or early next year.

Whether a defeated Mr Barnett is toppled is a moot point since he’s played his cards carefully over the past few months of Liberal preselections to help ensure he retains the party room numbers after election day.

His other strategy for some time has been to at least make-up some electoral ground in the hope that he can retain the leadership for a second bite of the cherry in 2009.

However, if he doesn’t markedly claw-back Labor’s lead – a failure several colleagues believe is likely – he’ll be replaced, probably by Kalgoorlie MLA Matt Birney, or perhaps by his more congenial deputy, Dan Sullivan.

Mr Birney’s main problem may not be getting the numbers in such a contest but rather ensuring beforehand that he’s re-elected in his marginal Goldfields seat should the Barnett-led conservatives fail to dent Labor.

In addition to Dr Gallop, Labor’s next cabinet will include recently media-battered party president, Michelle Roberts, who doubles as Police and Justice Minister.

That’s largely because she’s successfully manoeuvred herself to lead Labor’s newest faction, the new right, and the fact that she’s party president.

Moreover, she was instrumental in ensuring the new right allied itself with the powerful left faction headed still by Attorney-General Jim McGinty, who is also assured of ministerial rank.

Deputy Premier and Treasurer Eric Ripper and Education Minister Alan Carpenter can also expect to re-emerge.

Although some within Labor ranks sought to destabilise Mr Ripper by spreading rumours that he was responsible for Western Power’s February 18 ‘hot Wednesday’ electricity shortfalls, that move failed to convince those who knew the causes of that fiasco.

Nor did the electorate buy the blame-Ripper line.

Those close to the problem of WA’s inordinately high electricity charges know he’s doggedly tried to scrap the dead monopoly hand of Western Power, which his predecessor in government Mr Barnett failed to re-fashion to operate within a competitive electricity market, as urged by the 1993 Carnegie Report.

Mr Carpenter’s ministerial standing remains firm, despite having forcibly unionised more than 40,000 WA tertiary students, to the point where he was briefly touted as a possible Gallop deputy when it was believed Mrs Roberts was moving to displace Mr Ripper following ‘hot Wednesday’s’ debacle.

State Development Minister Clive Brown leaves a vacancy because he won’t be recontesting his seat.

And current Local Government Minister Tom Stephens and Works Minister Nick Griffiths are unlikely to re-emerge.

Both only just retained ministerial rank at the last cabinet reshuffle.

Nor is Bob Kucera assured of a place, having already ignominiously slipped from the crucial health portfolio to ministerial backwaters like sport and recreation. These four places, among others, are being eagerly sought with Dr Gallop known to favour parliamentary secretary Mark McGowan for one.

And if the sometimes-maverick John Quigley wins his new seat, he could well emerge.

Who are two other likely entrants?

Because Labor is under-represented by non-metropolitan MPs, both Peter Watson (Albany) and John Bowler (Eyre) are being tipped.

Leftists Sheila McHale (community development) and Judy Edwards (environment) can expect to feel the intra-factional blowtorch, meaning leftist colleagues Ken Travers and Sue Ellery would be looking to displace them.

And there’ll be pressure from John D’Orazio, Ljiljana Ravlich, and Kate Doust.

Their fates will be decided at factional pow-wows, followed by Dr Gallop’s concurrence or otherwise, and Mrs Roberts’ and Mr McGinty’s, the party’s present leadership troika.

But to elevate some of these the likes of Alannah MacTiernan and John Kobelke would need to go.

It’s difficult to know who among the last three contenders plus Mr Travers and Ms Ellery may make it, since the outcome of intra-factional discourse is so unpredictable.

On top of that, cabinet must have three upper house members, something that complicates inter-factional ministerial balancing and selection wheeling and dealing.

It’s also worth remembering that Labor cabinets aren’t chosen on merit. How caucus evaluates contenders is crucial, meaning less worthy aspirants more often than not brush aside more competent ones.

Dr Gallop has no room for manoeuvre or largesse, primarily because of his 2001 election undertaking to have only a 14-member cabinet, not a 17-strong one like the conservatives.

There are, therefore, nine contenders – 10 if one adds Fran Logan, who some are also tipping – for just six or seven posts.

It’s been suggested to State Scene that Dr Gallop may boost cabinet to 15 to loosen this squeeze.

That would mean one less hopeful missing out and help in countering predictable Opposition criticisms of breaking his 2001 promise, since Labor would still have two fewer ministers than the conservatives.


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