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Joe Poprzeczny - State Scene: Liberals lurch towards poll

THE Barnettled Liberals are heading towards the February 2005 election in what can only be described as a deplorable state.

That’s undoubtedly a bitter pill for the party’s new director, Paul Everingham, who took up the job hoping his efforts would lead to bigger things – possibly the Liberals’ national directorship followed by a parliamentary seat.

Such ambitions are understandable since his father, also Paul, was an electorally successful Country-Liberal Party Northern Territory chief minister, then a fairly average Territorial MHR, and finally a key backroom player in demolishing Queensland’s Hansonites.

State Scene’s sources generally commend Paul junior for his efforts to date, claiming he’s already devised what’s potentially the best-ever election campaign WA’s Liberals have offered.

But, unfortunately for him, there’s that old saying about manufacturing a silk purse from a sow’s ear.

Put otherwise, he appears to have crafted a silk purse-style campaign but has a sow’s ear-type party to offer WA electors.

What that’s meant is that party bagmen have had difficulty raising the necessary cash to bankroll his apparently imaginative, hard-hitting planned campaign.

Colin Barnett learned of the absence of a big war chest some time ago, which explains why he and Mr Everingham met Labor strategists, Attorney-General Jim McGinty and party State secretary Bill Johnston, to discuss taxpayer funding of campaigns.

That ploy, we now know, backfired because Mr Barnett never disclosed details of their desperate behind-the-scenes search for cash until the media slowly and painfully extracted them from him.

For his clandestine proclivity he was severely punished and humiliated while Mr McGinty, who initiated the proposed legislation, was able to deflect elector wrath on to Mr Barnett.

This followed nearly three years of Mr Barnett’s bad showing in the polls, rumours of likely challenges to his leadership and general gridlock across Opposition ranks.

Most of the blame for this rests with Mr Barnett, who surrounds himself with a tiny coterie of faithful backers when what’s needed are inspirational and managerial qualities, such as those shown by new federal Labor leader Mark Latham.

For instance, despite Mitchell MLA Dan Sullivan being elected Liberal deputy, one can be forgiven for believing Mr Barnett would prefer having Darling Range MLA John Day in that post.

So, among other failings, the Barnett-Sullivan team isn’t working, In fact it’s disastrous.

Spare another thought, therefore, for Mr Everingham.

To make matters worse, Mr Day found himself dis-endorsed before Christmas by his local branches, a move he managed to circumvent by drumming up support in the party’s State council to overturn the branches and save his political neck.

None of this helps Mr Everingham when he’s rattling the can for the cash needed to finance the dislodging of Gallop-led Labor through his planned ‘silk purse’ campaign.

But that’s not all.

Another of Mr Barnett’s backers, Vasse MLA Bernie Masters, has also suffered the ‘Day treatment’ from his local branches by losing local endorsement.

This led to last weekend’s bid to get a Day-style reprieve.

In the process, however, Mr Masters claimed in a statutory declaration that he sent to councillors that Mr Sullivan was the éminence grise of his demise.

His accompanying letter told councillors that Mr Sullivan: “In his capacity as deputy leader of the Opposition, provided advice to my opponent and, although I am unable to provide proof, I believe that he undertook actions which were intended to influence local branch members to withdraw support from me and provide it to my opponent.

“I acknowledge that Dan Sullivan’s assistance to my opponent was not contrary to the law or to the Liberal Party’s constitution.

“However, it is certainly contrary to the spirit and intent of the way in which a political party should operate.

“The term ‘loyalty to one’s colleagues’ often means little to politicians but this does not prevent me from suggesting to you that Dan’s lack of loyalty to me and to the stability of the Liberal Party is reprehensible.”

Not surprisingly, moves are now afoot to dis-endorse Mr Sullivan, but these are likely to come to nought.

Moreover, another strong Barnett loyalist, frontbencher Cheryl Edwardes, has opted to leave politics, qualifying at 54 years of age for a life-long pension beginning at $115,000 annually.

But her departure won’t mean her family misses out on an MP’s salary of $106,000 that she and her husband, Colin, are accustomed to, because Colin has been endorsed for her Kingsley seat.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong in keeping well-paid jobs in the family.

Indeed, it’s a temptation that some can’t resist.

But some in Liberal ranks are concerned, and State Scene was told by a senior Liberal of a case in Queensland where a Labor couple attempted to switch roles.

Unfortunately for the banana-benders, Queensland’s Labor State secretary blocked the move by telling the ambitious wife who wanted outgoing hubby’s seat to forget it.

The reason for the blocking was to ensure conservatives couldn’t highlight at election time the fact that outgoing hubby would be on a big parliamentary pension while incoming wife would be pulling in an MP’s sizeable salary.

WA’s Liberals and the Edwardes couple must now confront precisely that situation, something that may be enough to swing marginal Kingsley to Labor.

Another reason to spare a thought for Paul.

 

“... Dan’s lack of loyalty to me and to the stability of the Liberal Party is reprehensible.”

-       Bernie Masters

 

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