10/05/2005 - 22:00

Joe Poprzeczny: State Scene - Power the ultimate cost of canal

10/05/2005 - 22:00


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An exercise worth doing after any election is calculating by just how much the victor has won.

An exercise worth doing after any election is calculating by just how much the victor has won.

One reason for this is that, as the votes roll in during the hurly-burly of an election night, the losers often look as if they’ve been utterly trounced.

But when all the figures are in and have been carefully tabulated by the WA Electoral Commission’s boffins, it often emerges that the vanquished were nowhere near as badly beaten as initially thought.

Because of this, State Scene logged on to the commission’s comprehensive website last week and found that, although the Gallop Government had won 32 seats – three more than was necessary to form government – its performance was nowhere near as flash as appeared by 9pm on February 26.

The next best performers were the Liberals with 18 seats. Then came the Nationals with five and the two Independent Liberals, Drs Liz Constable and Janet Woollard.

Put otherwise, if four of Labor’s 32 seats had been won by the Liberals and Drs Constable and Woollard had agreed to join the Coalition – a not unreasonable contention – Dr Gallop would not now be in office.

The best way of proceeding with this ‘what if’ exercise is to consider the four seats Labor won by the narrowest margins.

They were, in order of marginality, Kingsley, Albany, Riverton and Geraldton.

In percentage terms Labor now holds Kingsley by 0.77 per cent (193 votes), Albany by 1.40 per cent (180 votes), Riverton by 1.72 per cent (424 votes), and Geraldton by 2.09 per cent (246 votes).

All up that means Dr Gallop remains premier by 2.1 per cent or, put differently, by just 1,042 votes.

That’s rather less dramatic than saying Labor has a four-seat majority.

The 1,042 comes from halving the differences between the final or the two-party preferred votes of the winning Labor and losing Liberal candidates in those four seats and adding a vote to each of these half totals.

Now, 1042 is a very thin margin when one realises that the number of votes counted was 1,131,256.

Put otherwise, if 1,042 voters had instead backed the Liberal, not Labor, candidates in those four crucial seats, Dr Gallop would probably have now stood down as leader and even resigned from parliament, like his predecessor as premier, Richard Court, had done in February 2001.

Moreover, Colin Barnett would have realised his long-held dream of being premier, something many of his colleagues believe he’s still dreaming of.

And current Liberal Opposition leader Matt Birney would today still be the Opposition’s police spokesman.

That’s how much hinged on those 1,042 voters in those four seats.

It’s no secret that the Liberals hugely bungled by pre-selecting the husband of their former Kingsley MP, Cheryl Edwardes, Colin, to contest her seat.

Many Kingsley voters saw this as blatant nepotism and voted for someone other than Mr Edwardes, formerly a senior member on the staff of the Liberal Party’s most powerful power broker, Senator Ian Campbell.

With Labor’s Judy Hughes having taken Kingsley by a margin of 383 votes, or with the backing of just 193 voters (half the 383 plus one vote) one sees how short-sighted the pre-selection of Mr Edwardes was.

Without that bungle by the Liberals Dr Gallop would be three seats from losing power.

What this also means is that Labor won those three other seats – Albany, Riverton and Geraldton – by just 850 votes, meaning that Mr Barnett, without the Edwardes bungle, would have been well below 1,000 votes from the premiership.

It’s true that all immediate post-election post-mortems rightly focused on Mr Barnett’s disastrous Kimberley canal-at-any-cost ploy.

Despite this there’s nothing lost in trawling through this issue again, especially if there’s still something new to be found.

It’s no secret that the upper house’s current man of the moment, Alan Cadby, who left Liberal ranks after losing his endorsement, was a victim of a long-planned factional plot, if not hatched then certainly implemented by Mr Edwardes.

And according to Mr Cadby, Mr Edwardes’ endorsement for his wife’s seat and Mr Barnett’s disastrous canal ploy are far more intricately linked than many may have supposed

State Scene doesn’t specialise in long quotes.

But an exception is made this week since Mr Cadby may well have identified the culprits responsible for the Liberals’ failing to topple Dr Gallop by a mere 850 votes.

Here’s how Mr Cadby recently outlined it in parliament.

“I will look briefly at the influence of Colin Edwardes,” he said.

“It is well known that Colin Barnett relied heavily on the advice and support of Cheryl Edwardes. In fact, it is true to say that she was the de facto deputy leader of the Opposition.

“Of course, behind Cheryl was Colin Edwardes.

“Most people who know him would agree that he exerts considerable pressure and influence on Cheryl.

“Maybe Colin was, in essence, the de facto deputy leader of the Opposition.

“Colin Edwardes also worked as chief of staff for the federal Environment and Heritage Minister, Senator Ian Campbell.

“I put to the house that the disastrous decision to mention the word ‘canal’ was influenced by Colin Edwardes.

“I believe that the consortium of Colin Edwardes, Ian Campbell and Colin Barnett thought up the idea of the canal. What a disaster it was for the Liberal Party.

“Suddenly all the emphasis of the campaign shifted to the idea of building a canal, which never gave the Liberal Party the opportunity to question the record of the Labor Party, which is what it should have been doing all the time.

“The American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) said: ‘We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done’.”

Let’s hope Mr Barnett clears up these claims if they’re off target in a forthcoming parliamentary speech, and that Senator Campbell does likewise in the senate.

Otherwise, voters and historians alike will forever believe that Messrs Barnett and Edwardes and Senator Campbell were responsible for the conservatives failing to gain government by just 850 votes.


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