10/08/2004 - 22:00

Joe Poprzeczny: StateScene - Political opportunities lost

10/08/2004 - 22:00


Save articles for future reference.

As the past two State Scene columns have considered the forthcoming State election – predicting Labor will win in the legislative assembly, thereby forming the next government, and the conservatives will re-gain control of the legislative council – this w

As the past two State Scene columns have considered the forthcoming State election – predicting Labor will win in the legislative assembly, thereby forming the next government, and the conservatives will re-gain control of the legislative council – this week’s column presents assessments by two independent State MPs.

Both are carried in the latest edition of Political Insight, the newsletter of former Liberal leader Barry MacKinnon’s consultancy, Barmac Consulting.

Mr MacKinnon commissioned independent Liberal and Labor MPs, Phillip Pendal and Larry Graham, respectively, for the insiders’ views.

“With over 40 years of parliamentary experience between them they are better qualified than most to have an informed opinion,” Mr MacKinnon writes.

“Their assessments on the election outcome are similar, though Phillip Pendal believes the outcome is still too close to call.

“We [Barmac Consulting] agree with Larry Graham that a Gallop Government win is more likely, particularly given a strong and healthy economy, an Opposition that hasn’t performed to expectations, and the fact that history shows it is only on rare occasions that governments of either political flavour are rejected by voters after only one term.”

Mr Graham opens by contending the Gallop Government had “very little popular support”.

He said this was due to five “root causes”, which, although significant, seemed insufficient to tilt the balance towards the conservatives.

The first was that the Government had “many ministers who simply occupy the crease”.

“There is plenty of activity and paperwork but little focus on outcomes and benefits,” Mr Graham said.

Secondly, regional WA was suffering because “the power of Government is now totally focused on St Georges Terrace”.

Moreover, Labor was oriented towards “spin and lack of substance.”

“Interest groups have learnt to check the fine print before they speak publicly about Government actions or decisions,” Mr Graham said.

He also claimed Gallop-led Labor had a “dogmatic but weak leadership”.

And finally there was serious disenchantment with Labor in the Aboriginal community.

The conservatives, however, had “missed nearly every political opportunity that has presented itself”, largely because of three years of “bickering, infighting and personality cults”.

Liberal leader Colin Barnett was seen as intelligent and articulate but with little support among colleagues: “Or, if he has their support, he is unable to entice them into active and prolonged political campaigning”.

Mr Graham listed several lost conservative opportunities: a billion dollar tax hike; the Gorgon fiasco; electricity reform; the health crisis; the Kucera/Mickelburg imbroglio; the premium property tax (PPT); the great prisoner escapes; and public spats between former police commissioner Matthews and Police Minister Michelle Roberts.

“With the exception of the PPT I defy anyone to show me where the Government has been dented by the Opposition,” Mr Graham said.

“Any damage inflicted has been by the media and not the Liberals.”

Mr Graham said Labor’s one-vote-one-value campaign, and resentment over the southern suburban railway, would show-up differences between rural and urban electors.

He concluded by predicting Labor could lose Kimberley, Central Kimberley/Pilbara and Collie-Wellington, and would lose Albany and Geraldton, with Bunbury “a likely Liberal win”.

Mr Graham believes Labor will probably hold North-West Coastal and will retain Murchison-Eyre and Mandurah.

The Liberals will retain Kalgoorlie, he suggests.

“If my assessment of these seats and the other assumptions I have made are correct, one can determine that the most likely result is that the Gallop Government will be returned with a two or three-seat majority,” Mr Graham concluded.

Mr Pendal said that, with six months to go to election day, Gallop-led Labor wasn’t assured of victory despite Western Australian governments generally being assured of second terms.

Like Mr Graham he believes regional seats will play a determining role.

“Dr Gallop’s Achilles heel is not that he’s not a decent, innovative man, but that he might not have the credentials to sustain a modern regional economy,” Mr Pendal said.

“That in itself may be the reason for the closeness of the polls – a case of a whispering campaign on Dr Gallop being ‘too academic’ (whatever that means) to be successful.”

Labor was, therefore, far from sitting in the box seat and could easily lose the rural seats of Bunbury, Geraldton and Collie-Wellington, plus near-metro-politan seats of Swan Hills and Roleystone.

If that happened Labor would be “well and truly finished”.

But Mr Pendal expects Labor to fall over the line.

“All-in-all Dr Gallop is still to be favored,” he said.

“Dr Gallop has, after all, the advantage of incumbency, and a treasury paying for powerful advertisements like that launched over the ‘Save-Ningaloo’ campaign.

“But the nagging doubt is there. Does he have the goods?

“Never forget the election that Paul Keating was tipped to lose, but won; or the election that Stephen Bracks could not win, but did! Or the outcome in WA in 2001 when few people in Labor’s ranks really expected Geoff Gallop to outpace Richard Court.”

Although both independents – party outsiders, therefore – lean towards a Labor victory, unlike State Scene they are less sanguine that a second Gallop Government will be the outcome.


Subscription Options