17/09/2008 - 22:00

Labor lacks a ‘next big thing’

17/09/2008 - 22:00


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IT'S difficult to believe that, just 31 months ago, Alan Carpenter was seen as Labor's brightest rising star.

IT'S difficult to believe that, just 31 months ago, Alan Carpenter was seen as Labor's brightest rising star.

His predecessor, Geoff Gallop, unexpectedly resigned the premiership, ostensibly because of acute depression.

Despite that, things improved for Labor.

Pundits quickly claimed Mr Carpenter - 'Carps' to journalists, since he'd been one of them - was what Labor needed, as he had media skills plus that telegenic square jaw.

But, 31 months on, he's unable to take a trick.

Right across Western Australia's political fraternity he's now seen as hopelessly grumpy, incompetent, and out of his depth.

Like another one-time Labor rising star, former police minister, John D'Orazio, Mr Carpenter, who resigned as Labor leader last Sunday, is seen as destined for the blue yonder.

In other words, lawn mower, evening TV news, a pair of woolly slippers, and perhaps even a daily squiz at the newspaper he so loves to hate, The West Australian.

Mr Carpenter has come to resemble one-time Victorian Liberal premier, Jeff Kennett, who for several years shone out as the Liberals' saviour but then promptly slipped into political obscurity because of a failed election campaign.

According to one source: "The Liberals lost 13 seats to Labor, led by Steve Bracks, at the 1999 election, most of them in regional centres such as Ballarat and Bendigo.

"The final result in the Legislative Assembly was: Labor, 42 seats; the Liberals and Nationals, 43; with three independents holding the balance of power.

"Independents Russell Savage and Susan Davies were joined by a third Independent, Craig Ingram. Negotiations began between Kennett's Liberal Party and the three independents.

"While Kennett acceded to their demands, his perceived poor treatment of Savage and Davies in the previous parliament meant that they held a position that they would never agree to support a Liberal Party minority government while Kennett remained leader.

"The Liberal negotiators did not reveal this to their party and Labor was ultimately successful in winning their support to form a government after signing a Charter of Good Government, pledging to restore services to rural areas, and promising parliamentary reforms."

Soon after that, Mr Kennett vanished from the political stage.

And despite the occasional rumour that he may re-emerge, he's electorally spent.

Why does Mr Carpenter so resemble Mr Kennett rather than NSW and Queensland's Labor premiers, Bob Carr and Peter Beattie, respectively, or better still, South Australia's, Mike Rann?

It's a question that will undoubtedly be debated for years - and opinions will certainly differ.

State Scene isn't therefore claiming to be offering the last word.

Far from it. But it's difficult to resist attempting to be among the first.

For well over a year this column contended that Mr Carpenter and his de facto guide, Jim McGinty, headed an incompetent and unimaginative government.

There was so much the former could have done but seemed content with seat warming and plotting an early poll.

Here was someone in charge of a treasury housing unprecedented levels of taxpayer dollars, while voters - especially rural ones, as with Mr Kennett - increasingly felt they'd missed their day in the sun.

Instead, silly things happened, like the imposition of daylight saving when three statewide referendums had rejected it.

While he was education minister, Mr Carpenter claimed he'd ensure the state's secondary education sector would soon be on a par with the private sector.

Nothing of the sort happened.

Public and ongoing brawling continued with Perth's daily newspaper, The West Australian, rather than simply pointing out any errors and inevitable exaggerations and getting on with the job, with a smile.

Instead, his government sparked a police raid on The Sunday Times.

Then Mr Carpenter decided during the election campaign to further kowtow to the Greens by threatening to outlaw uranium mining and GM crops. These actions showed just how desperate he was to retain his $300,000-a-year job.

To hell with meeting the world's needs, for local profit, for a non-polluting, non-climate changing, fuel for electricity generation.

To hell with boosting productivity in food production.

Such targetting of crass emotions is astounding.

Earlier he'd committed to a billion dollar gas-guzzling desalination plant at Binningup rather than adopting Agritech Smartwater's plan to desalinate Wellington Dam's brackish water by using gravity pressure.

Precisely how Mr Carpenter handled cabinet meetings hasn't yet been revealed, but it's evident nasty rivalries developed between him and certain ministers.

Rather than ignoring these or toning them down and seeing them as part of the normal cut and thrust of factionalism, he launched several parachuting operations whereby two journalists and, of all things, a lobbyist, were earmarked over local party members for what were seen as safe Labor seats.

Not surprisingly, most Carpenter-anointed candidates fared badly in the seats handed to them on a platter at pre-selection.

But the biggest failure was his amateurish handling of the lobbying issue.

Here it's hard to forgive Mr Carpenter, because nearly four years before he became premier this column spelled out precisely how that sector should be regulated fairly and justly.

What he should have done was immediately announce that he was creating a lobbyists' register that would - and this was crucial - include strict disclosure requirements; something his useless register lacks.

Disclosure means all registered lobbyists must reveal who they were working for, what they were being paid, and who they had lobbied; that is, the MPs, ministers, public servants, and ministerial staffers.

Such regularly disclosed details would be publicly available so anyone adversely affected could promptly discover who was responsible and thereby take counter-measures before legislation or regulations were even initiated.

The purpose for this is that f-word: fairness, yes, so that Aussie fairness prevailed.

What did Mr Carpenter do?


He preferred to sit on his hands and allow this sector to remain clandestine. In other words unfairness continued to prevail.

So, when the Corruption and Crime Commission hearings were launched he, more than anyone, was left holding the can - and was forced to sack ministers, expel long-time party members, and fire ministerial staffers.

All this made him look completely out of his depth, which he obviously was.

But things further deteriorated because, when he finally announced adoption of a lobbyists' register, no disclosure requirements were included, making his web-based register naming all lobbyists a free advertising venue for them and potential clients.

What that's meant is that, after all those sackings, firings, and expulsions, the Labor mates-dominated lobbying sector remained clandestine, and remains so to this day.

Let's not put too fine a point on this - Mr Carpenter is simply not up to formulating proper public policy.

He's either right out of his depth or employs advisers - the hollow men and hollow women so well depicted in the TV series of that name - who are unsuitable for high office.

Little wonder he's headed for a fate resembling Mr Kennett's.

The only question left to answer is whether WA's branch of the Australian Labor Party has anyone within its ranks who is better qualified, something State Scene seriously doubts.

State Scene's advice is, therefore, go find someone like Albert Redvers George Hawke, WA's premier between 1953 and 1959, Bob Hawke's late uncle.

Of him an Australian journalist of international standing, wrote, after visiting Perth in 1956: "That rare combination of sincerity, acumen and understanding of men needed to surmount the minefields and tank traps of jealousy and state partisanship which beset the steep path to premiership.''


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