13/01/2011 - 00:00

Labor needs Ripper’s political experience

13/01/2011 - 00:00


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If Eric Ripper were to be replaced as Labor leader, would he stick around in parliament?

Labor needs Ripper’s political experience

THE leadership turmoil in the state Labor Party has surfaced a little faster than expected.

The first point to note about the stalled Ben Wyatt challenge is that there’s been talk of such a move for more than six months.

But Labor MPs deliberately decided not to be hurried, since the next state election is unlikely before February 2013.

Then came the toppling of Kevin Rudd, a tight federal election campaign, and the Christmas/New Year break.

But the big sharp knives were certainly unsheathed promptly thereafter.

That said, it helps to note that there has been an unprecedented number of leadership changes in both of the state’s major parties during the past 20 years – 12 all up, six each by the Liberals and Labor.

Mr Wyatt’s stalled challenge should be seen in that light.

Also noteworthy is the fact that, once politicians lose their party’s leadership they invariably leave politics promptly. And for many, departing politics proves to be a wise move.

WA’s major party leaders have tended to do financially well, over and above their parliamentary pension.

If Mr Ripper had been toppled this week the odds were he’d have left parliament fairly promptly. Let’s not forget that he’s the longest serving lower house MP, having entered parliament in 1988.

In early 1990, Labor’s Carmen Lawrence took over from Peter Dowding when virtually his entire cabinet rebelled against his over-bearing style. He left in a flash to become a lobbyist and busy lawyer.

Dr Lawrence lost the 1993 election to new Liberal leader Richard Court (he’d ousted Barry MacKinnon in 1992), and by early 1994 she had gone to Canberra, where she quickly rose to become health minister.

On resigning federal politics in 2007, Dr Lawrence became a professorial fellow at the University of WA’s school of psychology, and chairs the Australian Heritage Council.

Mr Court left straight after losing the 2001 election and quickly emerged as a KPMG adviser. He became national chairman of the National Hire Group Ltd, gained several resource company directorships, and is consultant to media baron Kerry Stokes’ Australian Capital Equities.

Mr MacKinnon had also quickly left parliament to become a lobbyist, and is now active and successful in this field, with links to the company one-time Liberal director, Paul Everingham, established after he’d left his party job.

Ian Taylor replaced Dr Lawrence but only held Labor’s leadership for nine months; after him came party power broker and long-time Brian Burke factional rival, Jim McGinty.

Mr Taylor has been Perth City Council’s ombudsman, a member of WA Football Commission, chairman of the WA Football League, a board member of the Racing and Wagering authority, and holds several consultancies plus interests in the abalone industry.

Although Mr McGinty was leader for just more than two years, like Mr Taylor he opted to step down ahead of a challenge. But his resignation came after party boffins showed him his poor polling scores.

Unlike all the others, however, Mr McGinty decided to remain in politics as Labor’s eminence grise, assiduously working behind the scenes during his successor, Geoff Gallop’s, two premiership terms, and into the Alan Carpenter premiership years.

This lone ranger precedent is important because it presents Mr Ripper with an alternative option to leaving politics early if another challenge to his leadership is forthcoming.

Although Dr Gallop lost his first election contest against Mr Court, he remained opposition leader and defeated Mr Court in 2001.

Here it’s noteworthy that the major contributor to that Gallop victory was Mr McGinty, who took the 2000 mortgage brokers scandal by the horns and made the Liberals look incompetent, even sinister, in their inaction over the swindling of retirees by avaricious Perth money men.

It will be interesting to see if a beaten Mr Ripper would opt for the traditional prompt departure or the McGinty stay-around alternative.

Mr Ripper, a former energy minister, is better equipped than anyone in Labor ranks to confront the Barnett government on WA’s increasingly precarious energy situation.

If the next election is fought on this issue – which is likely – his knowledge would be invaluable in helping remove the do-nothing Barnett government on this question.

Before Mr Ripper became leader there was, of course, Alan Carpenter who’d stepped into Dr Gallop’s shoes.

After his unexpected resignation, Dr Gallop promptly left for Sydney to become professor and director of Sydney University Graduate School of Government, a member of the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission, and a member of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership.

And because he’d turned to the Buddhist Society of WA’s Jhana Grove Meditation Centre to help overcome depression, he’s now one of its patrons.

Nor was Mr Carpenter slow in making adjustments for a new life beyond parliament after losing the ‘unlosable’ 2008 election.

He briefly taught politics at the Notre Dame University and soon after became executive general manager (corporate affairs) for Wesfarmers.

That’s the big business world’s way of saying he’s that company’s chief in-house lobbyist.

Mr Court’s 2001 departure sparked ongoing leadership changes once his successor, Mr Barnett, lost the ‘unlosable’ 2004 election to Dr Gallop, because he’d so foolishly promoted the pie-in-the-sky Kimberley Canal without firstly obtaining full engineering and costing details.

After that loss Mr Barnett decided to stay on until the proroguing of the 2004-08 parliament, during which time he began writing a book titled The Black Swan, which still hasn’t been published.

Those four years were truly tumultuous for WA’s Liberals.

Firstly came new chum, Matt Birney, who promptly encountered an array of self-inflicted problems, including facing investigation into tampering with his parliamentary documentation.

Paul Omodei, who replaced Mr Birney, then lost out to Troy Buswell ahead of the 2008 election.

But Mr Buswell also encountered self-inflicted problems following an evening of silly antics in parliament; he was tapped on the shoulder and told to go.

Mr Barnett was wheeled back out and went on to win the hastily called 2008 election – by just 33 votes cast in the Riverton seat – via the formation of an alliance government with the Nationals.

Although Mr Birney is now in business, Mr Buswell has proven to be parliament’s most dogged survivor.

Despite having to stand aside again while a minister, he re-emerged just before Christmas with two tough ministerial posts handed to him by Mr Barnett.

Although some still see him as a possible leader Attorney-General and Treasurer Christian Porter is being increasingly favoured.

Mr Omodei, after leaving parliament, registered as a lobbyist and remains a vigneron, owning Olde Eastbrook Wines.

The past 20 or so years, with their dozen leadership rises and falls, certainly suggest Mr Ripper would depart early rather than staying on, since only three of the dozen leaders – Messrs McGinty, Barnett and Buswell – stuck it out to come back another day.

If Mr McGinty hadn’t done so Dr Gallop may not have won the 2001 election against the already worn-out Court government.

And if Mr Barnett hadn’t he’d now likely be an author, not premier.

Doesn’t this suggest Labor would be wise to think carefully before allowing Mr Ripper to flee parliament too quickly.



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