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Labor’s ghosts set to haunt house

ELECTION nights are similar – figures, percentages, swings, hugs, kisses, cheers, and inspiring speeches.

“We have been through the wilderness and we have emerged victorious tonight,” incoming Prem-ier Geoff Gallop told the Labor faithful.

Election nights also have hung heads, tight-lipped expressions, and the occasional tear. This time all these were in the Liberal and National camps.

But reality soon strikes and Election 2001 will be no different.

Within a week we’ll know the general lay of WA’s new political landscape; cabinet members, oppos-ition spokesmen, and the nature of the ever-tortuous relationship between the Libs and Nats.

Dejected coalition MPs should recall what Labor endured after 1992.

Embattled Labor leader, Dr Carmen Lawrence – remember her? – was followed not by one, nor two, but by three leaders (Ian Taylor, Jim McGinty, and Dr Gallop) before Labor emerged from that wilderness.

Don’t be surprised if the Libs undergo something similar.

Whether the post-Richard Court Libs put their party into shape quickly or spend a decade doing it is up to them.

But they shouldn’t forget that the one thing they’ll be able to count on is Labor’s propensity to make blunders.

For instance, just wait for some of the old faces – those advisers from WA’s disastrous Burke-Dowding years – to re-emerge in an array of jobs with our abundant number of statutory authorities.

The Libs made a lot during the election campaign of the more than one billion dollars that’ll be needed to pay for Labor’s promises.

On this two points should be noted.

The first is that the Court-Cowan team wasn’t exactly a low-tax government; just read through the past few budgets to see the hikes in taxes and charges.

What WA is not in line for is a high-tax government following a low-tax one – just more of the same, high and rising taxes and charges.

Secondly, the coming years will see the WA Treasury increasingly reaping the big dollar benefits of the much-criticised Howard-Costello GST, meaning many more bigger cheques from Canberra, which collects all that new money for the states.

State MPs are quick to slam the GST and its array of inconveniences but they’re careful not to highlight all that extra cash state governments will reap to help continue buying more votes.

The only new factor is the virtual demise of the National Party and the Democrats in the never-to-be ignored Legislative Council.

Many predictions are already being made about that chamber but my guess is that populist Pauline Hanson One Nation’s victories there, on balance, strengthen the State’s conservative forces.

To some extent I say this on the basis of the background of just one new One Nation MLC, successful Gidgegannup businessman and former Liberal Party member, John Fischer.

He emerged at the head of One Nation’s last Senate ticket by flying to Sydney to see one of Ms Hanson’s former business partners, David Ettridge, who jointly owned that party with her at the time.

Because One Nation failed to perform as well as expected, Mr Fischer missed out on Canberra but has a comfortable seat waiting for him after May on the hill in West Perth.

Look at his background.

He’s from Carnarvon, I’m told, having managed a station so has mixed with big land owners and lowly work hands, people one can fairly describe as those with dirt under their fingernails, the opposite to the Dalkeith-Cottesloe types who have dominated WA’s Liberal Party for so long.

One who’s known him well for many years is former Liberal MLC, Phil Lockyer, who, incidentally, beat Mr Fischer for Liberal Party endorsement for the Upper House seat of Lower North Province way back in 1979.

“John’s a knockabout sort of bloke – I like him,” Mr Lockyer said this week.

“He loves horses and is a damn good polo player. He’s been playing polo with the Sultan of Brunei (the world’s richest man, even richer than Microsoft’s Bill Gates) for years.

“John played footy in a Carnarvon side in which he was one of only two white fellas – the other was Barry Buzolic, father of Ivan, who recently won the $30 million Powerball jackpot.”

Mr Lockyer said another who stood in the 1979 Liberal pre-selection contest that he won was Tess Stroud, former Perth deputy Lord Mayor.

In illustrious company like that it’s hard to portray Mr Fischer as someone who’s likely to strain the system.

No, he’s a hands-on West Aussie who’s had the sun on his neck, someone who’s been looking to get into a parliament for decades so when Pauline Hanson’s populist bandwagon came along he simply jumped aboard.

He and his One Nation colleagues, who are set to hold the balance of power in the Council, are unlikely to let any proposed pie-in-the-sky Labor legislation through that chamber.

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