08/02/2005 - 21:00

Leaders search for inspiration

08/02/2005 - 21:00


Save articles for future reference.

The Liberal Party’s surprise promise to build a canal to take water from the Kimberley has changed the election dynamic. Joe Poprzeczny reports that one party had to move in what was a dull and boring campaign.

Leaders search for inspiration

The Liberal Party’s surprise promise to build a canal to take water from the Kimberley has changed the election dynamic.  Joe Poprzeczny reports that one party had to move in what was a dull and boring campaign.


The 2005 election campaign has been unusual in that normally confident psephologists, party advisers and journalists, are hesitating to say which side is likely to win.

It has been difficult to find anyone prepared to confidently name the winner, and that’s despite Labor receiving a lift in the polls since the resignation of Mark Latham as federal Opposition leader.

If one based a prediction on early-published polls even the not-so-smart money would have gone on the Colin Barnett-led Coalition, with little going on Geoff Gallop-led Labor.

But a strange hesitancy – a feeling of caution – prevails, meaning that despite early statistical evidence favouring the Coalition, experts and insiders prefer reticence.

Clearly that is why Mr Barnett unleashed his debate surprise – the Kimberley pipeline – at the very least rousing the campaign from a sleepwalk to the finish line.

Before that rabbit was pulled out of Mr Barnett’s hat insiders of both parties were privately struggling to convince anyone they had policies worthy of giving them a win.

Labor’s done little to deserve another term and Mr Barnett, until last week, was playing small-target politics.

Of course there are reasons for this extraordinary state of affairs.

At rock bottom it’s probably because neither of the tightly controlled major parties is seen as having offered a truly credible candidate for the premiership of a state most Western Australians are proud of.

No wonder Mr Barnett made his commitment on Wednesday night last week.

Western Australia is still Australia’s major economic powerhouse, as an exporter and in overall primary output.

Its citizens represent Australia well in a range of endeavours, including sport, something most are highly proud of.

Yet neither Labor nor the Liberals seems capable of producing a leader who can genuinely inspire electors.

The vision thing has been sadly lacking; until now.

Both parties have failed voters by making the state one of Australia’s highest taxed jurisdictions.

Neither knows how to claw the state’s exorbitant taxation levels back to far lower levels, like those in Queensland, for example. People are wary of promises that can’t be kept.

The parties are increasingly perceived as simply being vehicles for careerists who’d be unlikely to do anywhere near as well financially in any other occupation.

The fact is, few view the major parties as vehicles for ensuring policies for the betterment of the state and society can be assured.

If such policies do actually emerge it’s invariably because the parties see mileage in it for them, meaning a political ‘Jack system’ has emerged to override all else.

Last week WA Business News briefly quizzed a Perth academic on the lack of enthusiasm for either leader and received a straightforward and not-to-be-ignored answer.

WABN: “Who do you think is going to win on February 26?”

Academic: “It’s hard to say.”

WABN: “Why do you think that is?”

Academic: “That’s also hard to say.”

WABN: “What? Do you think it might be a case of voters ending up having to support the lesser of two evils?”

Academic: “No. I suspect it’s a case of the evil of two lessers.”

Neither the academic nor any of his campus colleagues are impressed with Dr Gallop or Mr Barnett – the “two lessers”.

WA, in 2005, is therefore in the unusual position where neither party is able to find a man or woman who inspires voters.

In 1974 Labor’s John Tonkin was tumbled out of office largely because the energetic Sir Charles Court inspired many.

In 1983, when the Liberals’ Ray O’Connor was tumbled out of office, it was to a great extent because Brian Burke conveyed a similar impression.

In 1993 when Labor’s less-than-impressive Carmen Lawrence was tumbled out of office it was because voters felt Sir Charles’ son, Richard, would bring back stability and propriety.

But, in 2005, midway through the 21st century’s first decade, neither Dr Gallop nor Mr Barnett can match any of these predecessors.

It will be interesting to see if the canal proposal changes that.

It is worth remembering that, before the Courts and Mr Burke there was John Forrest, David Brand and James Mitchell, to name just three who each reflected the spirit of the state.

Instead, the Gallop Government resembles the Tonkin-O’Connor-Lawrence administrations in their dying days.

Voters appear to expect little from either, instead anticipating more of the same – ever higher taxes, administrative ineptitude, and ministerial refusal to take responsibility – when governments change.

A case in point was Police Minister Michelle Roberts’ outright refusal to cop on the chin blame for the mass escape of prisoners from the Supreme Court’s lock-up.

Another is Dr Gallop’s admission that he broke his 2001 promise not to increase taxes and charges.

Nor is Mr Barnett immune.

Take his back-room deal with Attorney-General Jim McGinty to legislate so taxpayers fund state political parties to help bankroll their uninspiring campaigns.

It was days before he admitted involvement in their joint bid to manoeuvre their parties into acquiring taxpayer cash.

Another reason for the pundits’ hesitancy is the fact that WA’s economy is bounding along at a pace not seen since the 1970s.

Yet the party in power – Gallop-led Labor – has struggled to win solid polling approval.

Understandably, pundits can’t believe that incumbent Dr Gallop will lose under such exceptionally favourable circumstances.

Labor advisers hope Dr Gallop’s more appealing demeanour is enough to pull them over the line.

A major reason for Labor’s lack of voter acceptance is that its advisers foolishly convinced Dr Gallop early in 2001 that he gained power because of the Greens. In fact he was victorious primarily because the conservative side of politics had split three ways – the Coalition, One Nation, and Liberals for Forests.

Moreover, the Court-Barnett Liberals had mishandled the mortgage brokers’ scandal.

That has meant the thrust of Gallop-led Labor’s policies and programs since 2001 were tilted towards titillating Greens backers while mainstream voters were increasingly taxed and largely ignored.

No wonder the Liberals have decided that one big idea was needed.

If he loses now, Mr Barnett won’t die wondering if he should have done something to capture the imagination of an increasingly jaded and cynical electorate.

The test on February 26 will be whether voters believe its vision, or just another election ploy – albeit a big one.


Subscription Options