19/09/2006 - 22:00

Libs need to work on numbers

19/09/2006 - 22:00


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The morning after federal Liberal MP Dennis Jensen was disendorsed by his party’s Tangney preselection panel for a former federal ministerial staffer originally from South Australia, State Scene was telephoned by an interstate journalist who got straight

The morning after federal Liberal MP Dennis Jensen was disendorsed by his party’s Tangney preselection panel for a former federal ministerial staffer originally from South Australia, State Scene was telephoned by an interstate journalist who got straight to the point.

“Why was Jensen dumped?” he asked.

Still believing honesty is the best policy, State Scene replied, “Haven’t got a clue – I’ve only just heard it on the news so will need to make a few calls.”

The journalist kept prodding, “Any suspicions?”

“Well, sure. I suspect he was deliberately and methodically undermined,” I said.

The rest of my answer went roughly as follows: “I only heard two things about Jensen in the lead up to his preselection and both were critical as well as identical, which made me suspect they were part of a deliberate undermining operation.”

“What were they?” the journalist asked.

Time and again when discussing Dr Jensen’s forthcoming preselection, those with whom State Scene spoke made one of two statements, or else both.

Respondents either said: “The problem with Dennis is that he doesn’t live in his electorate” or, “The problem with Dennis is that he’s always talking about nuclear energy.”

Now, if one heard those criticisms just once or twice, or perhaps even three times, that may be coincidence.

But they were repeated over and over. If not a dozen then at least 10 times each.

It’s as if they were rehearsed lines.

It’s as if both points were drilled into their heads so they would be repeated.

And if that’s so, which State Scene suspects it may well be, then someone, or a group, probably decided Dr Jensen should go.

It simply seemed too coincidental for so many who were randomly encountered to be automatically mouthing the same two points.

Who precisely did the drilling remains unknown.

There are several suspicions but still no hard evidence, which may suggest that the undermining was so carefully planned that it would be forever hidden.

Let’s, however, more closely consider these criticisms.

Firstly, should MPs live within their electorates?

Obviously it’s more desirable they do since there’s a greater chance of them understanding local needs.

MPs should be closer to electors, and if not actually living within the boundaries of an electorate they should be close to their electorate.

The reason for that slight qualification is that it’s often asking too much of an MP to live within their electorate because electoral boundaries so regularly change that it’s ridiculous to expect them to sell up to move half a kilometre this way or that after each redistribution.

So, as long as MPs live in the vicinity of their electorate, then that’s certainly okay.

It would, under such a judgement, be undesirable for MPs to be living in, say, swish South Perth while representing an electorate near Marmion, for example.

But if an MP representing, say, the Marmion area lived in Hillarys, then that’s as good as actually owning a home within a Marmion seat.

But things don’t always pan out so.

In Dr Jensen’s case, he lives near Mandurah and represented a seat that included suburbs along the southern shores of the Swan, which certainly made him vulnerable on this score.

That said, it’s worth nothing that Dr Jensen probably lives closer to his electoral office than does the Liberals’ Pearce MHR, Judy Moylan, for example, who lives in a swish Perth seaside suburb but represents a seat whose western boundary runs along the Darling scarp and extends well into farming country.

Nor did her predecessor, long-time Claremont resident, Fred Chaney, live in Pearce.

Also, Wilson Tuckey, long-time member for O’Connor, which encompasses the state’s entire Wheatbelt, lives near Perth airport.

And when it comes to state MPs – Labor and Liberal – so many reside outside their electorates that neither side of politics dares highlight this issue since they’d embarrass each other.

State Scene regularly drives home from the CBD and passes the residence of two quite senior Labor ministers who live in the Highgate-Mt Lawley area but hold seats situated well south-of-the-river.

So, to borrow from an old phrase – Dr Jensen ain’t Robinson Crusoe.

Regarding the question of speaking on nuclear energy, it’s true, Dr Jensen was ready, willing, and more importantly, able, to speak to journalists and information-starved groups on this important issue.

Is that such a bad thing?

State Scene was fortunate to attend his extremely interesting address to a recent Council for the National Interest public forum on nuclear energy.

Sir Charles Court, now approaching his 95th birthday, obviously thought Dr Jensen’s address was worth hearing, because he attended.

Also present was a cohort of obviously anti-nuclear activists who posed several prepared emotive questions – all of which Dr Jensen answered calmly and in a detailed and civil manner.

Among other things, he presented statistics provided to him by the Parliamentary Library that conclusively showed nuclear energy was far and away safer than other forms of base load electricity generation.

To demonstrate this he introduced those present to a huge unit of electrical measure called a terawatt, which is a 1,000 gigawatts while a gigawatt is 1,000 megawatts.

A terawatt thus corresponds to the power available from 1,000 power plants of one million kilowatt capacity.

“I’ll quote figures in terms of normalised deaths per terawatt year, in other words, if you generate one terawatt of energy for one calendar year, how many deaths can you expect in the industry,” Dr Jensen began.

“For coal fired power stations, there are 342 fatalities per terawatt year, which are predominantly related to coal workers actually extracting the coal.

“However, this number would be far worse if the figures where there were fewer than five fatalities per incident were included.

“With oil, it is 418 fatalities per terawatt year. With natural gas, it is somewhat lower – 85 fatalities per terawatt year and this refers to workers as well as the public.

“Incidentally, LPG-related fatalities are extremely high – 3,280 per terawatt year of electricity generated.

“With hydro-electricity – a method that some opponents of nuclear energy favour – there are 883 fatalities per terawatt year, which predominantly involves the public due to collapsing dams.

“Now we come to nuclear energy, with 31 fatalities per terawatt year; this is the lowest of all electricity generation methods.”

Dr Jensen said this low fatality figure included the Chernobyl’s deaths as well as fatalities in the mining of uranium.

“I know some people might like to point to Chernobyl,” he continued.

“According to the OECD, there have been 56 fatalities as a result of Chernobyl, due to thyroid cancer and the immediate deaths of the workers at the time – the major medical problem was radiation exposure.

“The problem with Chernobyl, apart from anything else, was that it had inadequate containment.

“But as can be seen, nuclear energy is actually a very safe option – and it’s inherently safer these days with Generation IV reactors.”

But all of that was to no avail. Indeed, his expertise in this area was seen as lead in the saddle.

When the Tangney panel met to decide who would be its candidate, the 26 delegates present voted Matt Brown 11, Jensen eight, and Robert Reid seven. After the distribution of preferences it was Brown 16 and Jensen 10.

In other words, the incumbent fell four votes short.

Although an appeal is now before the respective party channels, the disheartening aspect of this affair is that a once great, but seemingly declining, political entity could only attract a 26-strong preselection panel, well below two footie teams.

For that Dr Jensen must certainly cop some of the blame. After all it’s his political career that was at stake.

But he’s not Robinson Crusoe here either – in the Pearce preselection all but one of Ms Moylan’s nine branches were ruled unconstitutional, primarily because memberships were at rock bottom.

That meant just nine delegates voted her back – not even enough for a cricket team.

What’s happening to WA’s once-great Liberal Party?


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