26/10/2011 - 10:27

Local Labor split on Gillard

26/10/2011 - 10:27


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Some in the WA Labor Party think their cause will be boosted by a Tony Abbott-led government in Canberra.

WITH the federal Labor government barely one year into its three-year term, a surprising view is taking hold within sections of the WA Labor Party.

You might be excused for thinking Labor supporters believe Julia Gillard’s federal team needs all the time it can get to rebuild support, and mount a credible campaign to win another term when the election falls due in mid 2013.

But there is a local Labor view that the next federal election can’t be held soon enough, which would mean the inevitable ousting of Ms Gillard and her troubled administration, and the installation of the coalition parties led by Tony Abbott.

And why does this WA Labor group want that to happen? It’s not personal against Ms Gillard; it’s just that a change might lead to a turnaround in the level of support for Eric Ripper and his colleagues at the local level.

Colin Barnett won’t agree, but something needs to happen as far as WA Labor is concerned. Last month’s Newspoll had the party’s support at just 29 per cent compared with the Liberals at 42 per cent, Nationals at 6 per cent and Greens 13 per cent. On a two-party preferred basis it was 57 per cent to the Liberal-National alliance and only 43 per cent to Labor. 

Not that the Liberals are taking anything for granted. After the recent finalisation of state electoral boundaries, the party’s state director, Ben Morton, warned members they could not relax.

In a ‘confidential memo’ to all MPs and their staff, Mr Morton advised that the next state poll would be more difficult than many assume.

“The biggest threat at the next state election is complacency and an incorrect perception in the wider community that the grip that Colin Barnett and Liberals have on government is stronger than it really is,” Mr Morton said.

A successful campaign by Labor to send a message to the Liberals could very easily change the government. Labor will run a very targeted campaign to hold their seats and pick up those extra two (to win power).

“Currently Eric Ripper is being extremely disciplined in executing a very concise message about the cost of living in WA, which at the next election could culminate in a strong protest vote against the Barnett Liberal-led government,” Mr Morton said.

The cost of living issue, of course, is heavily concentrated on the savage increases in household power and water charges as the Liberals pursue their ‘cost-reflectivity’ policy for these essential services. 

Householders have already been warned to expect further annual rises in electricity costs of 5 per cent in each of the next two years. And the federal government’s carbon price laws to apply from next July will add to that.

The exact amount is still to be decided. Last month Mr Barnett said the carbon price would kick up electricity prices by a further 8 per cent. This month the news was slightly better, with the premier predicting only a 7 per cent jump. 

But the managing director of Origin Energy, Grant King, reportedly said the extra cost would be 10 per cent, “or about $2.30 a week”.  

It’s clear what is going to happen next May with the introduction of a new state budget. Mr Ripper will be blaming the state government for another electricity price hike of up to 15 per cent, and Colin Barnett will attempt to pin the bulk of the increase on federal Labor. It could get very messy.

The publishing of the new state electoral boundaries means both sides will now be able to concentrate on selecting their candidates. Only three members of the 59-member Legislative Assembly – Labor’s Carol Martin (Kimberley) and Tom Stephens (Pilbara), and the independent Liz Constable (Churchlands) – have flagged their intention to quit so far. Veteran Police Minister Rob Johnson (Hillarys) has indicated he’s staying.

The Nationals are confident of attracting a high-profile candidate in Kimberley, and will mount a vigorous challenge to the Labor grip on the seat. Labor has a valuable 7.2 per cent buffer in Pilbara. And there will be a Melbourne Cup field of Liberal candidates lining up to succeed Dr Constable in what will become one of the safest conservative seats.

The state Labor scenario supports an early federal poll so that, as prime minister, Mr Abbott will then have to grapple with the can of worms that includes border protection, the mining tax issue, his promise to wind back the carbon legislation, and the economy. 

That will mean removing tax cuts for battling families introduced to compensate for cost increases in the climate change package – unlikely to go down well with those voters.

For the same reason, Mr Barnett will be hoping federal Labor – possibly again led by his “good friend”, Kevin Rudd – goes full term.

Strange business politics.

CHOGM boost for WA

THE Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth is the third time that Commonwealth leaders have met in Australia since the first such meeting in 1971. The previous Australian meetings were in Melbourne in 1981 and Coolum in Queensland in 2002.

But it was the CHOGM regional meeting in Sydney that created the biggest headlines, for all the wrong reasons. The conference was held in 1978 at Sydney’s Hilton Hotel, in the congested heart of the city, when Malcolm Fraser was prime minister.

Tragedy struck during the event when a bomb placed in a rubbish bin outside the hotel exploded, killing two council workers. The men were clearing the bins in the early hours of the morning when a bomb exploded, killing them and severely injuring a police officer, who later died.

Three Ananda Marga members were convicted of conspiracy to murder over the incident, but were acquitted in 1985 after an appeal to the High Court.

The bombing shocked the nation and helped sap enthusiasm for the CHOGM get-togethers. In fact former Liberal prime minister Sir John Gorton was extremely dismissive of the event when I interviewed him, in retirement, in Canberra in 1983.

“I think CHOGM is a lot of bloody nonsense – always has been,” was his response to my question on the issue. He added for good measure: “A good job for Sonny Ramphal (then secretary-general of the Commonwealth Secretariat), that’s about all.”

But the event seems to have become bigger and better in the years since. For an isolated city such as Perth, in one of the world’s great trading states, the event and supporting activities present great opportunities.

And if security is unusually tight, and there might be cases of some demonstrators getting short shrift, there’s probably a good reason. The last thing the authorities want is a repetition of that Sydney tragedy 33 years ago.  


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