28/03/2006 - 21:00

March to forget for WA troops

28/03/2006 - 21:00


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As this month’s 31 warm-to-hot days slowly rolled by, one recurring thought was that March 2006 was likely to go down in the state’s political annals as the worst that WA’s two then opposition leaders, Kim Beazley and Matt Birney, were likely to share.

As this month’s 31 warm-to-hot days slowly rolled by, one recurring thought was that March 2006 was likely to go down in the state’s political annals as the worst that WA’s two then opposition leaders, Kim Beazley and Matt Birney, were likely to share.

Media comment on both was highly critical throughout the month.

Why had such an uncanny confluence eventuated for Kim “The Bomber” Beazley, and Matt “The Kalgoorlie Kid” Birney?

Why was it that both found themselves in the same unenviable position, at the same time, of struggling against such adverse assessments by the media and many of their colleagues?

What was it about these two that they’ve turned out so similar, beyond their surnames beginning with the same letter of the alphabet?

Both coincidences naturally directed State Scene’s thinking towards other possible attributes they may share.

And several promptly came to mind.

Both men, for example, live well outside the electorates they represent.

Mr Beazley is not, and never has been, a resident of his Brand electorate which includes Kwinana’s industrial strip adjacent to Cockburn Sound and the Indian Ocean.

Mr Birney, despite “The Kalgoorlie Kid” nickname, is no longer a permanent resident of the Goldfields.

Moreover, both live in the same suburb – swish riverside South Perth – and their pricey homes aren’t situated that far apart.

That said it’s noteworthy that Mr Beazley has distanced himself even further from Brand since regaining Labor’s leadership by taking up near-permanent residence on the shores of the Pacific, in Sydney, primarily because that’s where Labor’s wheeling and dealing centre of gravity is.

It’s also the home town of his prime ministerial adversary, John Howard.

Another uncanny similarity is that both are sons of former federal MPs.

Mr Beazley’s father, also Kim, represented Fremantle between 1945 and 1977, while Mr Birney’s father, Jack, was member for the Sydney seat of Phillip between 1975 and 1983.

Their dads therefore shared two years – 1976-77 – in Canberra, following Australia’s three silly as well as torrid Whitlam years.

Both have also been troubled by a strong-willed female shadow cabinet member.

In Mr Beazley’s case it’s the red headed Julia Gillard, described by one female journalist as that woman with that “scary robot voice”, who, it’s quite clear, has her eyes fixed on Labor’s leadership.

In Mr Birney’s, until mid-March, it was his bright blond shadow attorney-general, Sue Walker, who he finally felt compelled to dump, allegedly for refusing to be a team player, which, incidentally, is the very charge that friends and critics lay against him.

All that said it must be stated that several obvious differences also exist.

Mr Beazley’s seat of Brand, for instance, is solid Labor and would remain so even if that famous drover’s dog ever contested it.

Mr Birney’s century-old state Kalgoorlie seat, on the other hand, has been Labor’s for all but eight years between 1901 and 2001, so until he first won it in February of that latter year.

And it’s likely Kalgoorlie would revert to Labor if Mr Birney were to leave politics or decide to look for a seat elsewhere.

Although Mr Birney was unable to shape up as a successful leader he’s certainly been a successful goldfields member since he not only won Kalgoorlie in a year when so many Liberal seats tumbled into Labor’s hands, but went on to easily hold it last year.

Another obvious difference is that Mr Birney came into Liberal politics via a small business career, as a somewhat ostentatious goldfields cheap spare parts retailer.

In contrast, Mr Beazley’s road into remunerative politics was via a University of WA degree, followed by an Oxford University stint as a Rhodes Scholar, and a brief teaching spell at Perth’s Murdoch University before becoming Member for Swan.

But he fled Swan for Brand, fearing if he stayed he would see his political career slip down the chute. He would have forsaken political glory and probably would have needed to return to the ivory tower.

Now, oddly, it’s here that another similarity between both faltering opposition leaders may yet emerge.

It’s no secret Mr Birney, now a metropolitan resident, is seriously considering seeking a metropolitan seat for the 2009 election.

The reason is that in the next year or so a historic redistribution will be effected because of last year’s Jim McGinty-initiated one-vote-one-value legislation.

And it’s possible that this may make the new territorially far larger Kalgoorlie seat unwinnable for any non-Labor candidate which would mean Mr Birney would need to move on.

Otherwise he could find himself selling spare parts again.

Although someone once suggested that the blue ribbon Liberal seat of South Perth – where Messrs Birney and Beazley live – was in the former’s sights, it was later felt he’d look further afield, over towards the Indian Ocean, but well north of Mr Beazley’s Brand, so around Floreat or Churchlands.

The reason is that long-time Liberal Independent Liz Constable was unlikely to stand in the 2009 election so her Churchlands seat would be allocated by the Liberals to someone the party sees as particularly worthy.

 Assuming Dr Constable hasn’t earmarked it for someone, which sources say she has.

Can we take this list of similarities any further, and in the process perhaps gain other insights about either of them?

Maybe not.

A major difference between the two is that Mr Beazley, unlike Mr Birney, can never attribute his failure to topple his Liberal adversary to lack of experience.

Not only did Mr Beazley eat breakfast each day at the same table as his long-time federal MP father but while at university, so over his late teens, and until he was in his thirties, he had lived and breathed politics, Labor politics.

That certainly wasn’t the case with Mr Birney, whose parents separated early in his life meaning he never had the advantage of easy access to his father’s political wide knowledge and insights.

Mr Beazley therefore has fewer, if any, excuses for having failed to attain Australia’s top spot which he’s sought for so long.

If he makes it a hat trick loss next year, he’ll have had more chances than anyone on either side of Australian politics, so he will have nothing to grumble about.

In Mr Birney’s case lots of inexperience has certainly been his major draw-back.

And he compounded this by not emerging as a collegiate leader, by too readily and too often going it alone.

 This is surprising since that was the debilitating proclivity his predecessor, Colin Barnett, who surrounded himself with a tiny coterie of loyalists who ignored those designated as outsiders.

One would have thought Mr Birney, having had the opportunity to watch those four disastrous Barnett years from the inside, would have avoided opting for the same approach which he’s compounded by imagining he had the intellectual prowess to be even more of a lone ranger.

Yet that’s what he’s done.

Consequently one can’t help wondering if he’ll ever learn that being leader is markedly different to being a Goldfields spare parts retailer.


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