Ministerial ambition a not-so-hidden agenda

TO understand some of parliament’s less salubrious clandestine deals and antics it’s essential to appreciate that most of its 91 members aren’t there to be legislators, as elected.

Most want to be ministers – heading departments; receiving top-up allowances and beefing-up pensions; being chauffeur-driven; and sitting in plush offices with big staffs.

It’s one of the least desirable aspects of the so-called Westminster system, the drawing of the executive (ministry) from the legislature.

Although many political aspirants initially seek political office to become legislators, once they’re parliamentarians the taste for the trappings of a ministerial life quickly surface.

The ministerial urge is so strong it can prompt all forms of political backstabbing, including media leaks to embarrass colleagues seen as competitors, and other sinister and ungentlemanly or unladylike behaviour.

For example, when Premier Geoff Gallop and deputy Eric Ripper decided to backpedal on their controversial premium property tax it was leaked to a journalist ahead of the planned press conference.

One in-the-know MP, someone uneasy about Mr Ripper being deputy premier and treasurer, ensured a particular journalist learned of the backdown the night before. That MP will undoubtedly persist with such behaviour over coming months to continue destabilising Mr Ripper in the lead up to the coming cabinet reshuffle.

So, just another case of catty ministerial manoeuvring, necessarily complicated by Labor’s Byzantine factional deals.

Another example of the ministerial temptation can be Upper House MPs wanting to move down to the Lower House, to boost their chance of becoming ministers.

At least three current Labor Upper House MPs are discussing getting Lower House nominations.

These ambitious ministerial hopefuls want Lower House seats because they’ve concluded they’re staring down the barrel of careers without ministerial rank.

But the ministerial urge is certainly not solely a Labor affliction. It’s at least as strong among conservatives.

The Nationals tend to handle it by coming to an understanding within their dwindling ranks once they know the number of ministerial spots allocated to them in Coalition cabinets.

Liberal goings-on can be less gentlemanly, with old scores often settled. It’s no secret, for instance, that two former Liberal ministers played a key role in ensuring now Liberal independent Phillip Pendal – who’s close to present Liberal leader Colin Barnett – never surfaced in a Court ministry.

It’s also no secret Mr Court subsequently offered him the top job on Christmas Island, hoping he’d go so the Liberals could regain his South Perth seat.

Strangely, all this may again be becoming relevant.

As State Scene pointed out early this month, the Barnett Liberals and Nationals will find it exceedingly difficult to win the required 29 seats to form government if the McGinty-Greenmander redistribution eventuates, which would follow a favourable ruling on the one-vote-one-value case now before the Supreme Court.

But let’s not forget that, even if a ruling favouring the Opposition is given, a redistribution is due, though it’s unlikely to be as unfavourable as the McGinty-Greenmander formula would produce.

Whichever is implemented non-Labor independents, Mr Pendal (South Perth), Liz Constable (Churchlands), and Janet Woollard (Alfred Cove), holders of once-blue ribbon Liberal seats, cannot be ignored.

Assume that, under a McGinty-Greenmander redistribution, a Barnett-Nationals Coalition did the highly unlikely and won 26-seats, three short of government. All attention would naturally turn to these independents, as it had upon two of them – Mr Pendal and Dr Constable – last election, which Labor never expected to win.

The best Labor hoped for was a hung parliament, meaning Pendal-Constable would hold the balance of power. The talk then was of Mr Court offering Dr Constable a ministry and Mr Pendal perhaps accepting the prestigious Lower House speakership.

But the landslide sparked by Doug Shave put paid to that widely anticipated outcome.

And in election 2001 there were just two non-Labor independents with a markedly more favourable seat distribution from the conservative standpoint.

Now there are three such independents, making a hung parliament more likely, with 26 Coalition MPs probably the best Mr Barnett could hope for under McGinty-Greenmander seat arrangements.

If that eventuated, offering Dr Constable and Dr Woollard portfolios simply couldn’t be avoided and Mr Pendal may accept the speakership.

Two of the 15 remaining portfolios would go to the Nationals, leaving 13 to the Liberals, one less than Labor has. If, however, Mr Barnett stuck with a Gallop-style 14-member ministry, it would leave just 10 Liberal posts, four less than Labor. Most unlikely with so many Liberals desperate to become ministers.

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