04/07/2014 - 05:05

Nalder talk drives succession plan

04/07/2014 - 05:05

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While unchallenged as premier and Liberal Party leader, Colin Barnett has to go sometime.

Nalder talk drives succession plan
CONTENDER: Dean Nalder brings an impressive political pedigree to his role, and may be a contender for Liberal leadership when Colin Barnett moves on. Photo: Attila Csaszar

A recent interjection in the Legislative Assembly by opposition frontbencher Paul Papalia didn't make it into Hansard, but it went to the heart of the issue that is becoming an increasing talking point in state politics.Recently appointed Transport Minister Dean Nalder was extolling his government's record on road construction and public transport when Mr Papalia called out: "Make him leader now".

To those who were listening, the words cut across the chamber like a sharp knife through freshly baked bread.

But because Mr Nalder did not respond directly to the barb, Hansard simply recorded: "Mr P Papalia interjected", and the rookie minister continued his answer, in which he talked up the Liberal record at the expense of his Labor opponents.

Since the departure of Christian Porter last year to try his luck in the House of Representatives in Canberra (and Troy Buswell's calamitous drive home after a wedding reception in February), the Liberals have been in a quandary – what to do about the succession plans when Premier Colin Barnett decides it's time to go?

The first point to make is that no-one is pushing the premier; he is still a required leader.

But he does celebrate his 64th birthday on July 15 and will be 66 at the time of the 2017 election. If still leader, he will then have to face questions such as, 'if re-elected, do you intend to serve the full term?'

A positive answer would be tempting, because that would place him within reach of Sir David Brand's record term as premier of 11 years 11 months and one day. That would also make Mr Barnett the oldest Western Australian leader since Sir Charles Court stepped down in 1982, aged 70.

But age is not the only reason questions are being raised about Mr Barnett's long-term plans. He has also been displaying an increasingly cavalier attitude towards criticism of his, and his government's, actions.

Questioned on ABC 720 about the accuracy of the Liberal Party's election campaign boast that its policies were 'fully funded and fully costed', the premier distanced himself from the claim, adding: "I was talking about the reality of the hurly-burly of a campaign, which the wider public does not experience or understand".

Most leaders would have made a pretence of defending the assertion before turning the focus on the opposition's promises and its spending while in government. There are plenty of examples of cost blowouts, starting with the Perth Arena in Wellington Street.

And local government reform remains a potential flashpoint.

Enter Mr Nalder, who was an unknown quantity 18 months ago but is starting to make his mark. Most voters would be entitled to ask just who is this MP who more people in business circles are tipping as Mr Barnett's successor. He is aged 48, grew up on the family farm near Wagin, and graduated in business and applied finance. Before entering parliament, he held senior positions with the ANZ Bank and Australia Post.

He played league football with South Fremantle,and is the product of a highly political family.

In fact, Mr Nalder is WA's first third-generation politician. His grandfather, Sir Crawford Nalder, was Country Party leader and deputy premier to Sir David Brand in the 1960s. And his father, Cambell, who died in office in 1987, won the seat of Narrogin for the National Party from the sitting Liberal MP, Peter Jones, in 1986.

But with his business background, and the fact that he was a city resident, it was no surprise that Dean Nalder leaned towards the Liberals when he decided to try his luck in politics.

In addition to being active in the high-profile transport portfolio, in recent months Mr Nalder has been taking a more prominent role in parliamentary debate.

In response to Labor niggling that the Liberals' performance in the transport area has been poor, the minister decided to adopt an aggressive stance in parliament recently. In fact he returned the fire, pointing to the Mandurah-Perth railway, which is one of Labor's crowning achievements in government between 2001 and 2008.

"It was not delivered on time and it was not delivered on budget," he said, adding "Guess what? It does not actually go to Mandurah". Technically speaking he's right, of course. Passengers must transfer to buses to complete the trip into the city centre.

Right now, Liberal supporters are a little more relaxed about the succession, but it's still early days. Money is being poured into transport and the premier has said it will have the government's focus during its current term; but traffic congestions remains a sleeper issue.

Labor's tactical dilemma is that its experienced transport spokesman, Ken Travers, sits in the upper house and can't directly challenge Mr Nalder.

Still, it's how the new minister handles Labor's blowtorch to the belly, which will surely be applied, that will be the real leadership test.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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