20/02/2015 - 06:01

Nationals a reform-free zone

20/02/2015 - 06:01

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Much has been made of Colin Barnett’s decision to run up the white flag after referendum results in three local government areas, which rejected council amalgamation proposals. It was a humiliating result for a key government reform, strongly promoted by the premier.

Much has been made of Colin Barnett’s decision to run up the white flag after referendum results in three local government areas, which rejected council amalgamation proposals. It was a humiliating result for a key government reform, strongly promoted by the premier.

However little has been made of the role of The Nationals WA, which governs with the Liberals in an alliance, rather than the traditional coalition.

Their support for the plan would have enabled the government to present a united front, which always helps when trying to persuade doubters that the changes are desirable. And when the doubters include council mayors and senior staff whose jobs and influence are threatened, they clearly won’t give up without a fight.

But the Nationals flagged early on they disagreed with Mr Barnett’s plan to drastically cut back on the state’s 139 local councils, including more than 100 in rural and regional areas.

The premier, wearing his economist’s hat, had asserted that fewer and bigger councils would lead to greater efficiency in the delivery of services and would reduce duplication, including in administration. Better coordinated planning involving what are currently neighbouring councils would be enhanced.

The feedback from the regions was unambiguous – they didn’t like being dictated to from Perth, there was nothing wrong with current arrangements that a bit of extra government money couldn’t fix, and Mr Barnett and his plan should go away.

So the Nationals said they would not be supporting slashing the number of country councils. When the premier said he would push on with aiming to cut the 30 metropolitan councils back to 15, including in Perth’s western suburbs – the premier’s backyard – the Nationals were less than cooperative.

And with Labor and the Greens siding with the councils, it was clear that legislation on the issue would fail.

Mr Barnett and Local Government Minister Tony Simpson (who inherited the policy) then decided to push on in the hope that something might fall their way. But, unfortunately for them, it hasn’t, and the reform plan is in tatters.

The premier is nothing if not determined. He is pressing ahead with legislation to redraw the boundaries of the City of Perth, to include such landmarks as Kings Park, the University of WA, and the QE2 Medical complex. But with his friends in the Nationals again playing ducks and drakes, it’s possible that he might have to rely on an unlikely source – Labor – to make it happen.

In what could be a re-run of plans to free up metropolitan shopping hours three years ago, opposition leader Mark McGowan has flagged that Labor might support the boundary proposals (and get the premier off the hook for a second time). It could be another example of the Labor leader’s flexibility to achieve desired reform.

But what does it say about the Nationals under leader Terry Redman, who is based in Denmark? And what does it say about the Nationals’ ability to support reforms which their senior partner, and possibly Labor, is strongly promoting?

It says the Nationals are shaping up as a reform-free zone.

Grylls going federal?

THE Nationals’ former state leader Brendon Grylls is not your average politician. Few MPs these days are risk takers; but Mr Grylls has shown he is an exception.

And stepping out of state politics and his safe Legislative Assembly seat of Pilbara for a tilt at the federal seat of Durack at next year’s election, would be consistent with his career so far. It would be another move out of his comfort zone.

Mr Grylls won a by-election for the seat of Merredin in 2001, following the resignation of former Nationals leader and deputy premier, Hendy Cowan. Four years later he was leader, embarking on a rebuilding strategy for his party based on the novel Royalties for Regions policy. It was a stunning success.

He then turned his back on his Wheatbelt seat and contested, and won, the seat of Pilbara at the 2013 election. It was the first win for his party in the north, helped of course by his royalties policy. Then he surprisingly stepped down from the cabinet to sit on the backbench.

Mystery surrounded his next move. But nominating for Durack, which extends from Geraldton in the south to Kununurra in the north, is consistent with his political past. First-term MP Melissa Price (Liberal) is the current member.

Mr Grylls would need a swing of 4 per cent to unseat her and become the first Nationals MP from WA in the lower house since Don Maisey (Moore) and Jack Hallett (Canning) lost their seats in 1974. It’s a big call, but so far the cards have always fallen his way. 

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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