19/11/2008 - 22:00

Nats raise a glass to McGinty

19/11/2008 - 22:00


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WHAT are the chances of Jim McGinty being regularly cheered and toasted at all major Nationals WA get-togethers? The reason for asking is that this long-time urban-based paramount leftist factional chief, when fine-tuning his electoral redistribution legi

WHAT are the chances of Jim McGinty being regularly cheered and toasted at all major Nationals WA get-togethers?

The reason for asking is that this long-time urban-based paramount leftist factional chief, when fine-tuning his electoral redistribution legislation throughout 2006-07, understandably expected he'd be paving the way for Labor to become the state's natural party of government.

But nothing of the sort appears to be happening.

What all his years of planning for so-called one-vote-one-value - including costly Supreme and High Court challenges - has done is to consolidate the Nationals' grip over the four crucial farming seats of Central Wheatbelt, Blackwood-Stirling, Moore and Wagin, and given them their long sought-after balance of power.

And it's most unlikely they'll lose any of those seats in the foreseeable future. There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, their Royalties for Regions policy means their four members will now have ongoing tangible results (like free $500 fuel vouchers for pensioners in regional areas) to boast about to voters, since they'll have had access to lots of money from each budget to pork barrel across the rapidly depopulating bush.

That's why Nationals leader, Brendon Grylls, snapped-up the Regional Development portfolio - so he could parcel out the newly found royalties bonanza to key groups and interests across non-metropolitan WA.

Secondly, Labor, whenever contesting these seats, is unlikely to direct preferences to Liberal candidates challenging those four Nationals since that would only boost Liberal parliamentary numbers.

This means that, for as far as the political eye can see, those four seats - out of the 59 now in the lower house - will form the bedrock of ongoing Nationals' power.

"Thanks very much, Mr McGinty", the Nationals will say when toasting and cheering him.

However, what of the remaining 55 seats?

Here it's crucial for the four-man Nationals bloc that neither Labor nor the Liberals ever wins 30 or more seats in their own right.

As long as neither takes 30 (half plus one of the 59 lower house seats) or more seats the Nationals can form partnership governments with either side, depending on who bids highest.

There's a four-seat band wherein the Nationals can negotiate a Liberal-Nationals or Labor-Nationals partnership.

And one should never discount the possibility of a Labor-Nationals partnership, since Nationals leader Brendon Grylls tried for it during the week-long bidding war between former premier Alan Carpenter and Liberal leader Colin Barnett.

With the major parties together unable to attract even 75 per cent of the state-wide vote, a repetition of the 2008 election outcome in 2012-13, although not a certainty, is certainly possible.

But another fillip for the Nationals from the McGinty 2007 electoral changes, erroneously called 'reforms', was that they also hold the balance of power in the upper house.

Those changes included assigning six seats to each of the six electoral regions for that chamber.

Because of the vote-pulling power of the Royalties for Regions policy, the Nationals won three of the seats in the six-member Agricultural region, a performance that put them well on the way to the five balance of power level that they now have in that chamber.

The other two Nationals wins were one from the South West region and - something that's previously never happened - one from the outback Mining and Pastoral region, which gained a sixth seat for the taking.

Before Mr McGinty began dabbling with upper house representation, the Mining and Pastoral region had five members.

So, yet another Nationals cheer and toast to Mr McGinty.

Now, if that upper house performance of five Nationals members is repeated in 2012-13 they're likely to have the balance again and be well-placed to negotiate another partnership government even if one of the major parties won 30 or more lower house seats.

But let's wait and see what happens in this regard before toasting Mr McGinty again.

Put otherwise, the 2007 electoral changes, which seemed set to drastically slash Nationals' representation, have given them nine members across both chambers, balance of power in both, and the ability to form partnerships with the Liberals or Labor.

That's some hat-trick.

The Nationals' performance, therefore, must surely be seen as one of the greatest comebacks since John Howard's re-emergence as Lazarus with a triple bypass.

Now, what of Liberal outcomes from election 2008?

Although State Scene has highlighted that the Barnett-led Liberals couldn't attract even 40 per cent of the state-wide vote - their tally was 38.39 percent with Labor's far more dismal 35.84 percent - they also have reasons to be sanguine.

First and foremost, they are the government, since governments under our system are formed on the basis of seats, not total votes won.

True, they're in partnership - not a coalition as previously - but that's eons ahead of being in opposition, especially when one recalls their prospects just four weeks before election day.

Here it must be stated, since some still do not fully appreciate it, that the Liberals, under the leadership of the often overenthusiastic and accident-prone Troy Buswell, were destined to win just seven lower house seats.

A massacre also awaited them in the upper house, though its precise magnitude is more difficult to quantify. In other words, the Liberal Party was heading to become a parliamentary rump group after nearly seven highly successful decades in WA's political history.

Today the Liberals hold 24 lower house seats - 17 more than they'd have won if that last-minute leadership switch hadn't happened - and 16 upper house members to Labor's 11.

The Liberals are understandably elated across all ranks.

Key party members have been told that, despite their poor showing by attracting below 40 per cent of voters, there's still much to be happy about.

Firstly, election 2008 was the first in the party's 64-year history where 10 seats were taken from Labor.

In 1947, at the party's first confrontation with the socialists, the Liberal Country Parties took six seats from Labor.

The same number of seats was won in 1959 when Bert Hawke's Labor Government was toppled by the David Brand-led opposition.

In 1974, Sir Charles Court took five seats from Labor, and in 1993 his son, Richard, bettered that with six to form a coalition with the Nationals.

Clearly, on a seat-by-seat basis election 2008 must be viewed as excellent, especially when one recalls the state of morale across their ranks right up to Mr Carpenter's badly miscalculated early election call.

For that he'll always be cheered and toasted by Liberals, just like Mr McGinty will be by the Nationals.

At rock bottom, both gentlemen share blame for Labor's loss.

The government they oversaw was, as State Scene has contended for over a year, incompetent and, worse still, unimaginative.

High taxing Carpenter-McGinty-led Labor had more money than any government in WA's history.

Yet when that simple but memorable Liberal advertisement asked voters to name three good things Labor had done the response was, understandably, utter silence.

Even if Labor had somehow managed to identify three achievements, which clearly they could not, it was too little for the huge amount of public money they had access to since early 2001.

Let's hope that can't be said of the Barnett-Grylls partnership government in 2012-13.


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