14/02/2006 - 21:00

Nats to play key role in 2009

14/02/2006 - 21:00


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Almost certainly three years from last, this, or next Saturday, will be next election day, since February Saturdays have become the traditional poll days in Western Australia.

Almost certainly three years from last, this, or next Saturday, will be next election day, since February Saturdays have become the traditional poll days in Western Australia.

New Labor premier, Alan Carpenter, therefore has exactly 36 months to pull his side into shape for an election campaign of about three weeks during February 2009.

If he wins, Labor remains in power until February 2013. If not, then in all likelihood current Liberal leader Matt Birney will become premier.

At a personal level, therefore, the contest decides who will be premier between February 2009 and February 2013, a solid slice of this century’s second decade.

Although 36 months out from a campaign is too early to make hard-and-fast predictions, certain contours have already taken shape that provide hints of what can be expected.

Assuming Mr Birney retains the Liberal leadership then each side can take credit for offering electors a leader it’s fair to call telegenic.

That, incidentally, is why last month’s talk of Labor’s Michelle Roberts or Jim McGinty becoming leader was right off target.

And it’s also why none of the handful of Liberals hopefuls in Mr Birney’s new shadow team is now leader.

In this regard, therefore, both parties are on a par.

But things lean Labor’s way in other respects.

Firstly, February 2009’s contest will be fought on boundaries that reflect the Mr McGinty’s so-called one-vote-one-value legislation of 2005, which will help Labor.

For that he must get credit.

That said, it must also be realised that he only managed this because a former Liberal upper house member, Allan Cadby, defected to Labor’s side.

Mr Cadby did this after being dumped at preselection by the Liberals during Colin Barnett’s watch.

In other words, Mr Barnett’s inept handing of the Cadby affair is to blame for this Liberal electoral woe, which, it must be added, more fairly represents the distribution of the state’s population.

Compounding this added problem for the Liberals is the fact that, as the one-vote-one-value changes take effect, the National Party will be fighting for its existence.

There are simply too few non-metropolitan seats for them to remain a sizeable party after February 2009 and they may well find themselves with just two, or even one lower house MP.

Because of this, and because of the recent defection of Victorian Nationals Senator Julian McGauran to the federal Liberals, the new mood among WA’s Nationals is one akin to the modus operandi envisaged by Queensland Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce.

Senator McGauran reflects the merger view within Nationals ranks.

What this means is that the party the late Sir Robert Menzies founded should be joined by the traditional regional political forces to create a single non-Labor party.

Senator Joyce, on the other hand, advocates what State Scene calls the ‘ginger group approach’ inside conservatism.

This resembles what was advocated and practised by another famous political knight of the realm, the late Sir John Bjelke-Petersen.

It’s a ‘go it alone, be uncompromising with the largely urban-based Liberals, poke them electorally in the eye, so to speak, as often as possible, and cross your fingers and hope that something comes out of all this to benefit those living beyond metropolitan Australia’ approach to politics.

Last month, WA Nationals leader Brendan Grylls announced his party was opting for the Joyce-Bjelke-Petersen ‘ginger group approach’, which means Carpenter-led Labor is likely to reap some tangible electoral and perhaps even post-election gains.

It is still too early to say precisely what these will be.

However, the type of thing we could expect is for Labor to enter into various tacit preference arrangements with the tiny Nationals to help lift a candidate or two into parliament at the expense of the Birney-led Liberals.

That would be done, if for no other reason, than to further complicate things for the conservatives.

State Scene would find it difficult to believe that Mr McGinty won’t be dabbling around in this murky pond looking for opportunities as February 2009 approaches.

One outcome could even be that, if Carpenter-led Labor doesn’t perform well enough and conservative – Liberal and National – candidates together win most lower house seats, the Liberals alone may need to form a government because the Grylls-led ginger group could refuse to team-up with Mr Birney.

So a minority Liberal, or perhaps even a minority Labor, government may emerge with the lead-up to such an outcome, making things interesting for new governor, His Excellency Dr Ken Michael, during February and perhaps even March 2009.

As those months gets closer things will become clearer in this regard.

The 2005 McGinty redistribution and the Nationals foreshadowed ‘ginger group approach’ to WA politics are certainly good news for Carpenter-led Labor.

Can we see any sanguine signs in the Liberal camp when still so far away from February 2009?

The blunt answer is, yes; there are some, but not many.

Last week’s announcement of a shadow cabinet reshuffle at least showed Mr Birney had at long last realised it was time to move to develop policies, with one of his frontbenchers, Norman Moore, being placed in overall charge of this crucial duty.

That’s certainly a good beginning.

The unassuming Mr Moore shouldn’t be ignored in this novel and potentially determining new role.

As well as being the Liberals’ longest serving MP he’s extremely cautious, but can do the unexpected if he believes it’s right and advantageous for Liberal-ism in both the longer and shorter terms.

For example, well before the first Richard Court-led government emerged in 1993, Mr Moore saw the tangible benefits of outlawing compul-sory student unions at the state’s tertiary campuses, something Labor dogmatically opposed since so many of its MPs gained subsidised political training within campus unions.

And when he became education minister that year that’s precisely what he did, thereby making WA the trailblazing state where acquiring a tertiary education wasn’t conditional on paying student union dues.

That state of affairs prevailed until, wait for it, Mr Carpenter, a long time backer of compulsion, became education minister in 2001.

And only last December did the Howard government outlaw campus union compulsion, something that takes effect this coming July.

That puts Mr Moore 13 or so years ahead of his national Liberal colleagues. He’s way out in front.

If he were to repeat this in a range of carefully targeted policy areas, Labor could well find itself floundering and only being able to opt for vote-buying policies through ever-higher taxes and charges, something Labor is very good at.

Neither side of the state’s political spectrum has ever shown much imagination in the policy area.

Mr Birney’s decision to give Mr Moore a chance to reverse this may well prove decisive.

Finally there’s the question of unexpected bungles that can always occur. And these aren’t always by governments. Oppositions can do likewise.

Who can forget Mr Barnett’s now infamous $2 billion canal election ploy?

State Scene has had a bizarre ongoing email correspondence with Labor’s state secretary, Bill Johnston, over recent weeks on Labor’s decision to appoint Tim Ungar to several quangos, including the well-paid Water Corporation chairmanship, despite Mr Ungar’s business partnership with a convicted criminal.

Mr Johnston remains adamant all’s kosher with this.

All State Scene has to say to him on that one is that if Labor has too many more Bob Kucera and Ungar affairs it’ll be saying bye-bye to a February 2009 victory.

WA’s tolerant electors will put up with a great deal, as the WA Inc years showed.

But a point comes when they’ll say enough is enough, irrespective of telegenic leadership, redistributions, vote buying, and campaign razzamatazz.



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