27/02/2013 - 01:26

No complacency in tight race

27/02/2013 - 01:26

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The Liberals may be on track to win the March 9 poll, but Colin Barnett and his team will be hoping voters don’t see the result as a fait accompli.

No complacency in tight race

The Liberals may be on track to win the March 9 poll, but Colin Barnett and his team will be hoping voters don’t see the result as a fait accompli.

THE fact that the polls point to Premier Colin Barnett and his government being comfortably returned for a second term, possibly winning an extra six seats, will be received with mixed feelings by Liberal Party strategists.

The good news for the Liberals is that the party is on track to win the general election on March 9, possibly gaining a majority in the 59-seat Legislative Assembly in its own right.

The potential downside, however, is that voters will note this trend and some might decide to support Labor or one of the minor parties because they don’t want the Liberals to receive too big a majority.

That is why Mr Barnett has consistently warned his side against complacency, and that one false move could rebound badly.

It is also why Labor has left until the last week to hold its major campaign rally. It is generally considered that opposition leader Mark McGowan has campaigned well and highlighted a number of key issues. They include: congestion on metropolitan roads, and the promotion of the imaginative Metronet suburban rail project as the answer; selecting Kitchener Park in Subiaco as the site of the new football stadium instead of Burswood; and his criticism of the Elizabeth Quay project.

Labor’s rally will be in its traditional stronghold of Fremantle, which is now held by the independent, Adele Carles. She faces an uphill battle to repeat her 2009 by-election victory, and it is important for Labor’s morale that the seat reverts to type.

Mr McGowan will continue to hammer the congestion issue to win back support in the metropolitan area, because it has suddenly become a big talking point. Not surprisingly he blames Mr Barnett’s government, accusing it of poor planning over the past four years.

The government argues that the current problems are transitional issues, growing pains linked with the 1,000-plus extra people who are moving to the state every week looking for the new jobs linked with expansion in the resources sector. That’s partly true.

Many voters in the leafy western suburbs want Mr Barnett’s and Planning Minister John Day’s heads for several reasons, including the disruption to traffic around Riverside Drive caused by Elizabeth Quay. How both this government, and Alan Carpenter’s administration previously, could have believed that Riverside Drive could be diverted on the waterfront without significant disruption to traffic is baffling. It represents a real victory for the bureaucrats.

As an act of great ignorance it must rank with the Brand government’s decision in the 1960s to demolish the historic Barracks building at the top of St Georges Terrace to make way for the freeway extension, hoping there would be no public outcry. The resulting reaction stopped the demolition, and the government sensibly ate some humble pie, agreeing to preserve the Barracks Arch, which was has become a symbol of ‘people power’.

Weekday traffic around the CBD has become severely congested on most days. Elizabeth Quay and other construction projects are significant factors. But other reasons include the redirection of traffic around the city, and the fact that many streets have been reduced to one lane each way, with expensive new kerbing ensuring that no ‘clearway’ can operate during peak times.

Events at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre and Perth Arena compound the problem. Planners will say the solution lies in greater use of public transport, but convincing many people to leave their cars at home will take time.

That’s what the Liberals will be hoping. Mr McGowan and Labor want a more immediate consequence, however, through the ballot box.

A massive contest is also occurring in regional Western Australia, with the careers of several key ministers on the line. The most obvious is that of Nationals WA leader Brendon Grylls, who is leaving his safe Central Wheatbelt seat and is attempting to make history by becoming the first member of his party to win in Pilbara.

His job is made easier by the retirement of veteran Labor MP Tom Stephens, and the fact that the government has poured millions of dollars into the Pilbara under Mr Grylls’ Royalties for Regions initiative. While the scheme has been criticised as a giant pork barrel, Mr Grylls will be hoping voters will express their gratitude at the polling booth.

The gloves are also off in Warren-Blackwood in the South West. On paper, Agriculture Minister Terry Redman (Nationals) has a handy 10.8 per cent margin, but thanks to Labor’s decision to recommend preferences to his Liberal opponent, Ray Colyer, Mr Redman is under real threat.

In fact preferences promise to be decisive in a number of seats; and it’s not just Labor that has been playing ducks and drakes.

The Liberals have decided against emulating their Victorian division’s example of placing the Greens behind Labor in all preference allocations.

For example, the Liberal ticket for the South West upper house region curiously splits the Labor ticket. It even puts Family First, Australian Christians, and the Shooters and Fishers Party ahead of traditional allies the Nationals. The Liberal ticket then lists Labor’s top candidate, Sally Talbot MLC, but breaks to include Giz Watson MLC (Greens) before coming back to Labor’s number two, Adele Farina MLC.

The Liberal preference ticket for the Agricultural region is also interesting. It recommends several smaller parties before getting to the National team headed by Marty Aldridge. But after Mr Aldridge it recommends Max Trenorden MLC, who quit the Nationals to field his own team of independents. It then reverts to Paul Brown (Nationals), followed by Mr Trenorden’s running mate, Philip Gardiner MLC.

The preference lists have great significance, because the vast majority of voters follow their party’s lead in upper house voting. So Mr Trenorden has an improved chance of being re-elected, ahead of the Nationals’ Mr Brown.

These preference decisions are indicative of the behind-the-scenes machinations by the various parties over the past few months, all designed to gain the last possible advantage, knowing every vote is vital in a tight finish.

History is on the side of Mr Barnett continuing as premier. Governments rarely lose office after one term, and it is just possible that the Liberals could win a majority in their own right. Even so, Mr Barnett has said his party will include the Nationals in any new administration; that is a wise contingency plan.

Labor’s stocks have steadily improved through the campaign, coming off a disastrously low base. Party strategists concede that victory in current circumstances is a big ask. They say if Mr McGowan can win 24 seats - a net loss of two - he will have done a good job. That would put Labor within reach of winning in 2017 when Mr Barnett has possibly moved on, and a new Liberal leader is settling in as premier.

But both sides will be anxious to see how the last week of this campaign plays out.

And a week can be a long time in politics.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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