10/09/2008 - 22:00

No simple political solutions

10/09/2008 - 22:00


Save articles for future reference.

WHILE critics have been quick to jump on the Labor-bashing bandwagon after the state election, there hasn't been much reflection on some of the strategic challenges that will face the next state government, whoever leads it.

No simple political solutions

WHILE critics have been quick to jump on the Labor-bashing bandwagon after the state election, there hasn't been much reflection on some of the strategic challenges that will face the next state government, whoever leads it.

The relatively easy part of the election post mortem is to identify the blunders in Labor's campaign.

A consensus has very quickly emerged that Premier Alan Carpenter - with input from close advisers Kieran Murphy, Guy Houston and Bill Johnston (who was formerly Labor's state secretary but will soon be sworn in as MP for Cannington) - ran a very poor campaign.

They certainly ran an overwhelmingly negative campaign, trying to scare voters over perceived issues like uranium mining and GM foods and the supposed risks posed by a Liberal government.

Former Labor minister Bob Kucera was on the mark when he told ABC television on Saturday night that the election campaign was the "most miserable" he had seen.

The dumping of sitting MPs including Mr Kucera and Jaye Radisich in favour of outsiders parachuted in by head office was obviously seen as another costly mistake.

Mr Carpenter's goal during Labor's pre-selections earlier this year was to bring in new talent, including potential new ministers, to the parliamentary Labor team.

That was commendable, but the way he approached the task seems to have reinforced his reputation for out-of-touch arrogance.

Critics also agree that calling a very early election, one day after Colin Barnett was installed as Liberal leader, backfired on Labor.

It was rightly seen as deeply cynical and did not appeal to the public's sense of fair play.

It also meant that Labor had little opportunity to expose the fact that the Liberals had very few detailed policies.

Labor powerbrokers have attempted to explain the big loss of support by asserting that governments around the country struggle to hold office for more than two terms.

There may be some truth in that, but it is also true that voters were willing to back Labor just a few weeks ago.

Credit must go to the Liberals, who ran an effective, restrained campaign that highlighted Colin Barnett's experience - 'The steady hand on the tiller'.

One of the Liberal's best moves was the advertisement that asked people to think of three good things Labor governments had achieved during the past eight years.

The rhetorical question was followed by silence.

Amazingly, Labor didn't try to answer the question, preferring to attack its opponents rather than sell its achievements.

It was a smart ad, but glosses over the challenges of governing Western Australia during the boom.

The public at large looks at the long-running resources boom, the surge in tax revenue and mining royalties, and the big budget surpluses, and asks why the state government can't do more.

The reality - which an incoming Liberal treasurer would soon discover - is that budget surpluses are not 'spare' money.

The surplus has been used to reduce state debt and pay for the state's record capital works program - schools, hospitals, railways and so on - the public investments that Labor failed to promote during the campaign.

The other big challenge facing the state government, like any employer in WA, is the big rise in costs, particularly salaries and accommodation.

Many people would add to that challenge by calling for police and nurses to be paid more and for improved services in regional areas.

These are worthy goals, but they also cost money.

The voters of WA have high expectations, and their expectations have been ratcheted higher by the surge in economic activity and the extraordinary wealth generated in this state.

People in Australia - indeed in all countries - judge their living standards not in absolute terms but in relative terms.

Hence, when people read about wealthy mining entrepreneurs, stockbrokers earning million dollar bonuses and tradesmen earning $150,000 or more 'up north', they ask, not unreasonably, why they seem to be battling.

It's easy to assume that lots of other people seem to be doing well, especially when we keep on reading about or seeing big houses, big boats, fancy cars, and expensive boutiques on King Street.

For most people, housing costs have soared, interest rates and petrol prices have surged, yet they are on a salary that hasn't changed much.

The voters of WA are entitled to ask for more from their governments - but let's not jump to a glib, simplistic conclusion that this will be easy to deliver.


Subscription Options