07/05/2008 - 22:00

Old chums become new chums again

07/05/2008 - 22:00


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Some key power brokers in both major political parties have apparently been heard using the term ‘new chums’.

Some key power brokers in both major political parties have apparently been heard using the term ‘new chums’.

Upper echelons of the state Liberal and Labor parties have, for some time, been assiduously looking for new chums for safe seats to help ensure their unimpressive parliamentary wings become appealing to voters.

Searching for new faces has been sparked by two developments.

Firstly, those controlling the major parties realise voters aren’t impressed with their parliamentary contingents.

Put differently, many old chums are seen as having had enough time in the sun.

“There are a lot of people up here who have well and truly reached their use-by-date,” one candid MP recently told State Scene.

For most voters, there’s little or no difference between Labor and Liberal MPs, so voters see no substantive difference between Liberal and Labor governments.

Both over-tax and both spout meaningless political platitudes in speeches and press releases.

The second factor is a realisation that markedly reinforces the first. It has been concluded that the party more likely to win the coming state election will be the one able to convince most voters its ranks have new chums who have flare and other characteristics the incumbents lack.

In other words it’s a matter of putting new backsides on old seats.

Neither of the major parties is capable of producing farsighted imaginative policies or ideas that will, among other things, reduce the growing tax slug on, to use another hackneyed phrase, “working families”.

Instead, the name of the game is to emphasise that new faces are appearing within the major parties, and that’s good.

Premier Alan Carpenter and opposition leader Troy Buswell have consequently been told (and they’ve been telling colleagues) their party’s deck must be cleared of as many old faces as possible so new bright eyed and bushy tailed candidates, hopefully with voter appeal, can move in.

Now, the newfound red carpets for new chums first surfaced about the middle of last year.

Interestingly, the then unnoticed cause for its emergence was the fact that former prime minister John Howard had found himself struggling in the polls against Labor’s new leader, Kevin Rudd.

By about June 2007, Liberal strategists finally realised their claims regarding the value of an abundance of experienced ministers was wearing thin in the electorate.

Quite the contrary, in fact, voters seemed bored with old faces.

What Mr Rudd showed – between grasping the Labor leadership in December 2006 and the May 2007 budget – was that voters were more attracted to a new chum on TV screens.

The one person who we can be sure never grasped this was Mr Howard, closely followed by all his Canberra party room backers.

To some extent they’re forgiven, because the alternative was another old chum, the over-bearing Peter Costello.

When you’re bereft of a convincing new chum, it was concluded by those Liberals, stick with old ones, which is what the Howard backers did.

Now, it must be emphasised none of this arose because of Labor’s inherent brilliance, since it was largely a fortuitous occurrence.

Labor just happened to have a pushy Queenslander within its ranks who desperately wanted the leadership, since he had a burning desire to be prime minister.

He’d set his sights on Kirribilli House and The Lodge years earlier, which was why he so carefully observed and assessed each of the underlying reasons for Mr Howard’s appeal and success.

There were things like the so-called Howard “conservative economics”, itself a complete fallacy because during the Howard years Canberra’s bureaucracy grew, taxes were not lightened, and central power was boosted significantly.

Nothing there can be dubbed conservative.

Notwithstanding that, Mr Rudd managed to convince those behind him they should be, if not Howard-style conservatives in economic matters, then at least they should feign sympathy for conservatism.

There was also the Howard appeal to those who saw themselves as religiously inclined.

Mr Rudd consequently moved on that front and we heard he admired German Lutheran clergyman, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whom the Nazis murdered.

We also began seeing photographs of Mr Rudd, and wife Terese, with churches in the background.

That’s quite an achievement for someone leading a party with so many ardent atheists in its ranks.

Shrewd media targeting and management increasingly boosted a voter feel-good mood, especially in Queensland, where the politico-religious factor is far more evident.

Understandably, Labor strategists responded to this newly discovered mood.

We thus saw: Victorian premier Steve Bracks resigning to make room for John Brumby last July; Queensland premier Peter Beattie opting to leave the scene for Anna Bligh in September; and Northern Territory chief minister Clare Martin departing for Paul Henderson in November.

In each case, the old went voluntarily; and, what’s more, with big smiles on faces.

Look at the other side of politics. There you see something different.

In WA, Matt Birney, who bungled his way through a year as leader, had earlier been wrenched from the leadership, after which he wouldn’t co-operate with the man who toppled him, Paul Omodei.

Then Mr Omodei, an old chum if ever there was one, underwent similar treatment from the backers of another new chum, Troy Buswell.

Since then, Mr Carpenter has been moving to clear about half a dozen or so old MPs for new chums he’s been targeting.

And Liberal power brokers are now doing likewise.

So brutal has the process been that many in Liberal ranks believe the pressure to make way for new chums hastened the death of the late Trevor Sprigg, who found himself under such enormous strain it may have contributed to his heart attack.

Where’s all this new chum manoeuvring leading?

That’s not an easy question to answer since the jury is still very much out on this newly instituted electioneering ploy.

In making an early assessment it must be said there’s a 50-50 chance that WA’s present deplorable standard of governance may marginally improve.

State Scene has emphasised for years that there’s only one tried-and-tested way of fundamentally reforming governance.

And that’s for WA to discard its present system of representative government – where politicians monopolise the entire legislative process – by adopting Swiss-style direct democracy, with the people being able to call binding referendums on constitutional and legislative issues.

But that happening is as likely as a snowflake surviving a microsecond on Mercury, since it would mean severely trimming the power of politicians through popular initiatives and binding referendums, which is something no Labor, Liberal (Independent Liberal, Dan Sullivan, exempted), Nationals, Greens, or Independent would ever countenance.

If all, or even most, of the new chums now being recruited proved to be markedly superior to outgoing ones, there could be an improvement in governance during the next decade.

However, there’s a real danger that what’s really driving this new chum ploy is simply television and media spin, with new faces being found so as to improve the chances of a particular party being elected or re-elected.

And the new chums may be even less capable than those they were hand picked to replace.

Keep your fingers crossed, close your eyes, and hope for the best.

That’s the best advice one can offer until WA’s politicians permit the adoption of Swiss-style direct, that is, real democracy.


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