Parties and factions jostle for position

THE contours of WA’s political landscape, which have undergone dramatic upheavals since the 1980s – royal commissions, narrow election victories, a huge landslide, politicians charged, tried and jailed – are markedly less predictable.

Previously, things were easier to slot into simple, preconceived little boxes.

Labor was socialist, but never managed to socialise much.

Liberals were anti-socialist, but most long-socialised sectors or industries they left largely untouched – railways, metropolitan busing, hospital linen laundry service – until after privatisation swept the world.

Only then did Liberal Premier Richard Court scratch gravel and sell off the Dampier-to-Bunbury gas pipeline, BankWest, AlintaGas and Westrail Freight to name a few.

Although Labor has baulked at further privatisation – which the party called micro-economic reform in the Lawrence Government years – there’s certainly no talk of reversing the beneficial, if belated, sell-offs.

The Nationals backed a mixture of both paths, whichever fancied them at particular times.

WA now has five parties in Parliament – Labor, Liberal, Nationals, Greens, and One Nation.

There’s a sixth, the Democrats, with two WA Senators, but no one in State Parliament.

And there are several independents – ex-Labor and ex-Liberals, even a Liberal Green.

To complicate matters, Labor divides into four firmly based career making, and destroying, parliamentary fraternities, called factions – left, right, new right, and centre – with a handful of non-aligned members.

Labor affairs are further complicated by the fact that former Premier, Brian Burke, who promoted a corporatist developmental approach, holds some sway over both the right and centre factions.

Moreover, the new right fraternity is loosely allied, not with the right, but the left, whose major power-broker, Electoral Affairs Minister Jim McGinty, is a long-time Burke adversary.

But there’s more. Mr Burke is currently a regular lunching partner of former WA Liberal Party powerbroker Noel Crichton-Browne (NCB).

They were seen a fortnight ago with two unidentified gentlemen in an Outram Street restaurant.

Shortly before it was a Nedlands restaurant, I’m told. Do they swap notes as they did when working as 6PR’s 2001 election commentators. Why not?

It’s a pity they don’t jointly write a book entitled, say, WA Political Machinations from the Inside: What Really Happened?

Rather than jawboning about their tragic political pasts, why not write of what happened while they were supremos?

This State’s tiny political establishment simply no longer falls into clear-cut categories.

Labor leader Geoff Gallop, although from academe before entering Parliament, hailed not from a labouring class family but a business one.

His father was company secretary of a regional construction firm.

So Labor’s parliamentary wing, manned by so many former campus activists and union officials, like Mr McGinty, turned to the son of a businessman to lead.

That’s not entirely surprising.

After all, Labor’s previous premier, Carmen Lawrence, was from a farming family, a background identical to that of National Party leader Max Trenorden.

But although he leads WA’s farmers’ party he’s a commercial man, working in the insurance sector on leaving the family farm.

Two One Nationers – John Fischer and Frank Hough – are also businessmen, while the third, Paddy Embry, is a farmer, so he’d be as comfortable in the National Party room or amongst the sizeable Liberal Party’s farmer wing as he would in One Nation.

Nor is Labor entirely out on a limb with WA’s ubiquitous farmers. Agriculture Minister Kim Chance was once a Doodlakine farmer and is now with the McGinty-led left fraternity.

Which leaves WA’s leftist Greens, a political riddle wrapped in an enigma.

Their all-Upper House five-strong contingent has a former senator, a builder, onetime Labor Party activist, a former Doodlakine farmer, poet, and theatrical set builder, and a horticulturalist.

Greens electoral policy backs one vote one value. Not realised, however, was they only applied this to the Lower House, where no Green MPs sit.

In the Upper House they not only want its more extreme malapportionment retained, but have even nudged Mr McGinty into agreeing to the creation of two extra seats. Talk about two bob each way.

But who railed against Dr Gallop’s controversial soak the rich premium land tax? And who threatened to block it in the Upper House?

Why, the Greens, of course.

Confusing, in’t it?

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