Policies, teams the key issues

13/08/2008 - 22:00


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The short, sharp election campaign called by Premier Alan Carpenter makes it imperative that the major parties focus on the core issues that will affect Western Australia's long-term future.

Policies, teams the key issues

The short, sharp election campaign called by Premier Alan Carpenter makes it imperative that the major parties focus on the core issues that will affect Western Australia's long-term future.

That sounds like, and is, a statement of the obvious, but it's amazing how much time and energy can be wasted on publicity stunts and personality politics during election campaigns.

The September 6 election is just over three weeks away. During this period, the onus is on Labor and the Liberals to explain clearly the policy agenda they will implement over the next four years.

The minor parties also have a role to play, especially the Nationals, who could find themselves in a powerful position after the election, but only Labor or the Liberals will be able to form a government.

Labor will be judged primarily on its achievements to date, but needs to inject fresh ideas and policies into the campaign.

If Labor can't do that in a convincing manner during the campaign, then it hardly deserves another four-year term.

The challenge is more difficult for the Liberals. After last week's leadership change they were caught on the hop by Mr Carpenter's calling of an early election - which he has struggled to justify - but new leader Colin Barnett has established himself remarkably quickly.

Mr Barnett's prior experience as a senior minister and opposition leader seems to have helped him gain public recognition.

Arguably a bigger challenge for Mr Barnett is to articulate a fresh and cohesive policy agenda, something the Liberals have failed to do since the last election.

Mr Barnett's three predecessors each started to outline a policy agenda but were unable to complete the task before being dumped.

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA spoke for many in the business sector when it listed what it saw as 10 key policy issues.

Number one was labour shortages. Despite talk of a slowing economy, the shortage of labour remains the top issue facing business in WA.

State governments have some capacity to improve outcomes in this area, but the federal government will have a bigger say, particularly in regard to immigration rules and quotas, and to a lesser extent in regard to training.

The second issue on the CCI agenda was infrastructure development. WA's rapid growth has put pressure on nearly all forms of economic infrastructure, including shipping ports, water supply, railways, roads and airports, most notably the privately owned Perth Airport.

Social infrastructure such as hospitals and schools has also been under pressure.

A third major issue, retail trading hours, has already attracted a lot of attention. Both major parties are leaning towards compromise proposals that would involve some freeing-up of the current restrictions but fall short of sweeping deregulation.

Other policy priorities identified by the CCI include energy supply, taxation, regulation and red tape, education and training, government efficiency, climate change and approvals processes

These issues have been on the agenda for a long time and both of the major parties should therefore have had plenty of time to develop detailed policies to tackle them.

Looking beyond specific policy initiatives, another critical issue for voters is the depth of the two main political teams.

While electioneering is run increasingly in a presidential style, with most of the focus on leaders Alan Carpenter and Colin Barnett, the reality of government is that a strong team is needed.

When voters cast their judgement on Labor, they won't just be judging Mr Carpenter's performance. They will - or should - be judging the collective performance of the Labor ministry, which is dominated by a handful of senior ministers, led by Treasurer and State Development Minister Eric Ripper, Health Minister and Attorney-General Jim McGinty, Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan and Education and Training Minister Mark McGowan.

Voters will also be passing judgement on Energy and Industry Minister Francis Logan, who has lost the confidence of many people in the business sector.

Equally, a vote for or against the Liberals should not be based just on Mr Barnett, who has retained the critical state development portfolio.

His shadow ministry includes former leader Troy Buswell in treasury and commerce, veteran Norman Moore in resources development, Simon O'Brien in transport, John Day in planning and energy, deputy leader Kim Hames in health and powerbroker Peter Collier in education and training.

Should the Liberals win office, that team that will lead the next state government. Mr Barnett and his campaign advisers should ensure each of these shadow ministers is give enough airtime so that voters can make an informed decision.


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