27/06/2012 - 11:12

Porter gets out while the going’s good

27/06/2012 - 11:12


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Is Christian Porter unhappy with the way the Barnett government is going about its business?

Is Christian Porter unhappy with the way the Barnett government is going about its business?

ALTHOUGH the resignation of former treasurer and attorney-general Christian Porter surprised even his closest political allies, several in-the-know Liberals quickly understood all.

Probably the most significant, but not widely known, point relevant to Mr Porter’s Canberra tilt is that he was seriously considered to become state party leader by the Liberals’ real movers and shakers in August 2008.

That was when the party was desperately looking for someone to lead them into the scheduled March 2009 election.

Crucial here is that this meant he was favoured ahead of Colin Barnett, who’d resigned as leader in March 2005 and was only very reluctantly offered the leadership in August 2008, after Mr Porter was deemed to be too young.

To fully appreciate those uncertain days it helps to revisit the 41 months following Mr Barnett’s resignation, during which he’d even announced he wouldn’t contest his seat of Cottesloe, in 2009.

He’d resigned as leader in March 2005 because Geoff Gallop had defeated him at what was regarded as an unlosable election for non-Labor.

For reasons best known to Mr Barnett, he committed the Liberals to excavating an 1,800km double-fenced, concreted or plastic-lined canal from the rivers of the Kimberley ranges to supply Perth with exorbitantly costly water.

Between Mr Barnett’s March 2005 resignation until his re-emergence in August 2008 the Liberals had three leaders: Matt Birney (March 2005 to March 2006); Paul Omodei (March 2006 to January 2008); and Troy Buswell (January 2008 to August 2008).

Although Messrs Birney and Buswell initially showed promise they, after their strange falls from grace, were deemed as having been too young and inexperienced.

Compare those tumultuous 41 months to the leadership years of David Brand and Charles Court.

Sir David became Liberal leader in March 1957, premier in April 1959, and resigned the leadership in 1973; an unbroken 17 years, after which Sir Charles led until 1982, or nine years.

Together they therefore led WA’s Liberal Party for an unbroken quarter of a century. 

True, they were different times.

So too were the leaders; and not only because they’d both earlier volunteered to serve in a capacity other than politics – Sir David in Tobruk and the Greek campaign, and Sir Charles in New Guinea/Bougainville.

Back to Mr Porter.

He entered parliament at a February 2008 by-election, a month after Mr Buswell became leader and just six months before second-time-around Mr Barnett re-emerged by succeeding Mr Buswell.

It’s important to note that Mr Barnett’s re-emergence was far from clear-cut, not least because Mr Porter, seen as more in the Brand-Court mould, was favoured ahead of him.

Despite only having been in parliament six months, Mr Porter was viewed by many as far and away the better man to lead the Liberals into the March 2009 election.

The reason this didn’t happen is found in two words – ‘Birney’ and ‘Buswell’. 

Both, by August 2008, had failed, and the primary reason given for this was their age and inexperience.

So, despite many viewing youthful Mr Porter as superior to Mr Barnett, it was decided he be held back.

Consequently, second-choice Mr Barnett was reluctantly approached to lead the Liberals into what was viewed as a contest the Liberals were unlikely to win.

But they gained a victory, of sorts, because the Liberals won the crucial seat of Riverton by just 33 votes; so a surprised Mr Barnett found himself being able to compete in negotiations against Labor for minority led government status.

With WA’s Nationals finally deciding against teaming-up with Labor – unlike in South Australia where premier Mike Rann twice attracted Nationals MP, Karlene Maywald, into his cabinet – by adding three anti-Labor independents, Mr Barnett was able to create his minority

Remember also that Labor had an inexperienced leader, Alan Carpenter, who proved to be unbelievably inept.

He called an early election after selecting unpopular drop-in candidates into several key Labor-oriented seats that the Liberals went on to win.

With Mr Porter seen as having the needed leadership qualities so early in his career, he became heir apparent after the surprise 2008 win.

However, at a still unknown point he realised Mr Barnett would be copying John Howard’s approach of staying until voters ousted him.

Whether that’s in 2013 or 2018 matters little to Mr Porter because he’s not waiting around to find out.

He’s doesn’t intend becoming WA’s Peter Costello, so it’s ‘hi-ho’ Canberra. 

What still awaits explanation is why Mr Porter vacated his ministerial posts so promptly, when he could probably have remained a minister for longer.

His move to the backbench suggests a desire to flee the Barnett cabinet as quickly as possible, possibly to avoid having to defend a budget he’d presented, if not fully crafted.

There are several explanations for his haste.

The most convincing came in a speech delivered to about 350 demonstrators opposed to the Waterfront project, now Elizabeth Quay, by retired Perth accountant and former national president of CPA Australia, Ken Eastwood, on the steps of Parliament House the day after Mr Porter resigned.

Whether Mr Porter backed this stance is not known. 

Also unknown is whether he ever backed huge outlays on unnecessary extravaganzas such as the Burswood stadium.

But Western Australians will eventually be repaying the huge loans, probably when times aren’t as buoyant as today.

Retired Perth accountant and former national president of CPA Australia, Ken Eastwood, told opponents of the gauche CBD foreshore extravaganza that, when Mr Barnett took over in 2008, WA’s net debt was $3.6 billion. 

It now stands at $16.5 billion, up 460 per cent, Mr Eastward said. And it’s forecast to rise to $23.1 billion by 2014-15.

That means state debt will have risen over five years from about $2,100/head of population to more than $9,000/head due to Mr Barnett.

“Such an increase will have occurred during the most profitable five years of the state’s history,” Mr Eastwood continued. 

“Is it any wonder that our public utility charges are increasing at such an alarming rate?

“At this rate WA’s AAA-credit rating will be sorely tested and the loss of that coveted rating will mean even more pain for taxpayers. 

“This is exactly the situation that occurred in South Australia just two weeks ago with a downgrade of that state’s credit rating from AAA to AA-plus. 

“The net effect of the loss of such a cushion against the cost of our borrowings will be an increase in the rate of interest for all state borrowings. 

“Expect rises in the costs of power, water, electricity, healthcare, road construction, and so on.”

Who’d want to lead the Liberals when all that arrives?

Certainly not Mr Porter.



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