13/06/2012 - 10:47

Porter makes most of the timing

13/06/2012 - 10:47

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But not all Liberals are enamoured with the move. One told me “it was not a good look”.

But not all Liberals are enamoured with the move. One told me “it was not a good look”.

Christian Porter’s shock decision to quit state politics and run for the safe Liberal seat of Pearce at the next federal election instead, is undoubtedly a setback for the Barnett government. But it need not be a body blow.

Timing is everything in politics. And Mr Porter’s announcement after only four years in the Legislative Assembly, and with less than nine months to the next state poll, is not something Colin Barnett would have wanted.

Little wonder that last weekend he tried to talk Mr Porter out of going, especially as the member for Bateman has been widely touted, including in Political Perspective, as the next Liberal premier, should Mr Barnett decide to bow out sometime after winning a second term.

But it does give the Liberals time to steady the ship, line up the new minister and re-allocate portfolios in time to present a stable and united front for the election campaign.

Mr Porter was given a strong ovation in the Liberal party room on Tuesday after explaining the reasons for his decision. He apologised that most of his colleagues first knew of the decision through the media, explaining that he had discussed the matter with both Mr Barnett and the federal leader, Tony Abbott, as well as the party’s federal president, Alan Stockdale, and the federal director, Brian Loughnane.

But not all Liberals are enamoured with the move. One told me “it was not a good look”. 

“I think the criticism is fair,” he said. “With the state election bearing down, it looks like he’s jumping ship.”

No doubt the timing issue came into his decision with regard to his likely next move if he had stayed in the state arena. 

Assuming he took over from Mr Barnett as premier during the next term – perhaps early in 2016 – the Liberals would have been in power for nearly eight years with just 12 months to prepare for re-election.

There’s always the risk he would have faced the ‘Carpenter syndrome’. That is, given the tendency now for two-term governments and then a change, he faced the risk of losing his first campaign as leader.  

And as Alan Carpenter found after Labor’s defeat in 2008, there is often little sympathy for leading your side to a loss. And there is no shortage of ambitious types coming up behind just waiting for their turn in the top job. 

In other words, his state career could be over by the age of 47. That’s way too young, especially if you are steeped in politics as Mr Porter is.

In fact, he is the third generation in his family to be steeped in politics. His grandfather, a Liberal, was minister for aboriginal affairs in Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s Queensland government. 

And his father, Chilla, was a long-term state director of the WA Liberal Party, after winning silver as a high jumper at the Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956. 

Christian Porter told his Liberal colleagues he felt he could make a bigger contribution for WA from the federal parliament. 

And there is a strong chance of that given his high profile in pushing WA’s case for a better financial deal. The state surely needs federal representatives determined to be “WA’s voice in Canberra”, rather than “Canberra’s voice in WA”, as many of them seem to be.

No doubt he would have to initially cool his heels in some minor role in his first term – assuming the coalition takes over the treasury benches. 

But promotion would surely come his way should the coalition win a second term with possibly a cabinet post beckoning.

There is general acceptance that after state parliament adjourns for the winter recess next week, Mr Barnett will restore Troy Buswell as treasurer and that upper house member Michael Mischin, will become attorney-general. Coincidentally, Mr Mischin was Mr Porter’s senior at the Director of Public Prosecutions office.

Some Liberals believe the premier should go further, and that Liz Constable, who is retiring from her seat of Churchlands next year should relinquish the education portfolio and that veteran Norman Moore should also stand down as mines and petroleum minister. 

This would pave the way for Peter Collier to add education to his training portfolio and for Riverton MP Mike Nahan, a trained economist, to take Mr Moore’s load.

These changes would allow Mr Barnett to go into the election campaign with a new-look team that, the electors willing, would still be there after the poll to implement the election promises.

Mr Porter’s move could also solve another dilemma. Former Curtin division president and retired army officer, Sean L’Estrange, and restaurateur Kate Lamont, have been the frontrunners for party endorsement to replace Dr Constable in Churchlands. 

Now if Ms Lamont could be persuaded to shift to Bateman instead of Mr Porter – provided former leader Matt Birney decides against seeking a comeback there  – then Mr L’Estrange could take Churchlands.

If only politics was that easy.

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