15/03/2021 - 12:30

Post-poll opportunities and costs

15/03/2021 - 12:30


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For very different reasons, both major political parties in WA have some tough calls to make.

Post-poll opportunities and costs
Roger Cook is a strong contender for the role of treasurer. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

Both major parties face significant challenges as the dust settles on the Labor Party’s second successive emphatic state election victory.

Premier Mark McGowan has a sensitive juggling act to perform, while the Liberal Party WA faces serious soul searching about its future.

Mr McGowan’s immediate problem involves the composition of his new cabinet.

This is made easier due to retirements, but he must decide whether to tap another minister or two on the shoulder with the unpleasant advice that it’s time to go.

The Liberals must engage in an honest assessment of what went wrong, and right.

If it’s a frank exercise it will be brutal, as mistakes were clearly made over an extended period. And Zak Kirkup was thrown into the leadership in desperate circumstances.

The departure from the cabinet of Ben Wyatt, Fran Logan and Mick Murray means three new faces will automatically emerge for promotion.

Will that be enough on the 17-member front bench? A fourth vacancy could emerge depending on who takes the speaker’s chair.

The names of Local Government Minister David Templeman and Police Minister Michelle Roberts have been mentioned as the replacement for Peter Watson, who retired after holding the marginal seat of Albany for Labor since 2001.

Mr Templeman has been an interventionist minister in the volatile local government arena.

The premier might think a less controversial approach is desirable to handle the third tier of government.

Mrs Roberts entered parliament in 1994 and is now Western Australia’s longest serving female MP.

She has kept the lid on the potentially volatile police portfolio for the past four years but might also think it’s time for a change.

If she took on the speaker’s role, she would become WA’s first female speaker, which could be tempting at this stage of her career.

Several fresh faces in the new ministerial line-up select themselves.

Former ABC and Channel 7 journalist Reece Whitby is a captain’s pick.

Morley MLA, Amber-Jade Sanderson, who chaired the committee that laid the groundwork for the government’s successful voluntary assisted dying legislation, is also earmarked for promotion.

Bunbury MP Don Punch’s presence would ensure important regional representation.

After that the field gets a bit crowded.

Tony Buti, who chaired the public account’s committee’s high-profile inquiry into the WA Football Commission has strong claims, along with Perth MLA and former Vincent City Council mayor John Carey.

West Swan MP Jessica Shaw, who chairs the economics and industry standing committee, is also a contender.

The risk for any leader in the second term is for the backbench to get restless.

The challenge is to keep members busy with worthwhile inquiries and the promise of a reasonable chance of promotion. Backbenchers were disciplined in the first term; some could get itchy feet if they feel they are marking time in the second.

Deputy Premier Roger Cook and Transport Minister Rita Saffioti are contenders for the coveted treasurer’s vacancy.

If Mr Cook wants it, he’ll get it.

The outlook for the Liberals is far more serious.

Former prime minister John Howard used to describe the party as a ‘broad church’, taking in a wide range of interests with a central focus on a small-government, low-taxing philosophy.

Some party members believe that, in WA’s case, this has been taken literally and that, in the southern and northern suburbs in particular, membership of evangelical Christian groups has been a virtual prerequisite for endorsement.

They claim other candidates with strong credentials – including local heroes – have been overlooked, to the party’s cost.

What the Liberals must now do is launch a no-holds-barred inquiry into why the party is in its present parlous state and what’s needed, in the first instance, to again become a potent opposition to hold Mr McGowan and his team to account.

This could mean telling long-term MPs in the few remaining safe seats that it’s time to make way for younger candidates with ministerial potential. Rebuilding must start quickly, and the party must be ready to defend its 11 federal seats.

But Mr McGowan knows he can’t rely on the opposition’s woes to avoid hard decisions. His response could decide whether Labor makes history and wins a third four-year term in 2025.


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