20/06/2012 - 10:45

Premier rebuffed in Churchlands

20/06/2012 - 10:45


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The premier may wish to stand aside from preselection battles following the outcome in Churchlands.

The premier may wish to stand aside from preselection battles following the outcome in Churchlands.

PREMIER Colin Barnett must be ruing the day he decided to intervene in the Liberal Party’s candidate selection process and back restaurateur Kate Lamont for endorsement in the safe state seat of Churchlands.

The result is expected to strengthen calls for the introduction of plebiscites involving all party members in the relevant electorates, as have already been introduced for candidate selection in both Victoria and South Australia.

It’s known now that the party’s Churchlands selection committee soundly rebuffed the premier last weekend, and that the initial favourite – former army officer Sean L’Estrange – won the day by a handsome margin.

Which raises the question: What was Mr Barnett thinking when he decided to get involved, especially as he has traditionally – with one well-known exception – remained aloof from party issues in the past?

Ms Lamont was very much a late arrival in the Churchlands field. Not so Mr L’Estrange, who was there right from the start and had done the hard yards within the party, including as a previous president of the influential Curtin division.

It’s understood that the push for Ms Lamont as a candidate was strongly backed from within Mr Barnett’s own office. It gathered legs on the grounds that current Churchlands member, Education Minister Liz Constable, should be replaced by a woman, notwithstanding the fact that Dr Constable is also an independent. 

Some Liberals had hoped former national Australian Medical Association president Rosanna Capolingua, would nominate; but she declined. 

Mr Barnett is then said to have contacted the state Liberal director, Ben Morton, pressing Ms Lamont’s case. But there was a major problem – nominations for pre-selection for Churchlands had already closed. They had to be reopened, but the director did not have the power, on his own, to do that.

So an approach had to made to one of the party’s key powerbrokers with a big say in the running of operations, especially in the north metropolitan region, which included the prized Churchlands seat. The powerbroker was none other than Mr Barnett’s energy minister, Peter Collier.

According to Liberal sources, Mr Collier calls the shots in party forums along with federal frontbencher Mathias Cormann. The approach to reopen nominations was successful. Mr Collier lent his support to the move and Ms Lamont was in the field, only a short time after joining the party. 

After that it was all downhill for Ms Lamont, and Mr Barnett. Mr L’Estrange scored a resounding victory in the selection ballot, almost certainly ending any possibility that the state council might seek to overturn the result.

The council has acted in the past, including in the lead-up to the 2005 election in which front bencher John Day lost a pre-selection ballot, only to have his position endorsed by the council. Mr Barnett was party leader at the time, and threw his support behind Mr Day, one of his most loyal supporters.

There have been conflicting accounts from last weekend’s selection meeting. One source said Ms Lamont, the retiring chairwoman of WA Tourism, gave an outstanding presentation, but the bulk of the delegates were already locked in behind Mr L’Estrange. The other account is that it was Mr L’Estrange who was the more impressive.

Either way, it is undeniable that, with the benefit of hindsight, the premier was unwise to get involved, especially at the 11th hour.

The push for plebiscites involving all members in the relevant electorate is a reaction against the view that powerful individuals can have an undue influence in the current small selection committees. Supporters say all members should be eligible to decide their candidate. 

The next safe Liberal seat up for grabs will be in Bateman, to fill the vacancy created by Christian Porter’s sudden decision to seek federal endorsement in Pearce. A ‘Melbourne Cup’ field has been tipped. Mr Barnett is likely to think twice before getting involved in the ballot for that seat south of the river. 

Once bitten, twice shy.

Name game

MOST political candidates are upfront about the party they represent. The parties have even fought to have their names on the ballot papers.

So why are a number of Labor candidates, both federal and state, promoting themselves in their local suburban newspapers without mentioning their party affiliation?

Two who come to mind are the members for Perth at both the federal and state levels. Stephen Smith and John Hyde have been promoting their credentials, without mentioning their affiliation with the Australian Labor Party.

Mr Smith has been pushing the federal government’s ‘Schoolkids Bonus’. He has produced an A3-sized colour advertisement with a big picture of himself and a student, above a table of figures showing ‘cash payments to families with schoolchildren’. 

Who is it from? The bottom of the page says simply: “Stephen Smith MP Your local Federal Member for Perth”.

No mention of the Labor Party anywhere. Not even the ALP logo. It is all very much about Mr Smith the local member. No mention of the fact that he is one of the government’s most senior members and defence minister.

John Hyde, the state Labor member for Perth since 2001, has done a similar thing. His advertisement in local newspapers shows him standing at the Highgate end of William Street, looking back to the city.  The words on the picture are simply “HydePerth”, and name him as “John Hyde MLA, Member for Perth” (pictured above).

So is it an oversight or a tactic? It is obviously the latter, as there are reports of similar advertisements for Labor candidates in local newspapers elsewhere in the metropolitan area.

There is a precedent, and a very successful one too. In 1978, in NSW, federal Labor was travelling very poorly, just having suffered a second successive election drubbing in the 1977 poll.

The NSW Labor government was planning an early election in the second half of 1978. The last thing it wanted was to be associated with the federal party, which was still electorally on the nose. So the NSW Labor Party’s election promotion was all about “the Wran Government” after the popular premier of the day, Neville Wran, with the slogan “Wran’s our Man”. Labor romped home in the subsequent state election. 

Will the same tactic work in WA at the federal and state elections, which fall due next year? 

The smart money would say no. At best it might help save the furniture.  But then a week is a long time in politics.


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