Rudderless Libs missing the drift

QUIZ MPs on why they opted for politics and you’re likely to get a longwinded explanation stressing idealistic reasons.

But few believe them.

Most voters think the lure is salary, free travel and the super.

But don’t ignore the appeal of power and influence.

WA has six major parties – Liberal, Labor, Nationals, Greens, Democrats and One Nation.

But only the Liberals and Labor have MPs in both Canberra and Perth.

WA’s Nationals, Greens, Democrats, and One Nation have MPs only in Perth or Canberra.

Although that doesn’t entirely neuter them it severely limits the power and influence of their powerbrokers and small MP contingents.

All parties have inner circles – leadership groups – with those at the top generally the ‘movers and shakers’. But they’re often disunited, thereby diminishing each other’s power and influence.

Federally, WA’s top three Liberals are Senators Ian Campbell and Chris Ellison, plus Canning MHR Don Randall.

All are adversaries of fallen ex-Liberal powerbroker Noel Crichton-Browne (NCB).

To understand WA Liberal Party politics it’s essential to appreciate the bitter ongoing tussle between him and them.

Almost all the alleged branch stackings and related manoeuvres are eventually traced back to this struggle.

State Liberal leader Colin Barnett, although not entirely in-significant – he did after all finally get just over half his party room’s votes – is largely a bit player in most intra-party moves.

Other limiting factors are his parliamentary team’s decimation at the last election and the fact that it’s even more divided than when Ray O’Connor was leader in the early 1980s.

Mr Barnett hasn’t developed strategies to overcome this and so has further stunted his limited power and influence.

Four major State-level Liberal ‘movers and shakers’ are Cheryl Edwardes, deputy leader Dan Sullivan, Norman Moore and George Cash.

Mrs Edwardes, not Mr Barnett, has been the Liberals’ best parliamentary performer while in Opposition.

Mr Sullivan – the only Liberal to buck the last election’s anti-conservative landslide – is steadily boosting his standing.

Mr Moore, who entered parliament in 1977, about when Mr Barnett graduated from university, has experienced and learned from the ups of two Court Governments, the downs of the Burke-to-Lawrence Labor era, and now Gallop-led Labor.

And Mr Cash – someone with a good sense of when to move and when to sit back, to wait and see – can’t be underestimated.

Unfortunately Mr Barnett hasn’t entirely brought them into his largely rudderless tactical councils.

If he’d devised a genuinely all-embracing approach rather than isolating himself to a tiny coterie of backers, like Mr O’Connor did, he’d now be a markedly more significant Opposition figure.

This also explains why the Liberals are dysfunctional.

Leaving aside Labor’s Byzantine factional wheeling and dealing on particular issues to focus on a handful of State personalities, one must still place Attorney General Jim McGinty at the top of the party’s power pile.

But he’s steadily slipping.

Age, satisfaction with a prestigious ministerial spot, a love of fishing and a comfortable southern seaside holiday residence are gradually blunting his once purist doggedness.

Premier Geoff Gallop and Deputy Premier Eric Ripper are largely titular heads, understandably enjoying the prestige of office and attempting to cautiously adjudicate, to keep as many on side, and as few as possible offside. Mr McGinty remains the one who wants new things done – be they gender-related laws or electoral reform, or the costly police royal commission when cheaper specific judicial inquiries would have done.

But there are less well-known personalities, including especially the erudite John Cowdell, who’s so well-suited for the Legislative Council’s presidency.

Only if the present crop of Labor MPs write their auto-biographies will his role become fully appreciated.

Another in his category is Police Minister Michelle Roberts, who is likely to emerge as the next deputy premier and later Labor leader.

Labor’s NCB, is, of course, Brian Burke, still a force of sorts.

But despite his skillfully arranged, though unconvincing, recent two-part defence of his WA Inc stewardship in The West Australian, older and emerging Labor powerbrokers are tiring of his modus operandi.

There are also lessons to be learned from those involved in passing issues.

Take, for instance, powerful blue-collar union chief Kevin Reynolds.

Without him Dr Gallop could never have gone into the last election with the McGinty-backed ‘save old growth forests’ plank that meant big job losses in the South West.

They met and Dr Gallop argued passionately for Labor to go into the campaign with that ‘green’ policy. Mr Reynolds agreed and carried his union pals with him.

Power and influence are still somewhat decentralised in WA and those who grasp and hold it for a while are those best at wheeling and dealing.

Dr Gallop is showing he’s becoming adept, in part because he’s premier, while Mr Barnett is still struggling to acquire this skill.

That’s surprising since horse-trading is, after all, so integral to politics.

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