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Scandal broke conservatives’ hold on power

WESTERN Australia’s three conservative parties – Liberals, Nationals and One Nation – are a shabby, rudderless lot.

The Liberals are split between three warring factions – the right, center-right and the wets.

The Nationals, emerging from nearly two decades of dominance by Hendy Cowan (with little to show for it), remain without imaginative rural programs.

And then there’s One Nation, which, rather than emerging as a breath of fresh air, with drive and originality, has been hijacked by a former Liberal powerbroker Noel Crichton-Browne.

Meanwhile, Labor breezes along as if there’s nothing to worry about except its unconvincing complaints of allegedly inherited budgetary shortfalls, which the party is using for all it’s worth to justify further taxes and charges hikes to pay for extravagant promises.

It’s not widely known that, six or so months before the elections, several senior Labor MPs, who are now leading ministerial luminaries, were quietly telling pals that if they didn’t win “this one” they’d be eyeing-off new careers.

True, their eight years in the wilderness – between Carmen Lawrence and Geoff Gallop – weren’t pleasant. But they came through, primarily because of the Court Government’s failure to act over WA’s $150 million mortgage brokers’ swindlings.

Claims that One Nation was somehow responsible for the collapse of the Liberal primary vote are phony in the extreme. One Nation was simply the recipient of that primary vote collapse, which came because of inaction over the swindling.

Traditional Liberal voters, in the main, opted to back One Nation out of disgust at the Government’s ongoing failure to help small, weak, usually elderly, investors against sharp operators.

Had disgraced Fair Trading Minister Doug Shave acted, cleaned out his department of incompetence, shown leadership and concern, Labor would still be in Opposition.

And many ministers now being chauffeur-driven around town would today be looking to making new careers.

Labor was rescued by Doug Shave, a man who many believe was once a member of that party.

The mortgage brokers’ scandal was Labor’s lifebelt, which at least has temporarily breathed life into its ranks.

But what does the future hold for the left side of WA politics?

Gallop-led Labor, it should be stressed, is like the Liberals, a balancing act between three factions – left, new right and center – with the left by far the strongest.

There are five left ministers (McGinty, Brown, Chance, Edwards, and McHale) with Edu-cation Minister Alan Carpenter really a sixth, even though he markets himself as non-factional.

The new right has only three – Roberts, Kobelke and Griffiths – the same as the center, with Ripper, Stephens and MacTiernan. Health Minister Kuchera seems non-aligned.

Of the 14, Dr Gallop is the most difficult to categorise.

For a long time he was with the right. While studying in England he was a Trotskyist and, according to my best Labor source, he retains avid leftist sympathies.

Notwithstanding that I suspect his period as leader, after Attorney-General Jim McGinty was igno-miniously dumped, has convinced him to gradually move away from factional endeavours and attempt to be an over-arching leader, an adjudicator.

He’s developing the tactics university professors adopt when heading an academic department that’s rife with ideological and other bitter splits and divisions between squabbling academics.

The fact that Dr Gallop has been associated with four universities – two in Perth and two in England – means he’s likely to be adept at this.

This shouldn’t be interpreted as a criticism. It’s not.

Moreover, Dr Gallop’s family background is probably his, and thus WA’s, saving grace. His father was a stolid and successful company secretary with a large rural-based construction enterprise.

If WA comes through its present left-of-centre governance era – don’t forget the hard leftist Greens and the pressure they can exert on Labor, especially leftist Mr McGinty – then that will be crucial.

Dr Gallop’s mellow moves at restructuring the public sector; his attempt to come to grips with the government car and MPs’ travel fiascos; and his trimming of Cabinet can, in all likelihood, eventually be attributed to a no-nonsense professional home environment, not anything to do with Labor’s modus operandi.

It’s little wonder that Opposition leader Colin Barnett hasn’t laid a punch on the Gallop Government since mid-February. We see the nightly 30-second TV grabs with him complaining about this and that, but only twice has he emerged with anything resembling a solid punch.

There was Labor’s tricky use of the $300 million Treasurer’s Advance Account (a bad sign for the future, incidentally) and the fact that Labor cut short parliamentary sittings because legislation ran out.

So he dubbed the Gallop Govern-ment “lazy”.

Lazy it’s probably not. Legislation wasn’t ready because Labor was as amazed as most pundits to win power from an incompetent govern-ment in which Mr Barnett was a senior minister.

Not even Labor believed electors were as angry as they clearly, and thankfully, were over Messrs Shave’s and Court’s mishandling of the brokers’ scandal.

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