09/12/2003 - 21:00

State Scene - Joe Poprzeczny: A year of missed chances

09/12/2003 - 21:00

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A PUZZLING feature of 2003 was the fact that, despite the Liberals being in disarray, and with a weak and unpopular leader, Gallop-led Labor sometimes found itself trailing the conservatives in the polls.

A PUZZLING feature of 2003 was the fact that, despite the Liberals being in disarray, and with a weak and unpopular leader, Gallop-led Labor sometimes found itself trailing the conservatives in the polls.

True, Premier Geoff Gallop retained a handy head-to-head lead over the unpopular Colin Barnett, but that was Labor’s only consistent good polling news.

State Scene contends that the primary reason for the contrary party leader polling outcomes can be found in the fact that Labor had remoulded Dr Gallop to suit its perceived short-term goals, not the other way around, meaning the tail, not the head, wagged the dog.

Had the opposite occurred, had Dr Gallop remoulded Labor into a forward-looking, democratically oriented party, as he initially appeared set to do, Labor would now be comfortably out-polling the conservatives.

Instead the position is that, if the Liberals rallied behind a leader and a constellation of modern policies – something they’re capable of doing – Labor faces more wilderness years, as between 1993 and 2001.

Why then isn’t Gallopled Labor in December 2003 assured of another term?

This predicament dates back to 1996 when Dr Gallop unexpectedly became leader, after secret party polling showed then leader Jim McGinty was taking the party towards an electoral wipe-out against the Courtled conservatives.

Clearly, Labor was fortunate to have an Oxford-educated and almost Clark Kent look-alike figure such as Dr Gallop within its ranks.

For that it can thank former Burke Government minister Bob Pearce, who saw and heard Dr Gallop speaking at an early 1980s government-sponsored seminar and promptly alerted party heavyweights that the then Fremantle councillor and Murdoch University academic should be coaxed into Labor’s ranks.

Between that Pearce head-hunting foray and the 1996 election Dr Gallop, more than anyone, was remoulding Labor and demonstrating that he seemed capable of blowing away WA Labor’s authoritarian proclivities.

Anyone reviewing, for example, Labor submissions and other party documents from those times will see Dr Gallop’s contribution to policy formulation and an emerging new-style thinking.

A New Labor was in the making.

For instance, he prepared an insightful submission for the Commission on Government on the role of consultants to government.

But alas, when in power, he’s failed to enact legislation regulating lobbyists through even-handed registration and public disclosure requirements.

Far from it. He even singled out two former colleagues – Brian Burke and onetime Minister Julian Grill – for quite unjust black banning, while other lobbyists can continue lobbying.

Labor’s 1996 election platform carried his imprint with its impressive November 18 accountability plan, which Dr Gallop claimed would “make government truly answerable to the people with the most radical reforms in memory”.

Colourful language indeed, but a reading of it shows it’s no exaggeration.

That package included a commitment to convene a People’s Convention where WA’s Constitution would be reassessed and, wait for it, “citizen initiated referenda” (CIR) considered.

Dr Gallop obviously saw value in transforming WA’s political order to resemble that of Switzerland, the world’s only true democracy. Adoption of elector initiated referenda would have transformed WA into Australia’s most democratic State, something South Australia is presently considering.

WA’s present representative governing system, which bestows far too much power upon just 91 MPs, would have been remade, giving the people a veto over suspect and unpopular legislation.

Here Dr Gallop was taking WA Labor back to its early 20th century truly democratic roots – to 1913, when the Scaddan Labor Government introduced CIR legislation only to have it blocked by the then authoritarian Upper House conservatives.

Interestingly, former Liberal leader Barry MacKinnon introduced Scaddan-style CIR legislation in 1987-88, during the State’s dark WA Inc years, but then authoritarian Labor opposed democratising WA by giving voters power to call referenda on suspect bills.

Dr Gallop’s November 1996 program included adoption of a Bill of Rights and Labor, under the early democratically oriented Geoff Gallop, would “hold a referendum on the recommendation of the convention following their consideration by Parliament”.

But by December 2003, having been premier for 34 months, we haven’t heard a squeak from him about such democratising initiatives. His defence, undoubtedly, is that his early attraction to democratic reform was part of 1996’s platform, not 2001’s.

Such hair splitting is, of course, true but only confirms that democratic reform is something Dr Gallop left far behind even before becoming premier.

Take another instance of the Laborising of Geoff Gallop, not the Gallopising of Labor.

In April 2000 he announced he’d call a referendum on whether WA governors should be elected or secretly selected by premiers, as presently happens.

Again, nothing has happened.

And the only reason he and Mr McGinty pursued one-vote-one-value was because it advantaged Labor, so more of old-style Labor.

And don’t expect far-sighted democratic reforms during 2004, the lead-up year to a February 2005 election. Governments’ last years are ones sitting tight, promising lots, and doing zip.

This year was Dr Gallop’s last chance to show he was someone who would throw Labor’s perk seeking and power-holding fixations to the wind for WA’s greater good.

Unfortunately he’s failed, and abysmally, by discarding his initial democratic inclination, meaning Labor also lost out.

And so will he by not going into the history books as a democratic reformer he showed signs of being until becoming premier.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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