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State Scene: Joe Poprzeczny - Rumblings in the hills

SIX months ago a contact close to the Liberals’ parliamentary leadership group told State Scene that Colin Barnett’s number cruncher, Darling Range MLA John Day, was deeply concerned about losing party endorsement.

The immediate, though not the main, reason for his predicament was that growing numbers of local Liberal branch members had fallen in behind hills resident Frank Lindsey, who was the Liberals for Forests candidate for Darling Range at the 2001 election.

Because it’s so rare for sitting Liberals to be dumped, State Scene was initially sceptical.

But just in case the tip-off was correct, inquiries were made with several MPs.

All claimed Mr Day was in deep strife, with one informant going further. He said Mr Day was certainly headed for ignominious dislodgment by Mr Lindsey but that wouldn’t be the end of the line.

That informant said an appeal would be lodged at the party’s State Council to reject Mr Lindsey’s endorsement.

Precisely how this would be done the informant didn’t know.

But he left State Scene with the impression that State Council would simply endorse Mr Day over the heads of Darling Range’s branches.

Not exactly democratic, true, but WA’s parties are generally run from the top and if backers of the party leader’s numbers supremo couldn’t arrange some form of appeal, no-one could, State Scene concluded.

To further complicate matters, a party insider claimed State Council could only order a re-run of the Darling Range pre-selection.

On precisely what grounds he couldn’t say, forcing State Scene to conclude that the mechanics of overriding Darling Range’s branch pre-selection were probably yet to be devised to recycle a reject.

So we must wait until the conclusion of the December 13 State Council meeting.

That said, one must wonder why Mr Day has come to the end of his political line.

The main reason is that he did not, as Liberal MPs call it, effectively service his branches, something MPs generally do assiduously since the thing they fear most is the emergence of local challengers, like Mr Lindsey.

Last week’s Darling Range pre-selection vote in favour of Mr Lindsey clearly showed Mr Day had taken his eyes off the local ball.

It’s quite rare for incumbents, especially Liberal ones, to be dislodged before they decide to hang up their boots and spend their handsome parliamentary pensions in comfort.

But Mr Day’s demise proves it can still be done, which is good news for Liberals since it sends out a loud signal to other MPs that they shouldn’t take their jobs and lifestyle for granted.

However, in Mr Day’s case, his failure was surprising since he’s acted as Mr Barnett’s closest confidant and numbers man, his unofficial deputy, since at least February 2001.

Over that period Mr Barnett came close to being toppled several times.

But he wasn’t and much of the credit for that goes to Mr Day, who has shown himself to be an adept behind-the-scenes operator among MPs.

But it’s clear those skills weren’t transferred to Darling Range.

One local insider said most hills branches were defunct until 18 months ago, at which time Mr Lindsey set about reviving them with an eye to standing in adjacent Labor-held Roleystone.

But August’s redistribution meant the branches Mr Lindsey had revived fell into the new Darling Range seat, since the Electoral Commission abolished Roleystone.

That naturally prompted Mr Lindsey to consider contesting nearby electorates including Darling Range, where Mr Day had let things deteriorate.

Nor has Mr Day’s electoral performance been outstanding, according to one local numbers watcher. He entered parliament in February 1993, the election at which the Court-led Liberals ousted Lawrence-led Labor.

At that contest Mr Day scored significantly fewer primary votes than his Liberal predecessor, Ian Thompson, in the five major booths that are presently in Darling Range.

For instance, Mr Thompson won 67.9 per cent of the vote at the 1989 election in the Falls Road booth.

Mr Day only managed 54.5 per cent in 1993.

Mr Thompson won 63.5 per cent in Gooseberry Hill’s booth compared with Mr Day’s 58.9 per cent.

The remaining three booths – Kalamunda School, Kalamunda Hall and Lesmurdie School – registered: Mr Thompson, 64.8; 61.9; and 66.1; Mr Day 52.4; 53.6; and 55.9, respectively.

Although Mr Day increased his vote in each of these booths at the 1996 election, at which the Court Government increased its majority, he still trailed Mr Thompson’s performances.

Then at the 2001 contest Mr Day fell well below 40 per cent in all these booths.

His worst performance was a dismal 35.1 per cent of the primary vote in Kalamunda Hall.

Moreover, his Labor opponent at that contest was local teacher Geoff Stallard, who ran what some described as a token campaign.

Mr Stallard was away from WA for much of that campaign, returning only shortly before election day.

Despite this, had fewer than 70 electors voted otherwise, Mr Stallard would now be Darling Range’s MLA.

Little wonder Labor sees Darling Range as a marginal seat that’s distinctly winnable.

Little wonder too that Mr Lindsey so convincingly ousted Mr Day.

Let’s wait for the long-planned State Council appeal ploy that aims to resurrect Mr Day as a candidate, even if that should mean giving Darling Range to Labor.

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