17/06/2003 - 22:00

State Scene - Time enough for Barnett

17/06/2003 - 22:00


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THE long lead-up to this week’s political bloodletting in Labor’s Federal Caucus room was a Godsend for State Liberal leader Colin Barnett.

THE long lead-up to this week’s political bloodletting in Labor’s Federal Caucus room was a Godsend for State Liberal leader Colin Barnett.

Though few realise it, Mr Barnett’s poor electoral ratings mirror those of Simon Crean.

Since the middle of 2002 – when rumours were rife that Mr Barnett was set to be toppled – he has managed to dampen concern over his dismal ratings.

Newspoll for May 2003 showed Mr Crean’s electoral standing at 17 per cent compared to Prime Minister John Howard’s 64 per cent.

The same pollster showed Mr Barnett for the January-March 2003 quarter also at 17 per cent, compared to Premier Geoff Gallop’s 54 per cent.

In part, because the local and national media have focused so doggedly on the national stage and the Beazley challenge, not many seem to have realised this.

But that will not continue forever. Eventually a day of reckoning arrives.

That being so it is best to confront it sooner rather than later.

Someone should tell Mr Barnett and his boffins that there is little room for the three great virtues – faith, hope and charity – in politics. It is a case of making opportunities for one’s self and one’s team, not sitting back and hoping the Government bungles.

What should perhaps be drawn to Mr Barnett’s attention is that the way things are panning out, he is facing the same situation Labor encountered at the December 1996 election that Premier Richard Court won with an increased majority.

At that contest the Morgan Poll’s two-party preferred standings showed Labor with 44.8 per cent support compared to the Court Government’s 55.2 per cent.

The same pollster, for March-April this year, showed Labor with 55.5 per cent and the conservatives at 44.5 per cent, a virtual mirror image of the situation of some seven years back.

Labor’s boffins and powerbrokers knew they were polling dismally but did virtually nothing about it.

Then, just before the December 1996 election, they panicked and decided to dump their poorly rating leader Jim McGinty, who was told he was about to take them into an electoral disaster so he could hardly argue when instructed to step aside for Dr Gallop.

Mr Barnett’s in-house boffins should carefully recount those events to him and stress the similarity of the statistical landscape.

Clearly, the Barnett-led Liberals have nothing to be complacent about even though it is still 19 months out from the election.

Their situation is, in fact, far more serious than Mr Barnett’s Crean-style ratings and the Labor and Conservative 55.5-45.5 per cent electoral standings indicate.

State Scene says this for several reasons.

Firstly, Labor not only holds power in all States and Territories but has now been re-elected in four of those States: Queensland, New South Wales, p From page 36

Victoria and Tasmania.

What this means is that Labor’s State machines have now devised an array of tried and tested tactics for re-election which they are methodically employing.

In each of these cases what happened was the Labor Governments of Peter Beattie (Qld); Bob Carr (NSW); Steve Bracks (Vic); and Jim Bacon (Tas) initially won power only “by a whisker”. Recall that Dr Gallop won just 37 percent of the Statewide vote, meaning WA is the same.

But each of those State Labor “whiskers” were transformed into Labor landslides at the first recontests.

What happened in each case was that all policy areas were covered with well publicised, even if often flaky, programs and the State election campaigns were moulded so that voters chose between a high-rating Labor leader and poorly-rating opposition one.

It is Sydney-to-a-brick that WA Labor will run a Beattie-Bracks-Bacon-Carr-style campaign against Mr Barnett in a bid to repeat those four landslides.

With Mr Barnett incapable of scoring more than 20 per cent (October-December 2001) and Dr Gallop only once slipping below 50 per cent (47 per cent over January-March 2002) the die seems to have already been cast.

Can Mr Barnett break Labor’s four-times successful State re-election formula? Few people that State Scene has spoken to believe he will, or can.

But I can’t agree.

What is required is gumption to grasp a bold policy program. One that captures the imaginations of WA electors who, if given the chance, will reject overwhelmingly ritzy-looking but costly and blatant vote-buying Labor mish-mash. Unfortunately, Mr Barnett’s political career has not exactly exuded imagination or boldness.

However, even June 2003 is not too late. He should convene his boffins and call for farsighted and imaginative policies that drastically lower all business and transaction taxes.

He should stop defending Western Power’s costly monopoly, which brings WA high electricity charges that retard business and employment.

He should promise to immediately abolish compulsory student unionism, which the Gallop Government instituted on WA’s tertiary campuses.

He should promise to institute Citizen Initiated Referendum legislation so WA becomes Australia’s most democratic State. He should promise to honor Dr Gallop’s scandalously broken promise to hold a referendum on whether WA should have elected governors. There are many others.

If I listed them all those boffins would very likely slacken off again.

But, please, Mr Barnett, not fluro jackets for young criminals, please...


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