State scene

NOW our new ministers have enjoyed a week of the trappings of office they’d be wise to ponder on why they’ll have outgoing Premier Richard Court eyeballing them in the foreseeable future.

Much has been made of the fact that he chose to stay to thwart his deputy Colin Barnett’s ever so overt ambitions to be leader.

Something is even being made of the fact that by staying his parliamentary pension would be larger after 2001.

Some claim he’s stayed to ensure his (and his father’s) Nedlands seat wasn’t lost to the Libs at an early by-election.

None of these should be entirely discounted.

But there was another, more important, reason for his decision, at least for the foreseeable future.

Most journalists who ventured to Dalkieth’s swanky Hobbs Avenue the morning after election night and saw Mr Court emerge from behind the high brick fence surrounding his $1.5 million mansion left suspecting exit time had arrived.

He appeared relieved the campaign was over, and under-standably so.

Mr Court knew for over a year there was no way he was going to budge the polls his way.

His radar screen showed Labor ahead back in mid-1998, and no matter what he did, public opinion wouldn’t budge.

He’d lost key advisers – Jack Gilleece, Ian Fletcher and Richard Elliot – long ago so basically ran government alone. And quite frankly the tactical and strategic sides of governance, as opposed to parliamentary and party, were a bit beyond him. Not enough hours in a day.

So, to hell with it, leave, enjoy your wealth and mansion, and spend your super.

Then came those phone calls, advice, urgings, and suggestions.

Even WA’s best-informed ex-Lib, Noel Crichton-Browne – who, incidentally, is far better informed that Mr Barnett - passed on a few words of advice via a third party which was, “stay, stay”.

But the thing that swung Mr Court’s thinking wasn’t NCB’s prompting – though it was compelling - nor was it the advice given by so many of his parliamentary loyalists who shudder at the thought of Mr Barnett leading.

No, it came from another quarter that sometimes contacts Mr Court.

That person made several points.

Firstly, at maximum, Labor only won nine seats in its own right – the others fell into Labor’s bag because of One Nation’s “vote the bastards out” ploy.

Dr Gallop had therefore not won the election; it was won for him by Pauline Hanson’s devastating “bang bang” sniper tactic despite One Nation having much in common with Liberal right wingers.

This meant the Libs have a better than even chance of ousting Labor in 2005, other things being equal.

More importantly, medium and big business – which remains deeply suspicious of Labor - is the Liberal Party’s main source of serious money and Mr Court’s adviser said many in this group wanted him to stay. Also, if he left the party would be strapped for cash in 2005.

It’s fair to say the Government Dr Geoff Gallop will attempt to run will more closely resemble that of the late “Honest” John Tonkin of the 1970s, than Labor’s crazy 1980s.

Labor, Mr Court was also told, would have an Achilles heel – a tendency to go off on experimental tangents based on ideas that were trendy 25 years back, and will be pressed by the leftist Greens in Upper House deals, which electors would quickly reject.

Most in Dr Gallop’s cabinet are university trained so were subjected during the 1960s and 1970s to an ever-present dose of disdain – not outright opposition as with the Old Left - for the private sector.

Some obviously took such campus-inspired nonsense more seriously than others, but most were subjected to it.

Only Agriculture Minister Kim Chance, a former Doodlakine farmer who, strangely enough, is of Labor’s Left Faction, and ex-policeman Bob Kucera are likely to be immune to trendy academic marsh mellow leftishness.

So, just two of 14 ministers.

Doodlakine has the honour of having produced Senator Peter Walsh, undoubtedly the best and most down-to-earth senator WA sent to Canberra – proof of what Labor can do if it avoids trendy tangents.

Mr Court was told that, like his father, he was widely trusted in business and despite the humiliating loss was still seen as the best man to head a government for the greater good of all over the long haul.

Unfortunately, for these backers, and maybe West Aussies, One Nation’s ploy put Labor in.

The really interesting question is why Mr Barnett seems not to have managed, during his deputyship, to attain the same level of closeness with such backers.

It’s more baffling because his background with the Confederation of WA Industry and Perth Chamber of Commerce, topped off by time as Resources Development Minister were all posts where he dealt with the well-healed side of town.

Do they know something we don’t?

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