04/05/2004 - 22:00

Too many opposition ‘try-hards’

04/05/2004 - 22:00


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ANALYSING the most influential opposition MPs in State Parliament presents an unusual challenge.

Too many opposition ‘try-hards’

ANALYSING the most influential opposition MPs in State Parliament presents an unusual challenge.

The problem is that there are too many people trying to be influential and not enough team players lining up behind Opposition Leader Colin Barnett.

Mr Barnett leads a party that spends too much time fighting among itself rather than the real enemy, the Gallop Government.

The best consolation for the Liberals is that Labor has also fallen into a damaging bout of faction fighting.

Mr Barnett’s latest internal party problem is the attempted return to politics by former fair trading minister Doug Shave, whose reputation was battered by the finance brokers’ scandal.

Mr Barnett has publicly opposed Mr Shave’s return and will seek to block his pre-selection when it comes before the party’s State council.

This follows the recent pre-selection of former industrial relations minister Graham Kierath for the State seat of Alfred Cove.

Mr Barnett has had little to say on this, but Nationals leader Max Trenorden has stated that Mr Kierath would not be welcome as a minister in a future coalition government.

Negotiating a coalition agreement with the Nationals has become a protracted exercise, not helped by a dispute over which party should be given the transport portfolio.

The Nationals say transport services are crucial for rural people and that transport is traditionally allocated to a Nationals minister.

Nobody told Liberal MP Katie Hodson-Thomas, who has stated that she wants to hang on to the transport portfolio.

The failure to quickly and decisively negotiate a coalition agreement reflects poorly on Mr Barnett’s leadership.

However, he has faced major challenges from day one.

After Richard Court lost the 2001 election, Mr Barnett was a logical successor, given his track record as a senior minister and his position as deputy leader.

Despite that, he had to overcome the ABC (Anyone But Colin) faction.

His deputy leader, Dan Sullivan, is generally considered a non-performer.

Mr Sullivan will long be remembered for calling a press conference in February to comment on internal Liberal Party wrangling, on the very day the Gallop Government was under intense pressure over the State’s power crisis.

The leading lights on Mr Barnett’s front bench include Murdoch MLA and health spokesman Mike Board and Kalgoorlie MLA and police spokesman Matt Birney.

Mr Board, one of the most capable people in the Liberal camp, is reportedly considering a switch to Federal politics via the seat of Tangney, made available by the planned retirement of Communications Minister Daryl Williams.

If that occurs, it would be a blow to the State Liberals.

Mr Birney is widely regarded as a future leader of the Liberal Party, even though he has only been in parliament three years and holds a marginal electorate.

A challenge for Mr Barnett will be to revitalise the parliamentary Liberal Party by injecting new talent and vigour.

That process is not helped when senior MPs such as George Cash, Norman Moore and Peter Foss (who has resigned from the shadow ministry) choose to stay on for another term in parliament, and a succession of former ministers seek to return to parliament.

Cheryl Edwardes is one senior MP who is retiring at the next election, yet her husband Colin Edwardes will succeed her.

Another challenge for Mr Barnett is to win strong support from the business community.

It is notable that Mr Barnett was chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry before entering politics in 1990, yet he and the chamber often do not see eye to eye.

The most notable difference was Mr Barnett’s staunch opposition to the full disaggregation of Western Power, despite vigorous lobbying by the CCI.

The Nationals, with six MPs in the current parliament, are led by Avon MLA Max Trenorden.

His parliamentary team will be very different after the next election, following the planned retirement of experienced MPs Monty House and Ross Ainsworth.

Merredin MLA Brendon Grylls represents the next generation for the Nationals and can be expected to feature in a future coalition government.

The third major group on the opposition benches is the Greens (WA), who have five MPs in the Legislative Council.

This gives the Greens the balance of power in the upper house.

The collectivist style of the Greens presents unique challenges for government ministers trying to negotiate the passage of legislation.

Energy Minister Eric Ripper discovered these challenges when he tried in vain to win Greens support for the Government’s energy reform plans.

Robin Chapple was the Greens spokesman on energy matters but Dee Margetts, who was a senator for six years before entering State Parliament in 2001, is considered the most influential individual in the party.

Dee Margetts is another senior member of the Greens team in State Parliament.


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