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Top job for whom the poll tolls

DEMOCRATIC elections destroy as well as enhance political careers – and election 2001 will be no different.

This Saturday’s electoral clash has four likely outcomes – a Coalition defeat; a minority Coalition or Labor Government; or a third Coalition victory – with the numerical disparity between these likely to be close.

Premier Richard Court’s fate is of greatest interest. After-him-eyes are on the three eyeing off his job – deputy, Colin Barnett; embattled Fair Trading Minister, Doug Shave; and Labor Leader Geoff Gallop.

Defeat for Mr Court would mean departing politics by early 2002.

Mr Barnett, under such circumstances, would need to make some hard choices – grab the leadership he so wants or accept one of several private sector job offers to exit with Mr Court.

Mr. Shave, win or lose, is no longer a serious leadership contender.

If Alfred Cove voters dump him he’ll return to overseeing his family’s hotel and other investments.

But if he manages to hold blue-ribbon Alfred Cove on preferences, like last time, that dismal performance, added to his unimpressive handling of the finance-brokering sector, means his political ambitions remain in tatters.

Those who know Mr Barnett say he’d turn down other job offers because he’ll finally conclude he would be able to topple a Gallop-led Labor Government after its first term.

Some years back he saw himself as a Federal MP for Curtin, and with ministerial potential, but Perth lawyer Julie Bishop and her backers upset his Canberra blueprint.

Mr Court would cast his eyes about for a new career, possibly in tourism or, as one colleague said, “something watery – he’s always around yachts and boats.”

If, however, the Libs and Nats find themselves short of the needed 29 MLAs to form government, he’ll launch talks with Independent Liberals Phil Pendal and Liz Constable to cobble together a Court-led triple alliance.

A fall from December 1996’s record victory to a minority government would hurt Mr Court’s pride.

Neither of the Independent Liberals have revealed their conditions for entering such an alliance to ensure Mr Court has the required numbers on the Legislative Assembly’s floor to carry money bills and block inevitable no-confidence motions.

Their bargaining may include a cabinet post and the Assembly’s Speakership – Dr Constable’s experience in education qualifies her well for the education portfolio which so desperately needs proper administering, and many, including some Labor MPs, believe Mr Pendal would be a good Speaker.

Despite some beat-up media claims that the two do not get along with Mr Court, the contrary is in fact the case. They are always civil towards each other and there would be no difficulties once a formal co-operative agreement was signed.

It’s worth recalling that the Court-led Liberals have had a secret written co-operative agreement with Mr Cowan’s Nationals since 1993, and feelings between the two conservative leaders prior to that were often hardly rosy.

As head of a three-way coalition, Mr Court would remain leader for a substantial portion of the life of the next Government but he would be re-assessing his position every six months.

Reassessment would mean looking at his ambitions beyond politics.

Finally, there’s the most sought after outcome – a third clear-cut Liberal-National Coalition victory.

This would place Mr Court into the record books as WA’s most successful Liberal leader and he could, sometime late in 2002 or perhaps mid-2003, leave politics triumphantly.

This is undoubtedly the outcome Mr Barnett most desires for it would mean being handed the premiership for 18 or so months during which time he would have the opportunity to prove his mettle and go into election 2005 with the upper hand and calling the tune.

He’d like that.

But what of Dr Gallop, by far the best academically qualified of the four?

If he loses, he’ll throw open Labor’s parliamentary positions. What is still not known is whether he would seek leadership.

Labor is no more unforgiving than the conservatives when it comes to election losing leaders, so there’s no doubt ambitious new faces will surface.

If an academic post isn’t on the horizon, Dr Gallop may opt for Canberra.

Federal Labor seats such as Swan – where Kim Wilkie has made an almighty mess – Cowan, despite Brian Burke eyeing it off for a daughter, now held by Graham Edwards; and Fremantle, which former Premier Carmen Lawrence holds, are all possibilities.

Labor’s factional leaders will survey the scene, assess numbers, and plot this way and that.

But in the end the harsh reality of being in opposition for another four years means the number crunchers will agree on the person they believe has the best chance of winning Election 2005.

And that most likely means former lawyer, one-time Perth City Councillor and Legislative Councillor, but now Armadale MLA, Allanah McTiernan.

Her move to the Assembly wasn’t without reason.

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