20/08/2008 - 22:00

Unexpected twists on campaign trail

20/08/2008 - 22:00

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The Labor government entered the state election campaign with a carefully crafted plan, but despite its best efforts, the second week of campaigning was dominated by unexpected twists.

Unexpected twists on campaign trail

The Labor government entered the state election campaign with a carefully crafted plan, but despite its best efforts, the second week of campaigning was dominated by unexpected twists.

Renewed controversy over the Varanus Island gas crisis, surprise government spending cuts and a strong surge in Liberal Party support were major developments during week two of the campaign.

The elevation of Colin Barnett to opposition leader was a major factor in the Liberals' surprisingly strong showing in both the Newspoll published in The Weekend Australian and the Westpoll in The West Australian.

The polls show, at the very least, that Labor has a tough fight on its hands to retain voter support.

One of the key Newspoll results was who would make a better premier. Support for Alan Carpenter plunged from 64 per cent in May to 49 per cent. Conversely the 14 per cent support for former opposition leader, Troy Buswell, became 31 per cent support for Mr Barnett.

Ironically, the electorally unpopular Mr Buswell caused the biggest headaches for Labor, with a renewed attack over the Varanus Island gas crisis.

State Development Minister Eric Ripper sought to kill Varanus Island as an issue but instead became embroiled in further controversy after conflicting reports emerged over the role played by Lloyd's Register and government agencies in verifying safety standards at the Apache Energy gas plant.

Labor was forced to fend off calls for a royal commission, saying it would review that possibility only after the National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority had completed its inquiry.

Mr Ripper was also in the news after Treasury released updated budget data showing that WA's budget surplus will be even bigger over the next four years than previously anticipated.

The main drivers are increased iron ore and gas prices, and a "one-off efficiency dividend" that will force all government agencies to lop 3 per cent off their anticipated spending growth.

"The 3 per cent I believe is achievable," Mr Ripper told WA Business News. "We're taking the top off the expenses growth."

Labor is expected to use the buoyant state finances to fund new spending initiatives and infrastructure investment.

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