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Wells soldiers on

RELIGION drew Liberal State director Peter Wells to WA and it is politics that has kept him here.

The former Salvation Army minister has been involved with Liberal Party campaigns for nearly 40 years, although he admits the forthcoming State and Federal elections may be his last.

Through those years Mr Wells has worked for Central Norseman Gold Mines and Canadian Nickel and held several positions in the Liberal Party, the last six as director.

He also represented the North Metropolitan Province in the Legislative Council for six years and spent another three years as the Council Leader’s chief researcher.

Mr Wells ran Ian Viner’s campaign during the turbulent Whitlam years – a time he says was one of “great polarisation”.

He believes the WA campaign will be difficult.

“There is no clear indication as to who will win this election,” Mr Wells said.

“About 4,000 votes over 10 seats and we’re not the Government. That equates to about three to five families at the polling booth. And each electorate will have eight to 10 per cent of first-time voters.

“There is still a fair swag of people that will make their decision on the day.

“In Australia there have been governments that have gone into a third term but we have to work that much harder.

“We have to say to people ‘Look – we’ve done this much but there is still a lot left to be done’.”

Mr Wells believes the battle for WA Government will be won in the streets, not in the campaign offices of the Liberal or Labor parties.

“Campaigns are still a personal, people set up. The real point of campaigning is meeting people one-on-one,” he said.

“Technology has just made our communications easier and our lists work better.”

A dedicated newspaper follower – his daily reading regime begins about 4am – he believes the Internet will not take their place as a political tool.

Mr Wells believes its true benefit comes as an information source.

He calls criticisms linking the Liberal Party with business - the way Labor is linked with the unions - unfair.

“Our link with business is not like Labor’s links with the unions. There is no business union that just hands us money. But there are a lot of small businesses that put their hands in their pockets to help us out at election time,” he said.

“The Liberal Party tends to be concentrated across the spectrum, not just on business.

“Business is important to us because it creates jobs, so it is important for us to create an environment that allows that to happen.

“We need businesses that create jobs and employs people.

“Besides, if union people always voted for Labor, we’d never be in power.”

Even though both the Liberal and Labor campaigns have been labelled lacklustre, both parties have had their share of controversies.

Allegations that Labor member Kim Wilkie’s staffers were involved in branch stacking came right at the beginning of the campaign.

Then the Liberal push for re-election was hurt by Fair Trading Minister Doug Shave directing a spray at his ministerial colleagues.

Mr Wells believes Mr Shave’s outburst was the result of the pressure he had been under with the finance broker’s scandal.

“In every family there are always people who make some comments,” he said.

“Doug is a good minister. I understand he’s since retracted those statements.

“Quite often things happen in Government and the minister has to take responsibility for it whether he was involved in it or not.

“People need to understand that no one’s infallible.”

One possible fear for the Liberal Party is the growth in independents. Two blue-ribbon Liberal seats are held by independent candidates, albeit ones with Liberal leanings.

Mr Wells said he was in Parliament with South Perth member Phil Pendal when he was still a member of the Liberal Party.

He said Curtin member Liz Constable never bothered to submit for Liberal pre-selection.

However, if the Kennett Government experience is anything to go by, there is a risk the “voter smack” could turn into a knockout punch.

Mr Wells agreed all political parties had problems attracting quality candidates because of the lower salaries and uncertainties of political life.

“But I think politics is a lot like religion. People will spend a lot of time and money on religion and politics,” he said.

“Politics is a belief. People who’ve made their mark in business want to make their mark in the community. I also find it strange that people put politicians down, yet give them pride of place at their functions when they are elected.”

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