17/06/2013 - 15:04

With friends like that …

17/06/2013 - 15:04


Save articles for future reference.

Things can get messy when state and federal political agendas collide.

With friends like that …

Things can get messy when state and federal political agendas collide.

Sometimes in politics, when governments are travelling badly and all appears lost, their opponents can – often unwittingly – offer a ray of sunshine. That’s what Colin Barnett’s government did for Julia Gillard with the timing of its decision to axe 1,200 public sector jobs.

And she leapt on it. You can expect more of that under a Tony Abbott-led federal government, the prime minister said (quick as a flash) before leaving Perth after a two-day visit.

“It follows a pattern right around the country where state Liberal governments have cut jobs,” Ms Gillard said. “We take a different approach. We want to see jobs around our nation. We will continue to focus on economic growth and jobs.”

She could hardly believe her luck, which has come in rather small doses in recent times. On the other hand, Mr Abbott would have been forgiven for getting on the phone to the premier’s office with the message ‘thanks but no thanks’.

Would Mr Barnett prefer to have Mr Abbott residing in The Lodge in Canberra? Of course he would; so why did he and Treasurer Troy Buswell announce the job cuts package when they did?

The answer is that there’s never a good time for such revelations. In fact they had a real dilemma, as two dates draw inexorably closer – September 14 for the federal poll, and before that the August 8 state budget.

Just as federal Treasurer Wayne Swan, and Ms Gillard, repeated throughout last year that the federal budget would return to surplus in 2013-14, Mr Barnett has said he will not preside over a deficit state budget. That seemed a pretty safe bet five years ago but things have changed dramatically during the past 12 months.

While costs have continued to rise – the wages bill alone by an average of 8.6 per cent over the past five years – so too has revenue, but not as quickly. In fact the volatility of the iron ore price, and the declining share of the GST being refunded to Western Australia, are causing headaches in state Treasury.

If Mr Buswell is to have any hope of keeping the budget in the black, the cost side has to be attacked. And with wages making up nearly half the budget costs, that’s one area ripe for some attention.

Mind you the government can’t use the excuse that it didn’t see this coming. It has settled the pay claims of key sectors of its workforce with generous increases. The nurses’ claims, for example, which gained a high profile during the early part of the election campaign, were quickly and quietly resolved. But the chickens are coming home to roost.

And money has been thrown around like confetti among key advisers in ministers’ offices; not any more, it seems.

Pain inevitably follows when the screws are tightened, and with job cuts – even voluntary – there will be reports of cuts to front-line services and hardship. 

Mr Barnett and Mr Buswell wanted to start the voluntary redundancy program from July 1 – it’s better to get the bad news out earlier rather than later. After that it’s clear air for Mr Abbott to the September poll. Maybe.


Nationals’ coup

The National Party’s coup in signing up former West Coast Eagles footballer David Wirrpanda to lead its Senate team at the federal election gives the WA branch its best chance of winning a seat in the upper house for 35 years.

Mr Wirrpanda was not just highly regarded over a long career with the Eagles, which included playing in the 2006 AFL premiership team; he has also impressed as the public face of the David Wirrpanda Foundation, which aims improving the lot of Aboriginal people throughout the state, and more recently, in Victoria.

The WA Nationals have not had a Senate representative since the retirement in 1978 of Sir Thomas Drake-Brockman, who was appointed ‘minister for air’ during the Gorton government. 

It’s not for want of trying. Long-term state leader of the party, and deputy premier in the Court government, Hendy Cowan, had a go in 2001 after he bowed out of state politics.

Things have changed since then, however. The first is that the party’s appeal is now more far reaching, thanks to the Royalties for Regions campaign. When Mr Cowan nominated, support was still very much rooted in the agricultural region. Now it has extended to the Goldfields and the Pilbara.

There’s also Mr Wirrpanda’s wide recognition through football, his subsequent work, and the prospect of support from indigenous voters.

His involvement is a worry for the other parties. The Liberals are hoping to win a fourth Senate seat, Labor is seeking to retain its two positions and the Greens one. Mr Wirrpanda’s presence could upset the cart in the contest to fill the six WA vacancies.


Subscription Options