January 14, 2004 | Peter

On WA Politics

I see that Greg Barns has written a piece in ‘Online Opinion’ praising WA Liberal leader Colin Barnett. I have to say this visionary leader Barns refers to is not the fellow we generally experience in WA politics. That Barnett is negative, opportunistic and bent on defending the privileged position of his core supporters, like most Liberal leaders.
Nonetheless, I agree with Barns’ assertion that prolonged discussion about a challenge to Barnett, especially as there are no real alternatives, is Labor’s best chance of wining the next state election.
The ALP is pessimistic about this election. ‘Good News Geoff’ Gallop has turned out to be weak on vision, or at least weak on selling his vision. This is a shame because he is a genuinely nice man, well educated (unlike Kim, he was actually a serious lecturer in politics at Murdoch for a while before being snapped up as the coming thing in state politics) and capable of being more than your average polly.
Gallop seems to have taken to heart the success of his famous mate from university days, Tony Blair. He has not pushed any marked reform or innovation beyond his core promises on forests (which some claim won him the election) and has been strong on media spin.
Gallop does have some ideas in terms of promoting ‘sustainability’ as a long-term change in state development. Unfortunately this needs him to stay in government for a while to establish a new culture of environmental responsibility in government, the public service and business. The Libs, who love to hate this sort of ‘tree hugging’, as they see it, will just stifle it when they get back into office.
WA politics suffers from a major electoral gerrymander, which gives the conservative National Party lots of power, a situation the Gallop government has failed to overturn. It seems one person – one vote is an idea yet to appeal to Australian jurists. The Liberals, who are the Nationals’ partners in government, and who have been the state’s power centre over time, are dominated by reactionary local business types. In particular, the powerful, largely transnational mining industry and a gaggle of WA-based developers and primary industry firms practically own the Liberal Party.
In the past tough development-focussed Liberals like Charles Court could combine solidarity with mining developers, rural interests and associated business with a wider vision of a developing pioneer state. The unions were eventually able to deal themselves in during the 1970s boom years, but other groups, especially Aboriginals, were left out.
But Perth – which is most of WA in demographic and political terms – had a nice climate and plenty of space, and most Western Australians were content to go along with this simplistic program of wealth creation through big development projects. The profits for WA were mostly in the earliest building stage, when local business and labour were used, especially since the WA government was weak on getting reasonable royalty payments on the raw materials shipped out. As long as one project followed another in quick succession – with the ‘West Australian’ and the equally unquestioning ‘Sunday Times’ jubilantly announcing each new bonanza – it all seemed OK.
Gallop arguably got in as one of the first ‘clean up the mess left behind’ premiers, and so his interest in ‘sustainability’ as a structural solution to the growing environmental problems makes sense. The trouble is, he just hasn’t been evangelical enough selling his great vision for a kinder, more sustainable WA. Being the tough guy on a few law and order issues – of peripheral importance, but standard sensationalist material for the parochial media – which would be better dealt with by social welfare/education programs hasn’t helped. And he has some very ordinary ministers who mainly seem bent on alienating Labor supporters, like the unions. Perhaps the brightest light in this government has been Justice Minister Jim McGinty, who has showed that a fiscally conservative state government can still reform in areas to do with social justice like discrimination.
Being realistic, state politics is now so hamstrung by the subservient relationship with federal politics, where the money increasingly is, that we have come to expect very little of our premiers and their minions. If they just keep the basic physical, health and educational infrastructure working we are usually satisfied. Perhaps that is enough, but if Canberra is ruled by a PM as negative and reactionary as John Howard, it certainly presents problems for any administration that wants to call itself a Labor government.

Posted by Peter at 1:53 pm | Comments (1) |
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1 Comment

  1. Was browsing Google and found your site

    Comment by Jim — November 4, 2004 @ 9:47 am

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