Saturday, June 30, 2012

Colin Barnett's influence within the WA Liberal Party

On June 21, I sent the following letter to the editor of The Australian. The newspaper chose not to publish it.

In 2003, while the member for Vasse in the WA Parliament, I lost Liberal Party endorsement to contest the 2005 election. Troy Buswell was selected in my place and he subsequently went on to win the 2005 and 2008 elections. Early on in his political life, he was touted as the 'great hope' of the Liberal Party, being seen by some as a future leader and premier. Since then, we have witnessed his many indiscretions and personality failings.

This history is important in understanding WA premier Colin Barnett's disappointment in not having his preferred candidate Kate Lamont chosen by the Liberal Party to stand as its candidate in the safe seat of Churchlands. Barnett was made the leader of the parliamentary Liberal Party in 2008 because then leader Buswell had committed another personal indiscretion. In desperation, the party's power brokers made Barnett leader in the expectation that then premier Alan Carpenter would win the next election, after which Barnett would retire from politics.

When Carpenter called an early election and then ran an inept election campaign, Barnett was able to win government with the support of the Nationals. However, the Liberal Party had failed to endorse enough quality candidates prior to the hastily called election, the result being that Barnett had a very limited talent pool from which to choose his cabinet. His personal qualities have been the major factor in his government retaining majority elector support. With the next election only nine months away and using his authority as the Liberal leader who won the unwinnable election, Barnett tried to get a quality candidate - Lamont - endorsed for a safe seat so that, after winning the next election, he'd have a better range of MPs from which to select his ministers.

The rebuff he has suffered as a result of Lamont's failure to win preselection is a reflection of the hold that the ABC faction - Anyone But Colin - still retains within the WA Liberal Party. Noel Crichton-Browne, Norman Moore and Senator Mathias Cormann currently control the lay party and, as they have shown in the past, they believe it is better to retain control over the party and lose government, rather than lose their control but retain government.

Lamont's failure should be viewed as nothing more than the party's power brokers retaining their control. The people of WA may see it as a deliberate slap in the face to a premier who has only moderate factional support within his own party but, in reality, it's just a reflection of the sad malaise that currently afflicts most political parties in WA and Australia.

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