Wednesday, September 14, 2016
MY ADVICE TO THE PREMIER
I once had Colin Barnett’s confidence. It lasted about 10 minutes when he asked me to comment on the farming property he’d recently purchased near Toodyay and, with my background in landcare, I was able to point out various features on the aerial photograph he put in front of me.
At the time – about 2002 - Colin was the leader of the opposition and I was the shadow minister for the environment. I fell foul of Liberal Party preselection games and Troy Buswell took my seat at the 2005 election, in spite of my attempts to warn the Party and the electorate what to expect from him. Since then, I’ve been a keen observer of state politics but not an active participant. So what would I say to the Premier if I had his confidence again?
I’d make two main points. The first is that the Liberal Nationals government seems to be devoid of policy initiatives relevant to most West Australians. While I can understand the Premier’s desire to give the state economy an economic boost via major construction projects such as new hospitals and a new football stadium, the end of the mining boom has brought higher unemployment and lower incomes. At the same time, doing business with government has remained tied up with green, red and black tape, with no real desire by the current government to address these impediments to growth and jobs.
What the Premier and his government desperately need are new policy commitments – not promises - that will make genuine differences to the lives of ordinary West Australians. It’s not good enough for people such as Transport Minister Dean Nalder to publicise a 50 year transport plan for Perth that commits the government to no actions within the next decade. And the problems of the new Fiona Stanley Hospital are forcing the government’s most competent minister John Day to defend problems outside of the government’s control, giving free kicks to an opposition that knows what it’s opposed to but is generally silent on how it would do things differently.
So, Premier, tell your ministers and their public servants to come up with policy ideas that will benefit West Australians in both the short and long term and then you as Premier bring the best ideas to cabinet for a decision. Mega-projects like the new football stadium have their benefits, but most people want less congestion on our roads, reduced bushfire risks, the causes of juvenile crime to be addressed rather than their symptoms and better education for our children without throwing money at union-supported theories that are now shown to not benefit students’ learning.
Which leads on to my second point. Premier, you are the head of a team of people – your ministers. Accept that they and the people who work for them are generally trying to do the right thing by the state’s citizens. Involve them in the day-to-day media reporting of news. Voters want to know that they are electing or re-electing a competent team to govern them, not just a competent leader. Mark McGowan doesn’t hesitate to stand behind his shadow ministers when they have something important to say; you should learn to allow your team members to also be seen as the faces of the government that you and they want re-elected next March.
Your team also includes all of your backbenchers, who perform the critical task of informing you and the government what the electorate is concerned about. Listen to them and include them in your decision-making processes.
The Labor government of Geoff Gallop was elected in 2001 because the Richard Court government became embroiled in internal factional fights, with the post-election proposal to parachute Julie Bishop into the state parliament to lead the Liberal opposition as one example of how party power brokers were more focused on retaining their influence rather than retaining government. The media loves to report bad news and your current focus on big projects is supplying only bad news stories, so change your focus.
The recent private poll paid for by three prominent businessmen shows that the disunity lessons from 2001 have been forgotten. Electors don’t give a toss about polls and popularity ratings and internal power plays. They simply want good government and, with less than six months to the next state election, the ball is in your court, Premier. Encourage your team to work harder and allow them to be more in the public view so that the public can better understand you’re asking them to vote for the Liberal team in March, not just for a Liberal Premier.
And take the initiative back from the Labor Party. Tell us what your government will do for the rest of this term and what you will do for the next four years, should you be re-elected. If people believe that you have their interests at heart and are listening to their concerns, they’ll vote for you. If you continue to make vague policy statements and act as a one man band, expect Mark McGowan’s team to take office next year.
Member for Vasse 1996-2005
Shadow Minister for Science and Environment, 2001-2004.