It’s been a long wait since the Victorian election but WA produces lots of great political fodder.

It’s Crikey’s first election and Hillary is reporting from the spot, perched with a laptop on the rocks at Rotto watching the quokkas frolic in the West’s bright sun. And without any more ado, on with the show.

State of Excitement (not)

After hanging on to office long enough to pass his father Sir Charles Court’s length of term in office, family runt Richard has finally announced his big date with the people on 10 February.

Having announced the date several days earlier than he had to, wasn’t it an interesting coincidence it occurred on a day when the Bulletin spent four pages trying to bring the delights of the Queensland electoral rorts saga to Western Australia.

But anyway, back to Rich the Runt. Rich inherited two things from his father. One is the peculiar pronunciation of his state as WES-tern Australia. The other is the family motto of “I blame Canberra”. To this, the Runt has added another motto, “I blame Brian Burke/Peter Dowding/Carmen Lawrence/anyone who ever had anything to do with a Labor government”.

Which is where young Rich has a few problems. It’s eight years since Dr Feelgood was defeated, and now five years since Emperor Paul departed. He is having to stand on his own record, and it appears the electorate is a little underwhelmed.

The Runt spent last year deploring Canberra for all these illegal migrants arriving in the West not surprising from a Premier who said Paul Keating could only visit the state if he went through the formal channels. One wonders what Rich would have actually done with those boat people if for some reason the West had had control over the defence forces.

Anyway, Hillary digresses there. With the result depending on a string of outer suburban and regional seats, the pork barrel is out. Already it appears the government is promising that no pensioner in Bunbury will ever have to pay a bus fare again (two marginal seats there you see), and the government is happy to piss the proceeds of the Alinta Gas sale up against the wall for a railway to Mandurah (another two marginals there).

Whatever you say, Hendy

With the government certain to lose seats even though it will probably retain office the the power of National Party leader and Deputy Premier Hendy Cowan is likely to be increased.

Hendy is a big bloke. He played more than 300 games for Narembeen Football Club, and his approach to politics sometimes looks like the approach of a big bloke to football. The shortest distance to the ball is always in a straight line and if there is someone smaller between you and the ball, well, that’s their problem.

No one suggests that Hendy terrifies Rich the Runt, but there are not many people in Cabinet who ever willingly want to pick a fight with the Merredin Mauler. But don’t ever think he’s you’re old-fashioned redneck. On several occasions Rich has hinted at holding a death penalty referendum in conjunction with a state election, and it was Cowan that helped stamp the idea out. The WA National Party is a bit different than in the other states, having a rather green tinge. They started the Coalition backdown to protect the old growth forests in last year’s forests dispute with Wilson Tuckey.

For some reason, Tuckey seems to hate the National Party. Odd given he ran for them as a candidate in 1974. (For some reason they formed an alliance with the DLP that year and called themselves National Alliance. Poor choice of name.)

Hillary in fact thinks it would be good sport to lock Hendy Cowan and Wilson Tuckey in a room and see who survives. You could sell tickets to watch. It would be more entertaining than most Fremantle Dockers matches, anyway.

Labor’s woes in Pilbara

In the last decade, Labor has struck a few problems in its traditional mining heartland. Some have been simple demographic change. Less and less mining towns are being built, with the growth of fly-in fly-out operations. The folk who live in mining towns are more likely to be on individual contracts, and Labor’s old strength built on union solidarity has diminished.

Back in 96, when Graeme Campbell slagged off multiculturalism one too many times, Paul Keating kicked him out of the party. The Labor Party has been undergoing splits in the Federal electorate of Kalgoorlie ever since. The current state parliament ends with one lower house and two upper house Labor MPs from the area sitting on the cross benches.

The old blue collar but in reality small business mining sector has got mightily pissed off that Labor seemed to be worrying about Aborigines, and the conditions of the strippers and prostitutes in Kalgoorlie. What a hide! Don’t the Labor Party understand blokes have rights too?

Anyway, the Labor Party have picked a few too many female candidates for the blokes liking. One, female lawyer Megan Anwyl, should hold on to her seat in Kalgoorlie, but the Liberals are sniffing about. But up in Pilbara, the Labor Party disendorsed Larry Graham, the son of a former Labor Deputy-Premier, in favour of a female drug and alcohol counsellor, Jacki Ormsby.

Graham hasn’t taken it lying down and is now running as an independent. Former Labor Leader Ian “I love Brian Burke” Taylor has let his party membership lapse to campaign for Graham, and a Morgan poll last year indicated he will win the seat.

Still, new Labor candidate Ormsby is off and running. But choosing to sponsor a local horse race did not have the required effect. Rather than attract publicity, the Jacki Ormsby ALP Handicap rather highlighted the problem she has created for the party.

King Canute and the Kimberley

Hillary can’t quite remember the full story of King Canute, but it had something to do with tides, hence the link with Kimberley. At first this tale sounds obscure, but if the election is as close as some pundits are suggesting, then the whole fate of government could rest on the result in Kimberley.

Kimberley has been held since 1980 by the state’s only Aboriginal MP, Ernie Bridge. He had to fight long and hard to originally become an MP, the Court (the elder) government even changing the law in the 1970s to make it harder for blackfellas to vote in an attempt to prevent Labor winning the seat.

Bridge, as well as being an accomplished country and western singer (not that Hillary likes songs about trucks, dogs, the road and unfaithful wives), was a minister in the Burke, Dowding and Lawrence governments with a pet scheme to bring water from the Ord River to the state’s south-west. Even governments silly enough to spend 200 million bucks on non-existent petrochemical plants weren’t prepared to come at that pipe dream.

In fact back when Labor was desperately trying to find a replacement for “Slick Pierre” Dowding they were desperate for someone different. They passed on having the first legless Premier (Graham Edwards) and the first Aboriginal premier (Ernie Bridge) and went for the first female Premier in Dr Feelgood.

Anyway, up in the Kimberley, they are trying to do something about the local power grid. Energy Minister Colin Barnett wants to put in gas fired generators. For some reasons, the locals, backed by Wilson Tuckey and various green groups, want to build a tidal power station, to make use of the areas vast tidal range.

Now, sure it is good for the environment in terms of global warming but how many untouched inlets are going to have to be dammed for this project. Anyway, the locals want it, and in a close election, they are going to get at least part of their scheme. Hendy Cowan said to do it, and the rest of Cabinet wanting to leave the Cabinet room with all their limbs attached, agreed to the Merredin Mauler’s idea.

So what turned the National party around? Well, the answer comes from a messy Labor Party preselection last year. Ernie Bridge resigned as a Labor MP before the 1996 election, and was re-elected as an Independent, though without a Labor opponent. He is retiring at this election.

Labor Leader Geoff Gallop was backing Derby-West Kimberley Mayor Peter McCumstie for preselection, but some mad factional deal that involved protecting an upper house MP in Perth resulted in Labor choosing local social worker Carol Martin, who now has the chance to become the state’s first female aboriginal MP.

This created two problems. First, Ernie Bridge has said he doesn’t support Martin, some suggest because her husband ran against him as an Independent in 1996. Second, having been rebuffed by Labor, McCumstie threw his lot in with the National Party and is now their endorsed candidate. Hence Hendy Cowan’s support for the tidal power station.

McCumstie is built as broad as the region’s boab trees, though he probably would have done better as an Independent Labor MP. By not choosing him as their candidate, Labor passed up a certainty to win and have thrown the race for Kimberley, and possibly for government, wide open.

Power politics

Not that it is the first case of power policy being determined by the fate of marginal seats, as Geoff Gallop would remember.

Back in the dying days of Dr Feelgood’s government, Cabinet agonised over the state’s next power investment. It had two options.

One was banks of 20Mw gas turbine generators. You could set up several of these in banks on greenfield sites, and they basically could turn themselves on or off depending on the amount of power required by the grid, sort of like a gas water heater turning itself on as required. They employed few people, with the main on-going task associated with the generators being someone turning up to mow round them once a week. The state was awash with natural gas, they were good on greenhouse gas emissions, and only produced as much power as required.

The alternative was a new base load power plant at Collie. This was more expensive in both capital and labour cost. Because it burned Collie’s poor quality brown coal it was worse on greenhouse gas emissions, and as a base load generator it produced 300Mw whether you needed it or not. Clearly the gas turbines were the better option.

So which option did the Feelgood government choose, and the Runt Cabinet concur with later? The Collie power station. Why? Well, Collie was a marginal seat, and despite the state’s commitment to north-west gas, no-one was going to tell the voters of a marginal electorate they were no longer interested in their brown coal.

Blasts from the past

Mooner Murray’s decision to use Brian Burke and Noel Crichton-Browne as election commentators for his show on 6PR has provoked much comment. And so it should. They’re both scumbags.

True, only Burkie did time, but NCB is also a convicted criminal. And both continue to exercise a malign influence on their respective parties that will have significant affects on the outcome.

Let’s look at NCB first. The Court Government’s biggest liability is Fair Trading (ha-ha) Minister Doug Shave and his conduct over the finance brokers’ scandal. In any decent government, Shave would have gone but he still has his job because he’s one of NCB’s boys.

Then there’s Burke. Hillary calls him “Colonel Kurtz” as there he is, perched out in the wilderness, fat, bald and mad but still commanding a band of loyal soldiers. WA Inc remains one of the Liberal’s strongest cards because Burke won’t go away.

Outta site

Hillary has been bemused by the WA National Party’s new web site. Why have they got an internet presence at an address with a United States domain name?

All Australian websites have the suffix “au” tagged on the end but the Nat’s new site is at www.nationalswa.com, not an Australian domain name.

Are they trying to get away from local laws for something they plan to do in the campaign?

Recognition at last

You normally have to wait to you’re dead, but the Western Australian Electoral Commission are clearly on the ball. They’ve got in early and named a seat “Hillarys”. Maybe we should run there as an independent.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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