Things are getting pretty willing out West. First, we have this Amanda
Riley attack on disendorsed Liberal MP Bernie Masters, who has
responded just as strongly below. And we’ve just added Amanda Riley
final word on “Lord Masters of Vasse” at the bottom.

MASTERS OF DISASTERS FOR THE LIBERALS

Dis-affected Liberal, Bernie Masters has gone completely feral
in losing his pre-selection for the once safe seat of Vasse. He has
turned on his own Deputy Leader, Dan Sullivan, and vowed to hunt him
down and to make sure that he loses his pre-selection for the new seat
of Leschenault.

Although it is a new seat it pretty well covers the area of Sullivan’s old seat of Mitchell.

The
irony of all this is that Dan Sullivan in the last election fought
against the tide that swept the Court Government out of office and
changed Mitchell from one of the most marginal seats in the West into a
safe seat, securing 49% of the vote on First Preferences and 58% of the
vote at the final result – a 16% margin at the final count.

Masters
on the other hand has turned Vasse from what was once a super safe blue
ribbon Liberal seat into a marginal Liberal seat. At the last election
Masters only scraped in by the skin of his teeth, albeit on the
preferences of the National Party. The situation was so dire for
Masters in that after securing only 29% of the vote it wasn’t until
about a week later that it was confirmed that he had finally snuck over
the line!

Masters has been very public in his denouncing of
Sullivan and has been sounding off to whoever will listen. On January
6th he was on the main news of the ABC going absolutely ape over
Sullivan’s alleged involvement in his demise.

The news item
said that in-fighting in the Western Australian Liberal Party had
escalated with the dumped Member for Vasse, Bernie Masters vowing to
pull out all stops to unseat the Deputy Leader Dan Sullivan. It went on
further to say that Masters will work against Sullivan in his quest for
the new seat of Leschenault.

Masters was quoted as saying, ‘I am certainly going to cause as many problems as I can for Dan Sullivan, the Deputy Leader.’

At
this point you would have thought that Liberal Leader Barnett would
have pulled Masters into line, however, nothing could be further from
the truth. Barnett sat on his hands, did nothing, and Masters has
escalated the issue into a full blown crisis for the Libs.

This
of course had up to now suited Barnett’s personal agenda as he would
like nothing better than seeing the exit of Sullivan. However, now that
the issue is bigger than Ben Hur, Barnett has realised that his
Machiavellian campaign to rid himself of  Sullivan has been a
complete ‘stuff up’ and sabotaged by the hapless Masters.

Masters
made the front page of Saturday’s ‘West’ with the headline story that
he was upping the ante in his attempt to oust Sullivan. His plan is to
call a spill of the Deputy Leaders position at the Liberal Party’s
annual
‘love in’ on February 23rd, however, this also means that under Party
rules that the Leader’s position should also be spilled.

So what
began as a mitigated plan by Barnett and his supporters in early
December to get rid of Sullivan has now back-fired with the big loser
being the Liberal Party.

With Barnett having an Approval Rating
akin to Crean at his lowest points of  tenure it is no wonder that
the Liberal Opposition are eying very nervous times ahead. Poor old
Barnett’s rating as Preferred Premier has been as high as 23% and as
low as 12%.

The worrying point is that Crean could not connect
with the average punter with ratings far better than Barnett has ever
been able to achieve as an Opposition Leader, then the signs are pretty
obvious that come election time the Liberals will be up against the
proverbial tide. What occupies the thoughts of many of Barnett’s flock
is that Gallop as Opposition Leader had as his very lowest an Approval
Rating of 29% compared to Premier Court’s 39%. At the same stage, one
year out from an election, Gallop was at
34% and Court at 42%.

Rumblings
that Barnett’s leadership is being threatened by the possible
leadership spill are way off the mark. Who in their right mind would
want to take hold of his poisoned chalice! Wise heads will prevail and
there won’t be any challenge despite Master’s bumbling and vindictive
antics.

However, Barnett needs to pull Masters into line
quickly, show some strong and decisive leadership, or it will be all
over for the Libs before the election year musings have even started.

Bernie Masters responds

On Wednesday night, December 17, the Liberal Party disendorsed me as
its candidate for the seat of Vasse at the next election which is due
in early 2005. The following comments are on the record and I hope they
will alert people to the disloyal activities of deputy Liberal leader
Dan Sullivan.

Dan and I were first elected to the lower house
of the WA Parliament in 1996. We got to know each other pretty well,
with his electorate located next to mine and the two of us sitting next
to each other in the Legislative Assembly for two years. Dan has always
been ambitious to be the leader of the Liberal Party and, after 4 years
of hard work as a backbencher in the last 4 years of the Richard Court
government, he was rewarded with the deputy Liberal leader’s position
after the 2001 election defeat. Both of us were also given senior
shadow ministries at that time.

I can’t tell you what pushed
Dan over the edge but, from early this year, he became the principal
source of media speculation that Liberal leader Colin Barnett was going
to be ousted in a spill. It didn’t happened, of course, because Dan
never had the numbers. In fact, his principal media contact, Steve
Pennells from the West Australian, told me a couple of months back that
Dan had just eight supporters for his leadership challenge, not quite
enough when there are 28 Liberal MPs who have a vote.

Under
Colin Barnett’s leadership, the Liberal Party has found itself neck and
neck or in front in most polls. Good news, you would think, for any
opposition party but recent behaviour by the deputy leader suggests
that he is prepared to forego winning government at the next election
if the result is a leadership spill after the election and his
elevation to the top job. Here are some of Dan’s latest disloyal
activities.

Under the latest boundary redistribution, a new
safe Liberal seat of Capel was created. Dan wanted his personal choice
of candidate, a former Bunbury City councillor, to win, so he assisted
in reforming the long-defunct branch of Gelorup. At the specially
convened AGM, Dan produced a list of who was to be on the executive,
including preselection committee delegates, and he very effectively
intimidated those in attendance to accept these people without any
changes. There was nothing particularly unacceptable in this ploy,
since it probably reflected a lack of strength on the part of other
party members at the AGM who chose to sit back and say nothing, annoyed
but not prepared to upset the deputy leader.

It didn’t stop
there, however. Dan soon realised that the Capel preselection meeting
would contain six delegates from each of the seat’s four branches and
from each of the Forrest Division and the State Council. He could only
count on the six delegates from ‘his’ Gelorup branch to support ‘his’
candidate. A bit of lateral thinking saw him hatch a plot to change the
membership of the only branch within his own seat of Mitchell (to be
reduced in size and renamed Leschenault as a result of the
redistribution) so that a majority of branch members within this branch
actually lived or worked in the seat of Capel. If he could achieve
this, then the six delegates from his own branch would also go to the
Capel preselection meeting, giving him 12 votes out of a possible 42.
Not perfect, but better than 6 out of 36.

The same party
heavyweights who had been silent at Dan’s forcefulness at the Gelorup
branch AGM found out about this and went ballistic. Local newspaper
reports tell of divisional president Charlie Martella threatening to
find a good candidate to stand against Dan in what would otherwise have
been seen as Dan’s safe seat of Leschenault. Charlie publicly stated
that he was prepared to see Dan lose preselection because of his
devious activities within the Capel seat. What was really interesting
was that Dan, now being too clever by half, had left himself vulnerable
to losing his own preselection because he would not have any members
from his own branch in attendance: they’d all be off supporting Dan’s
candidate in Capel!

(Since I wrote this on December 18, Dan
has arranged for another 41 people to be signed up to his Mitchell
branch, thus allowing the branch to send its 6 delegates back to his
own preselection for the seat of Leschenault)

Now, rumour has
it that this threat to disendorse Dan was sable rattling: a warning to
the deputy leader to pull his head in, accept Colin Barnett as leader
and stop destabilising the party and its leadership. It appears the
threat didn’t work, Dan continued on his merry way and now he has a
fight on his hands.

This is where I come in. I admit that I’m
not your typical ‘Conservative’ politician. Even though my background
is in the mining industry, I’m also the shadow minister for the
environment, thanks to professional experience in environmental
science. I speak my mind in the Liberal Party room but keep my mouth
shut out in the public because I believe that party solidarity and
unity is critical to the WA Liberal Party being seen as a credible
alternative government. No more; not now!

It was known some
months ago that my own preselection would probably be held in November
or December. Of the three branches in my electorate, one would strongly
support me, one would sit on the fence and one (comprising 5 members of
one family out of a total membership of 11) had links to the old Noel
Crichton-Brown faction and hence would oppose me if the chance
presented itself.
Starting in September, Dan Sullivan started
assisting the person who would soon be my opponent for preselection,
with the intention of swaying the delegates from the two branches of
Dunsborough and Yallingup. I can’t tell you exactly what he did to help
Troy but the intent of his efforts has been provided to me by two
Liberal MPs (“Bernie, Dan just told me that he and Troy are going to
roll you!!”) and personally by my eventual opponent (Troy Buswell).
When I fronted Dan with these accusations, he made no efforts
whatsoever to deny his involvement in trying to unseat me.

I
guess you can understand why I was severely annoyed at Dan’s actions.
His disloyalty to me as a colleague was obvious but his motivation for
working against me was that I had nominated someone to contest the
deputy leader’s position back in early 2001 after the election defeat.
Why had I done this? Because I’m a believer in democracy and I prefer a
contested vote to an uncontested filling of a vacant position. At that
time, I had nothing personal against Dan but, as he told me earlier
this year, he had held it against me that I had failed to offer him my
total support three years ago.

To cut a long story short, I
went into the preselection on December 17 expecting a fair hearing.
Instead, I found closed minds all of the 12 delegates from the two
branches targeted by Dan. “Bernie didn’t come and have a cup of tea
with me so I won’t support him” was the fairly typical inane arguments
presented against me by several of those 12 members. So I lost the
preselection vote, Troy Buswell got up and here I am spilling the beans
about Dan.

Now, I don’t mind admitting that I am a little
eccentric, politically naive, someone who calls a spade a spade, and
I’m a small ‘L” liberal (not a capital “C” Conservative). If you’re
sitting down as you read this, I’m also described by many of my
colleagues and by some of my ALP opponents as honest, a description
that I encourage because I hope its true (I was educated by the Jesuits
which might explain this particular failing!).

Those
characteristics encourage me to trust in my fellow man, something that
politicians should never do. A person like myself whose sole goal is
good government is vulnerable to subterfuge and concerted efforts by a
disloyal colleague like Dan to remove me from the Parliament. That’s
the price I may have to pay for being what I am. But now the gloves are
off and, Dan, if I go down, you goes down.

That’s not a very
charitable attitude, I admit, but I place Dan in the same league as
former MPs Graham Richardson, Noel Crichton-Browne and Doug Shave:
ambitious to the point of being prepared to risk destroying a political
party’s chances of winning an election in order to protect their own
power base. Frankly, Dan, if the Liberal Party is going to go down at
the next election because of your actions, I’m going to do all in my
power to stop people like you from being left behind to take charge of
what’ remains after such an election loss. Good government is not
achieved by egotists and excessively ambitious people like you taking
over the leadership of major political parties.”

Turning to
Amanda Riley’s comments, the 2001 election saw the Liberal Party thrown
out of office, losing 5 sitting ministers, 2 former ministers and
another 8 MPs. The huge swing was right across the board, with just 3
exceptions, Dan’s seat of Mitchell being one of them. At the time, I
though his electioneering was commendable, even if he used election
material that failed to link him with the Liberal Party and some of his
actions were designed to attracted One Nation preferences. I have no
trouble admitting that Dan did well in what was a marginal seat, but
Amanda’s criticism of how I fared should be equally directed towards
another 30 or so sitting Liberals. As an aside, my margin at the end of
the day was 4%.

Can I also reassure Amanda that there is no
plot that I know of to unseat Dan as deputy, except for my own. I have
sought no support from any other Liberal MP in this quest. Instead, I
have made public comments on Dan’s disloyalty to me, to the Party and
to the Leader Colin Barnett.

Bernie Masters
Member for Vasse


THE LAST WORD ON LORD MASTERS OF VASSE

Amanda Riley writes:

As was expected the Lord of Vasse came out throwing loose and lazy
punches all over the place. None of them came even close to hitting its
mark and all but one of his claims were off the mark. The one he did
get right was regarding the lack of Left and Right factions within the
Liberal Party and that the groupings/alliances were based on
personalities.

I want to make it very clear that I don’t know Bernie Masters from a
bar of soap relying solely on his oft quoted remarks in the media and
his rare public appearances at State Council. However, can’t hold

this against him as he has plenty of friends amongst his parliamentary colleagues in this regard.

I will, however, let Crikey readers make up their own mind with a few
excerpts from Lord Masters of Vasse presentation which he sent to all
State Council delegates prior to the February 7th meeting.

This is what he has to say about others:

TROY BUSWELL

“I admit that my opponent looks presentable and speaks well. But it is
important for State Council to understand that Mr Buswell is a
flamboyant ‘show pony’. He has audaciously sold himself to the

certain people within the Vasse electorate as the great white hope for
the future of the party, without having his track record assessed
objectively and critically.

“As a Busselton Shire Councillor, Mr Buswell’s record is similar. First
elected as a shire councilor in the mid -1990’s he resigned mid term.
He was re-elected again in 2001 and won the vote for the presidency in
May 2003 when Beryl Moregan (my National Party opponent at the 1996 and
2001 elections) stood down after six years. In the eight months since,
his presidency has been characterized by impressive public promises,
including annual rate increases of 10 to 14%, but few achievements on
the ground.

“I have been inudated by constituents who have complaints against Mr
Buswell’s lack of commitment to assisting them or his refusal to have
their concerns investigated by council staff.

“I predict that, with Troy Buswell as the Liberal candidate at the next
election, we run a serious risk of handing the seat to the National
Party. This will be especially likely if Beryle Morgan agrees to be the
National candidate.

“The Liberal Party has much at risk by preselecting a candidate who is
an ‘on again – off again’ member of the Liberal Party.  By selecting
Troy Buswell, the party will be choosing a person who looks and sounds
good but who has not achieved for his local government constituency.

“In a short period of time, he has succeeded in reaching the senior
position within the Shire of Busselton but he has yet to deliver the
goods for the Shire’s residents and ratepayers.

“Converesely, by rejecting me as the endorsed Liberal candidate, the
party is putting the seat of Vasse at risk, is losing a person of
genuine ministerial ability and will most likely lose ministry
capability in the lead up to the next election.

“Troy Buswell has been rejected by his own branch who have instead urged that I be retained as the party’s candidate.

“The risks are too great, the unproven gains are too small, and the
potential losses are also too great if the pre-selection committee’s
recommendation is upheld.

“I urge you to reject the committee’s recommendation for the seat of Vasse…”

Bernie Masters

Member for Vasse

There you have it, words straight from the mouth of the Lord of Vasse.

Peter Fray

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