The WA Liberal Party is in big trouble despite the fact it’s facing the
worst government in Australia and Wendy West places the blame squarely
on their leader, Colin Barnett.
The ‘West Australian’ newspaper recently published a long editorial
calling on the State parliamentary Liberal Party to get behind their
leader Colin Barnett and to give him their unreserved loyalty.
The problem for the Liberal Party is that it has a State Leader who
does not give leadership loyalty, is incapable of earning it and he
does not deserve it.
It is a measure of Barnett’s intrinsic commitment to the Liberal Party
that he believes it is to his credit that he did not join the Party
until he found a blue ribbon seat to contest.
As Richard Court’s Deputy for the duration of his Premiership, Court
was never under any allusion about Barnett’s loyalty. This in some
measure was the cause of Court’s attempt to draft Julie Bishop to
replace him as State Leader following the last election.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
Labor members of parliament will happily attest to their conversations
with Barnett about his own party and then Premier, Richard Court.
The fact that the majority of Barnett’s colleagues did not want him as
leader when Court stood down and to this day do not want him, is in
very large measure due to his personal behaviour. That he is leader
says everything about the total absence of talent in the Legislative
Assembly and nothing of Colin Barnett’s suitability for the task.
Barnett’s own perceived interests often unhappily do not coincide with those of the Liberal Party.
At the last election the Coalition lost control of the Legislative
Council for the first time in 109 years. However one defeated Liberal
Upper House member, Greg Smith had very good reason to believe that in
his seat, the Electoral Commissioner was in error in the complicated
formula he applied in the allocation of part quotas. Smith believed
that with a correct interpretation of the Act, he had retained his seat.
With Smith’s loss, the Coalition was one vote short of a majority in
the Upper House. Without the numbers in either House, any opposition
party becomes entirely irrelevant not only to the voters but also to
sectional interest groups. The latter is critical to Party funding.
Smith obtained legal advice from Constitutional law expert, Professor
Colin Howard QC, and an eminent Western Australian Queens Council.
Both silks advised that the Liberal candidate had a reasonable case.
That however was never to be tested before the Court of Disputed
Returns. Smith had one draw back. He had never been a supporter of
In spite of the fact that the Liberal Members’ fund had ample money to fund the appeal, the case never saw the light of day.
The Liberal Party subsequently spent a small fortune fighting Labor’s
one vote one value legislation in the Western Australian Supreme Court
and the High Court.
In spite of the fact that Barnett was Deputy Leader and Minister
responsible for developing policy at the last election which saw the
worst election result in State Liberal Party history, he has said
publicly that he does not want any of his defeated former colleagues
As is the way with Barnett, the subtext was that he was only referring
to those who might oppose him in any future leadership contests. Former
Industrial Relations Minister, Graham Kierath has been singled out for
special treatment in spite of the fact that he is widely regarded
within the private sector as having overseen industrial legislation
crucial to the WA State economy.
In the midst of recent Coalition negotiations between Barnett and his
National Party counter part Max Trenordan, in a startling interference
in Liberal Party pre-selections the National Party leader announced
that he did not want Kierath in the Coalition and he would be having
some say about what portfolio Kierath was given.
Unsurprisingly for a National Party member, Trenordan was furious with
Kierath who wearing his Planning Minister’s hat in the Court government
had approved of a drug rehabilitation centre in Trenordan’s electorate.
There seems little doubt Trenordan would not have attacked Kierath
without first signaling his intention to Barnett.
Barnett remained approvingly silent during this National Party bucket job on one of the Liberal Party candidates.
Things were quite different in a recent pre-selection for another of
his former defeated colleagues. Kim Haimes, the former member for a
metropolitan seat, stood with Barnett’s support for pre-selection for a
country seat an hour’s drive south of Perth.
Haimes, a strong supporter of Barnett is widely regarded as one of the
very worst of Court’s Ministers. Prior to his press conference to
inform the electorate he wanted no part of former parliamentarians on
his team, Barnett rang Haimes to warn him of his intention and to
assure him that his comments did not include Haimes.
The fact that Haimes was deserting his old seat, standing for a country
seat with which he has no connection or affiliation and that he has no
intention of moving with his family into the electorate does not
apparently concern Barnett. A vote in the Party room is a vote in the
Better it seems to have a mate risk a safe seat than guarantee it with someone else.
State Upper House pre-selections are now commencing and Barnett has
made it clear that he wants and expects one of his present colleagues
to be dumped in favour of a candidate who he believes supports him.
His candidate, Peter Collier ran unsuccessfully for the Upper House at
the last election. Collier is best known in Western Australia for his
notoriety in attempting to stack Branches by presenting the Party with
membership forms from people who had not been asked to join the Party,
had not agreed to join the Party, had not signed the membership forms
and who had not paid a membership fee. Having at first declined to own
up to his conduct, Collier later confessed and still retains the
enthusiastic support of Barnett.
Just days after the “West Australian” editorial calling for all good
men and women to rally around, Barnett was complicit in an attempt to
have his Deputy, Dan Sullivan dumped at the next Party room meeting. A
spill motion was moved by a Barnett supporter against Sullivan.
Barnett attempted to put the motion by secret ballot without debate.
When this failed he chaired the meeting in silence while the debate
raged. When more than half the members had spoken against the motion,
the mover withdrew his motion.
Not surprisingly, the aborted Party room coup was not leaked by
Barnett’s office to the media who had been for weeks pestered with
fictitious claims that Sullivan planned to challenge Barnett.
With breath-taking audacity, Barnett is now claiming credit for assisting Sullivan with his re-endorsement.
With less than 12 months to the next election and confronted with the
worst State Government in 3 decades, Barnett and the Liberal Party are
both hopelessly behind in the marginal seats.
The insurmountable hurdle for the Liberal Party is the perspicacity and
discernment of the public. Barring a Labor disaster, Barnett will lead
his Party to electoral defeat at the hands of the worst Government in