Will the new Western Australian Liberal Leader Matt Birney’s career be over before it has begun?

The Libs in the west have long opposed the Chartist nonsense of one vote-one value, favouring instead of a massive electoral malapportionment that benefits country voters. Now, however, with electoral reform legislation set to pass through parliament, Birney could be doomed.

Under the deal between the Gallop Government and the Greens, regional WA will lose six seats and the metropolitan area will gain eight. Birney’s seat of Kalgoorlie will become part of Eyre, which is held by Labor’s John Bowler. That would be awkward – particularly given the embarrassing circumstances of the party’s defeat in the state election just two months ago.

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Birney’s political judgment is already under question. Virtually everyone who follows politics in the west agrees that the Liberals ran a disastrous campaign – that canal, those sums that didn’t add up.

Options for change were limited in its wake, but at least Birney represented generational change. He went OK in first forays out as leader, making all the right noises about inclusiveness and unity – but the gloss started to come off a little when Birney was caught out fibbing on morning radio about meeting party eminence grise Noel Crichton-Brown.

Fortunately, Western Australia’s ailing prison system came to Birney’s rescue, and a feverish series of laura norder statements drowned out critics.

Just last week he had his big moment, a speech to the local fundraisers of 500 Club. One guest summed that up as “leadership lite”. That view was shared by other Liberal backers who came to the lunch wanting to believe the party will be competitive again but left very confused as to the way forward.

The real talk of the town, however – or at least those who spent too much time around Parliament House – is Birney’s judgment in taking an overseas trip with Premier Geoff Gallop to Greece for Anzac Day. Birney was overseas when Labor and the Greens dealt with Liberal-turned-independent Alan Cadby to get the one vote one value legislation through the upper house. As we’ve seen, the current proposals could end Birney’s career and increase Labor’s majority. Something an opposition leader should be there to keep an eye on – even if former leader Colin Barnett’s likely departure from Cottesloe gives him the chance to slip into a more secure seat.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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