Noel Crichton-Browne is right on the money
with his comments on how the WA Liberals conduct themselves, but his righteous
indignation needs to be taken with a grain of salt. It is well known that Noel
is from an opposing faction to that which controls State Council and he has
suffered some embarrassing defeats in recent times.

Naturally he will be critical of his opponents’ tactics, such as the endorsement of Bruce
Stevenson in Victoria Park, and rightly so. It must be remembered, however, that
Noel’s opponents have, at times, accused Noel and his followers of some pretty
shrewd manoeuvring of their own. I stand to be corrected, and if wrong I
offer my unreserved and complete apology, but I believe Noel is no longer a
member of the Liberal Party. If true it seems that Noel has friends within the
Liberal Party that keep him apprised of events and meetings of State Council.

This writer has witnessed first hand how
the WA Liberals – and the Swan Division in particular – conduct themselves.
This applies to general business, preselections and appeals and the description
Noel gives of their disgraceful conduct is spot on but it isn’t limited to just
the one faction. Neither leading faction was above using the rules in ever more
creative ways to prevail over their opponents.

That said, I believe Noel is a bit hard
with his analysis of Stevenson’s chances in Victoria Park. Given the parlous
state of the Libs’ finances it is almost inconceivable they would contest the
by-election unless there was a real chance to win the seat or otherwise
inflict damage on new Premier Alan Carpenter. Indeed, the Libs might not be
quite as silly as first appears.

Noel is quite correct that with the ALP
winning with a margin at the last election of 32.08%, a swing of more than
16.04% is required to win the seat for the Libs. Although I condemn the process
that lead to his endorsement, I feel that Stevenson is probably one of the better
choices they could have made.

Stevenson stood for the seat against Gallop
in 1996 and lost by 15.68%. A swing of a further 7.84% would have been required
for the Libs to win the seat. Gallop was made leader of the Labor Party
just before the 2001 election and the margin increased in both the 2001 and
2005 elections due, in part, to curious candidate selection by the Libs. In
truth they were just going through the motions to push their upper house ticket
and who could blame them.

Gallop’s personal following (based on an
analysis of booths that serve both Victoria Park and neighbouring electorates
of Belmont and South Perth) is anything up to about 10% so, based purely on
those numbers, Stevenson might have a real chance depending on who the ALP puts
up against him.

Stevenson has a local profile due to his
long-standing business involvement in the area, is Deputy-Mayor of Victoria
Park and was (possibly still is) the President of the Victoria Park branch of
the Libs. Stevenson comes across better in person than the image he projected on last
night’s news programs, but that startled rabbit performance could be attributed
to the media attention.

He has already contested State and Local
Government elections, so he is familiar with the process – albeit this campaign
will be highly compressed. His local profile will be an advantage particularly
against a less well-known opponent that will not have the time to establish
themselves. Oddly, while professing a need for younger,
up and coming members, the Libs have again endorsed a fellow close to
retirement age (Stevenson is 59-years-old) just as they have
done in a neighbouring electorate. One has to ask questions about their tactics
and whether Stevenson would have time to learn the ropes and have an impact
before having to pull the pin.

On announcing his retirement in South Perth at the age of 57, Phillip Pendal cited his
age as a leading factor and expressed hope that the Libs would choose a younger
replacement – the candidate they eventually endorsed was 58, older than the
retiring Pendal. I read today that Federal member for Cowan, Graham Edwards
(ALP) is retiring at 59 citing age as a factor.

With the ALP set to announce their
candidate next week it could be an interesting contest. The latest favourite is,
apparently, 31-year-old lawyer Ben Wyatt and although he appears highly
qualified it was the first time I’d heard of him. The ALP would be
wise to find someone a little older with an already established public profile
to minimise any leakage to Stevenson.

If Stevenson were to win the seat that would
be a major coup for the Libs. If that isn’t possible then bringing the margin back
to something around the 15.68% Stevenson once achieved against Gallop would let
the Libs claim a victory of sorts and would open new Premier Alan Carpenter to
attack. Even If the ALP retains the seat with an
increased margin, the Libs can claim that Carpenter is in his honeymoon period
and the circumstances of Gallop’s departure are responsible for the swing. The
Libs can’t lose whatever happens so they would be stupid not to run a
candidate.

Peter Fray

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