Former deputy Liberal leader, Dan Sullivan, has resigned from shadow
cabinet. Another senior Liberal, Rob Johnston, has warned his leader that
he may be breaching the Criminal Code by threatening to have dissenting
MPs disendorsed prior to the next election. No wonder Upper House MP
Robyn McSweeney told the media that the party’s current problems were
all due to too much testosterone! No wonder that the Labor caucus
meeting broke out into song when they were told on Tuesday morning that
Sullivan had resigned. A Labor win in 2009 now seems assured.

Of course, it’s not quite as simple as it seems. Publicly, Sullivan
says he has resigned from shadow cabinet to be free to speak against
his party’s support of the Labor government’s proposal for taxpayer
funding of political parties. However, the next election will be fought
on new electoral boundaries which, in south-west WA, will see all seats
increase in size due to the introduction of one vote, one value laws.
Sullivan’s current seat of Leschenault will disappear and he is likely
to contest a new seat against sitting Labor MP Mick Murray. Now, Murray
is a former coal mine mechanic, rough around the edges and seen as a
maverick willing to speak his mind even if it’s contrary to Labor
policy. Almost certainly, Murray has the blessing of the Labor Party to
“stick up for his electorate” in this way so as to raise his public
profile and help retain the expanded seat he’ll be contesting at the
next election.

On the other hand, Sullivan has been keeping a low public profile until
now. He’s a very good campaigner: for example, he pretended to be a
supporter of One Nation at the 2001 election when the Richard Court
government lost to the Geoff Gallop Labor opposition. Sullivan was one
of only two sitting Liberal MPs to increase their primary vote at an
election when the swing to Labor was about 8%.

Having sat next to Sullivan in Parliament for a couple of years, what’s
obvious is that he always looks out for number one. Sullivan’s primary
goal is to retain his seat, with Liberal interests coming a long way
second. His resignation from shadow cabinet isn’t an attack on current
leader Paul Omodei nor is it a matter of principle for Sullivan
to be opposing bad legislation. He is simply strengthening his public
profile to help him win his seat at the next election.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey