The Western Australian Liberal Party continues to break records. It has now had four leaders in three years and is about to have its fifth with two of those leaders individually breaking the record for the shortest period as a Liberal Parliamentary Leader.
The Party began this parliamentary term with Colin Barnett who led the party to defeat at the 2005 election. He was replaced by Matt Birney, who was beginning only his second parliamentary term as the member for Kalgoorlie. Birney was dumped after only 13 months in favour of Paul Omodei in spite of the fact that Birney’s approval ratings were still in the forties until a campaign of destabilisation began against him.
Omodei, a political dill, was a conspicuously insignificant and inconsequential former Court government Minister whose leadership was predictably a spectacular failure. Omodei is best remembered as having accidentally shot his son in the hand in a shooting incident on the family farm. Omodei apparently thought the safety mechanism was on when he aimed the rifle at his son.
Omodei won the leadership by just one vote; that vote coming from Buswell in spite of the fact that Buswell had been warned by others who had worked with Omodei in government including former Premier Richard Court that Omodei was a dud. Predictably Omodei lasted just under two years, having reached the dizzy approval rating heights of 37% while effortlessly driving up his disapproval levels to 41%.
Typical of those promoted beyond their station, Omodei became quite convinced that he was made for the job and was deeply and publicly bitter at his inevitable dumping.
Omodei was to be replaced by Troy Buswell who lasted just six months. Buswell became embroiled in two notorious incidents, the second of which with the assistance of Omodei supporters was to be fatal to his leadership and lead directly to his resignation. Both incidents were the result of adolescent and stupid misbehaviour, the first alcohol induced.
In the first incident Buswell snapped the bra strap of a staffer in parliament house. In the second incident he feigned sniffing the chair seat of a female staff member. Neither woman made a formal complaint however Omodei’s supporters ensured that both incidents were passed onto the media.
The response in the electorate to Buswell’s chair sniffing particularly amongst women voters was poisonous. Buswell was not helped by the appalling advice he received from those closest to him following the second incident which led him to first hide from the media upon its revelation and then to describe the media report as unsubstantiated rumour. Days later he was forced to admit to the incident by which time it had developed a life of entirely unnecessary proportions.
Buswell’s approval rating slumped to 14% and his disapproval rating rose to 52%.
Polling in recent weeks first by the Labor Party, followed by the ‘West Australian’ newspaper and then subsequently by the Liberal Party shows that the Liberal Party could not win government with Buswell however it could do so with former leader, Colin Barnett.
Had Buswell not cast his vote for Omodei, Omodei would never have been leader and would not consequently have harboured the bitterness and rage from his own sacking which poisoned Buswell’s leadership. Had time shown Birney not to be up to the job, Buswell would have naturally inherited the position without bitterness or rancour.
The political tragedy for the Western Australian Liberal Party is that it has lost a leader of high intellect, excellent debating skills and good presentation destroyed by school boy misbehaviour.