I observed in my original article on the Western Australian election that it was the Leader of the Opposition, Colin Barnett’s to lose. It is now true to say that if Labor lose, they can in many respects thank themselves.

Premier Alan Carpenter is not liked, however apparently no one has bothered to tell the Labor Party who have run a presidential style campaign based entirely upon Carpenter. He has been the centre piece of both Labor’s bought and earned campaign material. He has thus been a permanent reminder throughout the campaign of what people do not like about the Labor Party.

Not only is Carpenter not liked, he has shown himself to be a poor communicator. He is both inarticulate and abrasive. Whether he is cerebral is not clear however he has a dismal record in the portfolios he has held.

Carpenter’s incoherent babble during the leaders’ debate in answer to the question which he must have anticipated as to why the voters should re-elect his government gives some idea of his powers of persuasion:

This is a very important time in our State’s development. It is an exciting time. We have to invest in our future in our physical infrastructure, more importantly our people, our people are our most precious resource and we have to invest in the knowledge and skills of our people and also I think we have to invest in the spirit of our people. There is a great spirit in WA. WA are proud and they should be so on September 6 there is a clear choice – the government whose doing the hard work to position us for the future and the liberals haven’t done the work – they are not ready.

By Western Australian standards this election has been called extraordinarily early and without any justifiable cause. Normally such matters do not impinge upon voters minds once the election is underway however it seems that calling the earliest election in 103 years, the first two weeks during the Olympics, has caused lingering deep cynicism and resentment.

After seven and a half years of enormous economic growth which has poured billions of dollars of additional revenue into its coffers, Labor has been unable to articulate a compelling case for its re-election. It has in many respects been a can’t do government in which decision making has been drowned by a bloated bureaucracy that has consumed most of the budget surpluses.

The $15 billion INPEX gas project which is now to go to Darwin through government failure is symptomatic of the paralysis. The resource boom is born of old mines with new resource prices.

The principal issues have as I forecast been health, education, law and order and taxes and charges. The latter have grown significantly during the term of this government in spite of the enormous revenue growth.

Carpenter has made a fatal mistake in not offering the voters a social dividend. In spite of the vast wealth that has been generated in Western Australia over the past decade, the State does contain parallel economies; those who have directly benefited and those who have born the weight of demand driven prices.

Those who know only of the boom from higher prices and the ostentatious wealth around them, feel alienated and neglected by a government which trumpets its responsibility for the fortune being dug from the ground by mining companies. One might have expected the government to appeal to these people by including them in this wealth in the form of a social dividend by a dramatic and visible tax cut or payment. It was not to be so.

Carpenter has made much of his government’s infrastructure developments that have been built debt free, few as they may be. Knowing that the recently opened rail line running one hundred kilometres from Perth to the southern population centre of Mandurah is debt free simply does not meet the criteria of personal wealth participation.

Remarkably, Carpenter has squandered the entire last week of the campaign on his no uranium mining and no genetically modified food crops policies to the exclusion of all others. Clearly this tactic has been directed towards the Green vote however it appears Carpenter has been seduced into the discredited tactic first introduced by Graham Richardson in the 1984 federal election. In my view it is an entirely misguided tactic which does little more than perhaps move a small parcel of second preference votes up to primary votes.

Having scrutinised countless votes and seats, I hold unswervingly to the view that irrespective of where the Greens direct their preferences, they will overwhelmingly flow to Labor ahead of the Liberal Party. Carpenter has wasted, money, resources and more particularly critical time required to draw a wandering electorate back to labor.

The fact that Carpenter voted at the federal Labor conference to abolish Labor’s three uranium mine policy seems to have escaped the debate.

Labor has in the second part of the campaign overwhelmingly run negative advertisements, principally about the state of the Liberal Party. In my view they have not been successful but have obscured whatever record Labor may have to warrant a further term.

The Liberal Party has by and large kept to the central issues although the production of its advertising has been of a particularly unsatisfactory quality. Barnett has resisted whatever temptations may have gnawed at his instincts to make grand announcements.

He has avoided controversy and kept very much on “message” although he and the party have been unable to resist attempting to insinuate Brian Burke into the campaign. It may warm the authors’ cockles but it does not ignite voter intentions while wasting resources and obscuring the principal issues.

The liberal Party shares Labor’s failing in not offering a social dividend however this is made of Barnett’s caution and a crucial mistake in costings he made on the eve of the last election. If the Liberal Party falls agonisingly short on Saturday night it should look to this failing as its cause.

Although wooden and uncomfortable with the media, Barnett is viewed by the community as an experienced parliamentarian with a safe pair of hands. He is to his distinct advantage, viewed as a clear contrast to his predecessor, Troy Buswell. He is not viewed as part of the failings and machinations that have in the past three years convulsed the Liberal Party leadership.

As with others, I can do little more than speculate about the outcome of the election however I shall not be surprised in the slightest if there is a substantial swing to the Liberal Party which wins it office.

Peter Fray

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