What, you might well ask went wrong for Labor in Western Australia. With a notional majority of seventeen seats following a redistribution wrought of the introduction of one vote one value legislation, a rabble for an Opposition and it seemed just a matter of going through the motions of an election to set Labor on the path to another four year term.

The result was the product of an arrogant and unpopular leader, a largely incompetent ministry and a sense amongst many Western Australians that they had been denied their share of the mineral wealth of the State.

The calling of an early election and the appalling execution of the campaign all added to the inevitable slide into defeat which became a rout.

Carpenter’s arrogance was not limited to his dealings with the public; he treated his Cabinet colleagues like dirt and dismissively brushed aside the Labor machine in imposing his own friends and acquaintances into what he saw as safe Labor seats.

Carpenter placed Karen Brown, former acting Editor of the West Australian and Perth bureau chief of the Australian into the apparently safe metropolitan seat of Mt Lawley which required a swing of 5.8 percent to fall to the Liberal Party. The swing was almost nine percent and Brown was swept away.

Carpenter insinuated Reece Whitby, a former political journalist with Channel Seven into the equally apparently safe seat of Morley only to see him also defeated by the preferences of the sitting former Labor member, John D’Orazio whom Carpenter had hounded out of the Labor Party because of an adverse mention made of him by the Corruption and Crime Commission; a finding later overturned and he exonerated by the parliamentary Inspector, Malcolm McCusker QC.

Prior to the redistribution, Mt Lawley had been largely represented by sitting former Labor member, Bob Kucera, a former Deputy Commissioner of Police, recruited just two elections ago as a big new find. Carpenter deemed him too old and tossed him aside for his Channel Seven mate. Kucera resigned from the Labor Party and finished his term as an Independent. He did not contest this election.

Brown and Whitby had no connection or association with the electorates into which they were parachuted. Three other candidates similarly imposed upon the Labor Party and the electorate by Carpenter were also defeated.

There is a meanness and unpleasantness about Carpenter which increasingly became apparent to the electorate. Carpenter comes from particularly humble beginnings and he carries his resentment in the same bitter manner in which Latham carried his anger at having been a product of Green Valley. Both men portray their former circumstances as a badge of pride while barely disguising their anger and resentment.

Carpenter’s dissatisfaction increased from twenty six percent in July/Sept 07 to forty eight percent on 2/4 Sept 08. Because Carpenter’s satisfactory levels had held up reasonably well against the two former Liberal leaders, Labor imagined that the ratings were indicative of his underlying popularity. Completely misreading public sentiment, Labor ran a presidential campaign which did little more than feed community resentment.

Carpenter’s decision to call an election many months early was a critical mistake which invited suspicion and resentment. Having called the earliest election in Western Australia 103 years, Carpenter was utterly at a loss in justifying or defending the decision. His absurd plea was that there were people in the parliament he thought should not be there that he wanted to get rid of.

The Labor Ministry was universally seen as incompetent and as having squandered the State’s wealth. The health system is in crisis with critical bed shortages, extraordinary bed and emergency waiting times with ambulance ramping (ambulances queuing) at hospitals for want of a bed, a daily occurrence.

Education and law and order are both widely viewed a being in chaos. Rather than having come down through windfall royalties and company receipts, taxes and charges for ordinary voters have gone up.

Labor advertising was appalling with no coherent pattern or narrative. Labor was entirely unable to defend its record or to justify a further term.

As matters now rest, the Liberal Party will form a minority government with the support of the National Party. How that will unfold is not entirely clear because the Nations have spurned coalition and have no wish to form part of government. The Party intends to sit on the cross benches, and not to put a too fine point on it, blackmail the government.

The National leader, Brendan Grylls has already made clear that he is prepared to “horse trade” with either major party and if Labor offers a better deal he does not rule out allowing Labor to form government.

Given that Labor is responsible for transferring six seats from the country to the city under its one vote one value legislation and that almost the entirety of its vote is conservative, such a proposition appears absurd. However the new National Party in Western Australia is a strange beast and it would be thoroughly unrewarding were the Liberal Party to either conduct megaphone diplomacy or dismiss its threats lightly.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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