Vince Catania’s got them all stirred up out west. The ALP North-West MP’s defection to the National Party has stirred up a circus, complete with a traditional circular firing squad.
Like most thing in politics, the events and atmosphere leading up to Catania’s about face are all about ego, with a healthy dash of institutional culture thrown in. And the culture of the WA ALP is a battered and broken one.
For years, the WA ALP has rewarded incompetence, so long as it comes wrapped in either State Executive votes or the loyalty of the craven, arse-licking variety. There is more than a hint of a Fuhrerprinzip pervading the party, which prevents advice from reaching a leadership in dire need of it.
It’s unsurprising, though, when considered from an historical perspective.
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Labor won office in Western Australia at 2001 election through the agency of One Nation’s rather spiteful ‘scorched earth’ preference allocation policy. The inconvenient truth is that Geoff Gallop owed his Premiership not to his advisors but to Pauline Hanson and David Oldfield.
Subsequently, the ALP’s performance at the ’05 poll fell far short of comparable sophomore results in every other state in the nation. Yet from one lucky result and one sub-par one, the Party generally and the Premier’s Office specifically, bought into the notion they were political savants.
Complaints were heard as far back as 2007 that the Premier’s Office was ignoring or sidelining back-benchers, staffers and anyone else not on Chief of Staff Rita Saffioti’s (very short) Christmas card list. The privileged inner circle contained, regrettably, the people who then lost the 2008 State Election to the Liberals, lost the Fremantle by-election to the Greens and are now losing marginal seat MPs to the Nationals.
WA Labor has to admit some hard facts to itself, and recognise that arrogance is no substitute for talent when it comes to decision-makers and the Party elite.
It also needs to stop entertaining the notion that internal criticism is evil and must be punished through excommunication. It’s exactly that thinking that led the Premier’s Office to blow the ’08 campaign, and it is still doing incalculable damage.
To borrow a Lathamism, the party has been reduced to a conga line of suckholes … and while Catania’s been a rat, he has a point about the party’s capacity to hear and act on dissenting voices from within its own ranks.