It hasn’t been a good year for Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett. A year that started with sacking his Treasurer Troy Buswell after being caught with his pants down, has ended with the Premier reinstating the “Member for Crass” this week. And not a lot in between.

Well not a lot of good, anyway.

Police minister Rob Johnson had his “Stop & Search” legislation thrown out of the Upper House after even the National Party decided it couldn’t go along with such a bad Bill. Workforce development minister Peter Collier guaranteed 600 coal miners their entitlements, six times, until the c-ck of reality crowed and he had to publicly, humiliatingly admit there was no guarantee at all. Minister for community services Robyn McSweeny vowed to cease paying for pauper funerals — “Dead people have no future” she said, and it could be argued she was right — until it was asked what exactly the government planned to do with dead people if it did not bury them. Every household in WA got a utilities bill with a 30% price rise, which apparently surprised the Premier even though he’d signed off on it.

And finally the unfortunate Buswell’s girlfriend Adele Carles MP (Independent, ex-Green) last month volunteered that the Premier tried to buy her vote in the House, by way of an extra staffer or two. Not a good year at all.

The fact that we’re back to Troy Buswell says a lot about the talent in the Liberal Party now. Chair-sniffing, bra-snapping, extra-marital flings with Greens, admitting rorts, denying rorts … Opposition leader Eric Ripper got it right when he called Buswell a “massive risk”. There’s no doubt Colin Barnett must be having a few nervous second thoughts about his return; after all, how many times has his recalled minister sworn to behave himself only to let the side down? When you stand next to Buswell and you hear something ticking, be assured it is not his watch.

The question is why is the Premier taking the risk of bringing out this boozing, bellowing boor again. And the answer is, because he doesn’t really have a choice.

When your ministry includes a police minster who opposes the presumption of innocence, regards acquittals in general as “disgraceful”  and runs into car parks to escape journalists, you’re off to a bad start. When it includes a minister for commerce who can’t explain his own shopping hours legislation — perhaps because you’ve appointed a engineer to an economic portfolio — you’re not getting any better. When it includes an Attorney-General bent on prohibited behaviour orders, websites that publish names, addresses and offences of teenagers and the abolition of the right to silence, what is there left to do but give him Treasury as well?

On the backbench, Mike Nahan does a very good impersonation of John Hewson with an American accent, minus the charm. Andrea Mitchell does a good impersonation of a corpse. (Who’s she, you ask? Exactly the point). Peter Abetz is, well, Peter Abetz; given his only public comments since being elected proudly emphasised the Nazi parallels of his party’s legislation, it might be best for all of us that he not grace the ministry.

This week’s re-shuffle wasn’t about new blood. It was “Return of the Living Dead”.

There’s an opportunity for Labor in all this. With 2011 promising another 30% utility rise for magnates, mums and dads alike, an inexperienced Treasurer, a largely clueless cabinet and a minister for housing — Buswell — who everyone’s holding their breath about, the Opposition should be licking its lips come the new year and the return of the Liberal soap opera.

And so we’re back to the Member for Crass… it could have been worse. After all, Barnett could have made him minister for government affairs.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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