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WA

Oct 12, 2012

Colin Barnett can't even buy a headline on the east coast

Lashing out at the federal parliament, WA Premier Colin Barnett still can't generate a national headline, writes journalism student Sally-Anne Curtain.

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Some say “all publicity is good publicity”, but if that was the motivation behind Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett’s comments on the federal government this week I don’t think it’s quite worked in his favour.

As a Western Australian myself, travelling over to the east coast for my Crikey internship made me very aware of how little publicity WA and indeed local politics receives in the national media. But despite the geographical distance, it’s surprising Barnett’s actions don’t cop as much criticism in the federal light as those of his interstate Liberal counterparts (Campbell Newman, Barry O’Farrell and Ted Baillieu).

While the Queensland Health job cuts, NSW school funding cuts and slashing TAFE funding in Victoria have all sparked federal debate over the validity of the governments imposing them, Barnett’s plans to cut $31 million from the WA Police, spend $26 million upgrading his office, allow the Homeswest public housing waiting list to continue to rise (currently there are over 23,000 cases on the list) as well as the continual hike in utility prices in WA (electricity prices have risen 56% since 2008) seem to have all managed to avoid federal attention.

The only recent exception came this week, when federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott stood up in question time on Wednesday wielding the electricity bill of a Perth pensioner, attributing the apparent $800 increase (in one bill) to the Gillard government’s carbon tax. Gillard argued the rise in electricity prices in WA was largely due to state government actions, which Barnett had allegedly acknowledged himself ­and accused Abbott yet again of misleading voters about the carbon tax.

The truth of that matter, ­in WA at least,­ is that the carbon tax is not wholly responsible for the rise in electricity costs. In fact, WA’s state-owned electricity retailer Synergy actually posted a net profit of $85.4 million (up more than $9 million on last year) in spite of the $73 million of unpaid electricity bills owed by WA householders in the past financial year. And to top it all off, the combined total salaries of executives and board members showed an 8.8% increase (up to $2.724 million).

Despite these exorbitant price hikes, the Barnett government has been able to swiftly avoid the federal naming and shaming that other Liberal premiers have copped over the past few months. What’s really intriguing here is just how easy it is for Barnett (and WA) to slip under the radar.

Even Barnett’s direct attempts at attracting federal attention this week seem to have amounted to nothing. On Tuesday morning he lashed out at federal Treasurer Wayne Swan on 96FM radio following Swan’s threats to cut GST revenue allocation to states if they continue to increase mining royalties. “I think he’s a very nasty politician,” Barnett said. “I find it difficult to like Wayne Swan.”

His attacks on the federal government continued throughout the week, as he provided his own commentary on the Slipper saga that took place over the past few days. But in this instance, his comments were directed at both sides of Parliament, labelling them as “a national embarrassment”. “This country faces all sorts of issues — economic, health, education — and the scenes from Canberra over recent weeks in particular has just been one of vitriol and personal attack across the chamber,” he said.

As ironic as his comments may have been, they went seemingly unnoticed on the national radar once again. But if it’s national publicity or federal recognition that he’s after, then the old phrase “careful what you wish for” comes to mind, particularly after what his interstate Liberal premier counterparts have endured.

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