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Western Australia

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.

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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2 thoughts on “Colin Barnett can’t even buy a headline on the east coast

  1. arterial

    Interesting article but it requires a bit more balance and more research. The writer should be aware that Barnett has received plenty of attention from the eastern states over the past several years on issues as varied as GST, healthcare, education, detention centres and asylum seekers (there was an infamous incident where a boat caught fire and Barnett was the only one telling the truth about what had happened while the Federal Ministers were trying to cover it up). There has been both positive and negative publicity for WA along the way but the reality is that WA does not hold as much interest for Eastern States’readers (the majority audience for papers like The Australian) due to proximity – or lack of. If the writer bemoans the fact that relatively minor issues like the construction of a new office at $26 million (which will save taxpayers money in several years due to not having to pay huge CBD rents), they should also bemoan the fact that WA does not get national attention for leading the way on health and education with things like the four hour rule and independent public schools. Lastly, the premise of the piece is flawed and,perhaps,shows the political inexperience of the writer. By stating, “But if it’s national publicity or federal recognition that he’s after…” and “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,” the writer shows that mentoring by senior journalists in the whys and wherefores of politics is imperative when training up the younger generation. The reality is that there is no real need or desire for a WA Premier to grab the attention of the national media when people in New South Wales, Victoria and the other States and territories do not vote in the Western Australian elections. You simply do not waste limited resources on seeking coverage and attention from people who you don’t need to vote for you. As long as you have a strong presence in your own State’s media, that’s all you really need. Through that you can sell your messages on health, education and law and order. You can have a go at bashing the Federal Government, its policies or what you think of the Treasurer. The local media is the media which is reaching the voters who matter. On occassion you may try to use the national media to lobby for a political cause, but it is secondary and has different motivation behind it than thinking “all publicity is good publicity”.