Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Power Minister’s powerbroking powers broken

“Thank you for your application. Although it was of a very high standard, the Board has decided to extend the deadline and re-advertise to fill the position. To be clear, you are still being considered and are highly competitive - you may be contacted for an interview after applications close.”
Yeah right! If you wanted me for the job, why would you waste time and money re-advertising?

If, like me, you’ve ever received one of these pseudo-rejection letters as a job hunter, you’ve probably got some empathy for those Liberal Party members who nominated for the highly coveted State seat of Churchlands.

You see, on Saturday the WA Liberal Party’s State Council confirmed more candidates to run for various seats at the March 2013 election. However, despite a number of long-term Liberals having already put up their hand for Churchlands, where Independent Liz Constable will retire after 22 years, the Council decided to delay the decision and re-open nominations.

There’s all sorts of spin they can put on a move like this: we want to make the process as competitive as possible and therefore need more time to get (even more) candidates; since there is an incumbent government Minister in that seat it’s not that important to select the candidate early; given one of the candidates is a Ministerial Chief of Staff, we want to delay it as long as possible so he can stay in that position without a perceived conflict of interest…

Whatever the official line, it has to be said that it looks a lot like none of these candidates, who followed due process and nominated within the allowed time, ticked all the boxes required by someone above. It really is hard to argue that the decision to re-open nominations amounts to nothing more than a rejection of those loyal nominees in favour of a preferred latecomer.

And it’s no secret that latecomer is the Premier’s choice - long time critic and recent member of the Liberal Party, Chairman of Tourism WA and promoter of Bali, Sydney and France as holiday destinations, bolshy local restaurateur Kate Lamont. Whether or not this qualifies Ms Lamont to occupy a safe Liberal seat in Parliament is a matter for the State Council in a couple of week’s time, but the way this has happened raises a couple of broader issues worthy of comment from the QBF.
The first is the wisdom of the Premier being tied to the process anomaly.

If it is true that Ms Lamont is being parachuted in by the Premier, it’s probably for two very worthy reasons:

  1. Ms Lamont is a woman and the Liberal Party is very thin on the ground for women in the Lower House; and
  2. Ms Lamont will have the blessing of the outgoing, strong-willed friend of the Premier, Minister Liz Constable.
The gender issue is a no-brainer. The Liberal Party needs to do whatever it can to improve its female voter-base and that’s nearly impossible with so many crusty old men (and bra-snapping younger ones) on the front line.

The second point hasn’t been raised in the public sphere, but Minister Constable’s endorsement of the candidate is absolutely essential to a Liberal victory. If the very highly regarded current local Member Liz Constable (Minister Constable got a whopping 67.30% of the primary vote in 2008) didn’t like the Liberal candidate and decided to throw her support behind another, presumably independent candidate, the seat could very easily remain in the hands of an unaligned Member – and perhaps one that is not as Liberal-friendly as Liz Constable.

Liz Constable is a solid friend of the Premier, so presumably if Kate Lamont is being dropped in with the Premier’s support, she also has the blessing of the current Member.

But the loudest message sent by the State Council on Saturday is that Peter Collier is not the “powerbroker” he is often alleged to be.

Despite Mr Collier’s relentless behind-the-scenes cajoling and conspiring to “control the numbers” required to determine the outcome of pre-selections in all of the western suburbs electorates, what is obvious from this is that he simply doesn’t have the courage to go head-to-head with the Premier.

Mr Collier has his own preferred candidate for Churchlands - and it’s not Kate Lamont. Mr Collier’s choice is a fine young man who is a long-term supporter of the Party, very active and loyal to a fault. He followed due process in nominating for Churchlands within the prescribed time and hasn’t particularly upset any powerful figures within the Party nor has he been involved in any major external controversy. Other than not being a woman, on paper he looks like the perfect Liberal candidate for Churchlands.

And yet on Saturday, the Party snubbed Mr Collier’s preferred candidate to facilitate the late nomination of Mr Barnett’s – even though in theory Mr Collier controls the numbers to stitch-up Churchlands and even overturn Mr Barnett’s pre-selection for Cottesloe.

This, on top of Mr Barnett’s very public humiliation of Peter Collier in 2008 when he inexplicably took the Education portfolio away from him, would make any fan of the Godfather or West Wing think the puppet master would initiate a swift and bloody retaliation.

However, those who know the man behind the “powerbroker” tag also know that payback will consist of little more than a bunch of bitchy text messages to and from his troupe of fine young supporters and if things get really heated, possibly a new nickname for the Premier.

How deeply disappointing that courage isn't a prerequisite for candidacy.

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