Thursday, May 10, 2012

Too little too late - revolt is nigh

Great insight in Gareth Parker’s Inside State column in today’s West Australian newspaper – as he wrote, there is no shortage of government backbenchers who would like the chance to step up into a Ministry before the next election. Among those backbenchers, there’s a lot of dissatisfaction with the performance of some Ministers and the last thing the Premier can afford right now is a revolt within his own Party Room.

But other than the 'hard' news in the talented Mr Parker’s article, there was this wonderful little jewel:
“Asked about the possibility of a rejig of his ministry before the next election, Mr Barnett told Inside State flatly: ‘There is no planned Cabinet reshuffle.’ ”
Pretty stock standard response from a Premier – nothing in that… unless you contrast this statement against this bold statement by Sunday Times political editor in last weekend’s edition:
“Colin Barnett will have another cabinet reshuffle this year, possibly as early as July. Sources within the Liberal Party say…”
Hmm…. QBF readers might need just a bit of background here.

At around the same time as the Premier hired Dixie Marshal to fill the position of his director of all things media, the Sunday Times started getting LOTS of favours – almost all of the exclusive good news stories and the occasional whisper of a scoop. Simultaneously, the Premier started abusing the rest of WA’s media pack, including the West who were (rightfully so) relentless in trying to get to the bottom of a number of big issues – including the content of Ms Marshall’s email inbox and whether or not she or the Premier’s Chief of Staff had anything to do with Google Earth-gate that saw a media adviser sacrificed.

Having been on the other side of this, I know one of the crude ways governments try to manage their image is to feed the journalists who write the nicest stories about you, ie not necessarily the media outlets that dig deeply to get to the whole truth.

Back to the leak to Joe Spagnolo. Let me make an assertion - “Sources” in this case actually means the Premier’s office. Given the emphatic statement supplied to the West today, it had to be “off the record” because otherwise the Premier would have been accused of a conflicting message.

So why would the Premier’s office tell the Sunday Times off the record that there will be another reshuffle soon?

Easy! The Premier is a smart and politically astute man. He knows that when elections get close, ambitions get put aside for the sake of electoral victory. He also knows that there is so much unrest in the Party Room right now, it could explode at any time.

So in move that many teachers would have used to control a classroom full of screaming kids, he has sent the subtle message that if they all sit down and shut up for a while, the good ones might be rewarded and the bad ones might be punished. In Parliamentary terms, for the backbenchers who are agitating for a Ministry, play nice and you might get one – and for the Ministers who can feel the knives being sharpened behind you, keep your eye and the ball and you won’t lose your Ministerial salary.

Members are losing faith in the Premier, not because he is incompetent, but because he has left so many vital decisions to the last minute.

I like Minister Constable, but how on earth is she going to answer legitimate questions about the direction a future Liberal government might take in education in the lead up to next March?

Rob Johnson isn’t the only Minister backbenchers believe the Premier has favoured for too long.

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