Thursday, June 28, 2012

Minister Collier has to go

Yesterday’s post explained why the Premier’s imminent pre-election reshuffle should include a replacement for Minister Liz Constable, but she’s not the only current Minister he should jettison forthwith.

Today, I’ll explain some of the reasons why the Premier should take the opportunity to also drop Minister Collier who is, as you will see below, a much greater liability to the Government than the Minister for Education.

Firstly, let’s clear the air about something. My last job in the Barnett Government was as Minister Collier’s Chief of Staff and despite what he said to Paul Murray during this interview our relationship did not end amicably. In fact, the termination of my contract was a total surprise to me – delivered via SMS by the Premier’s Chief of Staff while I was in New York on annual leave with my pregnant wife. I have had one conversation with the Minister since then, which I initiated, at 1am from my hotel room. During that 30 second call, I asked what I had done wrong and his response was, “It’s not like that, we are just very different people”.

While thankfully we are indeed very different people, I had spent the vast majority of my time in Minister Collier’s office working to arrest the high level of staff turnover and build efficiency through improved morale – and had quite some success. But to a genuine narcissist, efficient teams and stable human resources are of little value.

Some will attempt to paint that as nothing more than a vengeful spit from a disgruntled former employee – so be it. Regardless of how my detractors go about trying to play it down, there are many other examples of the Minister’s total disregard for others - and that is why he has to go. A Minister’s stock-in-trade is the strength of relationships he or she holds. They need people to trust them enough to offer the truth when asked and be open to conversations that end in accepting a compromise, or favour, for the Government - for want of a less corrupt-sounding word.

But Peter Collier is simply not capable of building those kind of relationships. His lack of willingness to discuss his issues with me face to face is one thing, but he’s also done some pretty ordinary things to others – like asking me to replace his longest serving staff member while that person was on compassionate leave trying to cope with a terrible family tragedy.

Some might question the public relevance but anyone who has ever held a management position will immediately understand the cost of staff turnover and poor morale - in pure tax-payer dollar terms - on top of the lost time and corporate knowledge that is now in the hands of someone else. In his office of 13, Minister Collier has seen around 40 staff come and go – a complete turnover of staff 3 times in just over 3 years. Just think about how that kind of change would impact on your workplace.

And it’s not just his office staff walking away.

Astonishingly, the Minister seems almost proud to take credit for what he rather insensitively calls “napalming” the upper levels of management of almost every agency he oversees. In fact, every single agency (Training and Workforce Development, Office of Energy, Department of Indigenous Affairs, Western Power, Synergy, Verve and Horizon) have lost its CEO on Minister Collier’s watch and many, many more highly experienced Board Members have taken their expertise elsewhere.

I am even aware of anonymous correspondence sent to the West Australian newspaper claiming that as a result of bullying by the Minister, a number of staff at the DTWD have suffered and taken ill. I am sad to say that if I hadn't intervened and stood in the middle, I’m certain this would have continued with devastating outcomes. The West hasn’t printed the correspondence because until now, no one would validate the claims – although it did prompt the Public Sector Commissioner to undertake an investigation into the way the Minister interacted with the Department. And that’s another occasion when I had to mediate because of a broken relationship. I recall discussions I had with Commissioner Mal Wauchope while the Minister was standing over my desk, insisting that the terms of the investigation be changed to an “examination” that included a specific reference to yet another senior (and superbly performing) Departmental officer he had in his sights at the time.

And there are many others he has “napalmed”.

Since I started writing my blog, I’ve been contacted by others who used to report to the Minister – some with harrowing stories of bullying and intimidation. The cost to Western Australian tax-payers in golden handshakes, reduced productivity and lost corporate knowledge is literally incalculable. But on top of that, in three short years he has turned so many friends of the government into enemies he has become a liability to the Barnett Government on that basis alone.

But his narcissistic arrogance and non-existent people skills have damaged the State in so many other ways – for example the embarrassing trip to the UK where he managed to offend, or at least mortify every one of the senior CEO’s that spent their time and money travelling with us to try to promote Western Australia as a working destination. There was the CEO who told me I needed to stop the Minister publicly denigrating the countries hosting our delegation, the several who asked me to stop him staring into his mobile phone whenever they wanted a quiet moment with him and of course the humiliating lunch meeting with senior officers of the Irish government when he declared that he “doesn’t eat lunch” and spent most of the meeting walking around outside the glass-walled room talking on his mobile phone, while the rest of us spoke on his behalf.

Notably, he still hasn’t provided a report to Parliament explaining the outcomes of the expensive and damaging two week jaunt.

Not only was that trip damaging, it was exhausting for all involved because he has an overwhelming need to have expert knowledge of everything he confronts. That manifests in three significant ways:
  • His diary secretary is explicitly instructed to accept a maximum of only two meetings in his office per day (but occasionally takes more when absolutely necessary),
  • He becomes highly anxious and unpleasant when he is surprised, and
  • His departments are put under enormous pressure by being forced to generate briefing notes for every trivial issue, including his own Cabinet submissions.
There’s a reason we don’t ever see the Minister on weekend news or at weekend events – there are no staff available to provide background briefings!

But the Minister’s failure to manage and optimise relationships and the impact this has had on the efficiency and effectiveness of his three critically important portfolios isn’t the main reason the Premier should replace him in next week’s reshuffle. It’s the Minister’s propensity to shirk all responsibility and mislead Parliament that are the real hanging offences.

Sadly, I haven’t yet had time to trawl through Hansard for specific examples but there are more than a few occasions the Minister has misled Parliament – here’s just two that I heard during question time on 15 May:
“As far as chiefs of staff are concerned, I was very sorry to see Colin and Blair go; they went on to other things. Darren moved on to something else” [Yes, a reluctant stay-at-home Dad]
“I have had only one change in media officers… she was fantastic but she wanted something a little quieter” [Outright lie, she was effectively dismissed]
I promise I’ll do that research very soon - if the Opposition doesn’t get to it first - but my baby needs to be fed and I can’t end without mentioning the reason the Minister was referred to as “slippery Pete” long before the Federal Speaker fiasco arose – and the serious image problem it causes for the Government.

While we have the Premier on the radio regularly offending people with his somewhat charming “tell-it-how-it-is” style of honesty and accountability, the Minister for Energy; Training and Workforce Development; Indigenous Affairs is working the room, taking credit for everything positive and busily blaming everyone around him for anything less than pleasant.

Again, there are many examples of this in Hansard, but I really liked this report in the West Australian last week when he did a classic Bart Simpson (“It wasn’t me”) and blamed his performance in the House on the poor Police Minister - Collier silenced over 'fake cop' scandal. Now, it just may be true that Minister Johnson had provided instructions to his Upper House colleague on how to deal with tricky questions, but it’s far from collegiate and a long way from in the best interests of the Government to escape scrutiny by blaming an already vulnerable Minister.

And that really exemplifies the core of why the Premier should dump this Minister now.

He isn’t a team player. He doesn’t understand the need to assist his colleagues. He does not have the best interests of anyone other than himself at heart. Quite simply, Peter Collier is not worthy of the Ministerial salary based solely on his lack of competency, let alone the wider damage his reckless self-obsession continues to cause the state of Western Australia.

Note: To answer any question about why I’ve decided to tell “my story” now – two things:
  1. There’s a chance the Premier will promote Peter Collier in this week's reshuffle and he needs to be fully aware - so he can be accountable - of the truth before he finalises his decision.
  2. Personally, I’m ready and quite anxious to move on. My professional reputation has suffered because many former friends and colleagues were left to make assumptions about the circumstances of my departure while others were actively misled. I need to set the record straight so I can set about rebuilding the bridges that were burnt from under me.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Minister Constable has to go

Honour is a rare commodity these days. And sadly, it appears to be one that some believe they can expediently trade when it suits them.

Take Minister Liz Constable, for example.

Regular QBF readers know that I value the intellect of Minister Constable and believe she has been a worthy contributor to our Parliament over her 21 year career. But quite simply, she now has to go.

There’s a couple of sound reasons for this.

Firstly, as I wrote in Too little too late - revolt is nigh, the Premier is under growing pressure from his constituents (no, not his subjects in Cottesloe-I’m talking about those who elect the Premier in the Party Room) to move her aside and give some actual Liberal Party members a chance to shine. It’s virtually a no-brainer that a retiring Independent will not and indeed, can not spruik Liberal Party education policies the way they need to be spruiked in the lead up to an election.

This is so obvious, frankly it’s embarrassing that the Premier let the situation arise, let alone condone it for so long. The only possible justification he can cling to in that regard is the fact that the Cabinet is so short of women, although that doesn’t say much for his confidence in competent Liberal women in the waiting, like Liza Harvey.

But internal Liberal Party issues aside, Minister Constable was elected in 1991 after a heavily factional Liberal pre-selection saw her resign from the party and run as an “Independent”. From her first words in Parliament, Dr Constable championed a few key causes:

1. More women in Parliament

2. Various Education issues

3. A more “open and accountable Government”

She hasn’t achieved the first one – although in fairness to her, it’s simply too big an issue for any single MP to fix. On point two, Dr Constable did the virtually impossible and attain the Education portfolio as an Independent, however her performance as Education Minister is not without its critics.

But let’s take a closer look at her third cause.

Dr Constable started her Parliamentary career by paying tribute to her predecessor in the seat of Floreat, Mr Andrew Mensaros as a man who set high standards. She continued by saying, “I hope that I will be regarded in the electorate and in this Parliament as he was - a person of substance, of principle, of excellent judgment and of compassion.”

And therein lies the rub for the Minister.

Being a person of principle isn’t really a flexible term. You either are, or… well, you wake up every morning, avoid looking in the mirror and recite, “it’s better to try to fix the system from the inside than hold on to rigid beliefs and have no influence”. Indeed, in order to keep her seat around the big table, I imagine many of Dr Constable’s days now start with murky self-affirmations just like that one.

It really is difficult to understand how she can reconcile continuing to take a Ministerial salary while being complicit in so many compromises of her career ideals. For example, the Member for Floreat as she was at the time, spoke of the need for Freedom of Information legislation in these terms:
“It should require all Government departments and agencies to publish details of their operations and the processes they use in making decisions. By granting citizens access to Government documents, freedom of information legislation aims to increase the citizens’ powers over the power of the State and it lessens the State’s claim to secrecy. As such, it is one of the instruments of accountability.”
Of course, we now have FOI legislation but rather than it empowering those hoping to better understand Government process, Minister Constable’s Government has form in using the process to do quite the opposite (eg. Secrecy claim over Govt staff payouts)

And of course there’s the lobbyist legislation that Dr Constable unsuccessfully tried to enact as an unsupported independent backbencher in 2003 and 2007 – which still hasn’t been passed despite her current Government committing to do so in its first 100 days, 1,290 days ago….

If you’re like me and try to take a pragmatic view of things, these examples of small compromise are probably a justifiable way to hold influence and contribute to addressing bigger issues.

However, as a person of principle who has vehemently and almost exclusively championed the need for more Government and lobbyist accountability for more than two decades, it’s nothing short of disgraceful to declare retirement, reduce your workload and expect to continue to be fed from the tax-payer’s teat for the next 255 days.

The Premier has no choice but to drop Dr Constable from Cabinet when he announces his pre-election Ministerial line-up early next week.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The negative opposition fallacy

I was involved in a Twitter conversation last evening that was started with this Tweet by @sarahscustard:
“This campaign bugs me. Do you really have to campaign on negativity and cheap statements? :( #wapol “
I’m very sure it was a genuine question and not a strategic attack from an anti-Labor campaigner. Regardless, it led to a good, robust conversation that attracted input from the ALP State Secretary, two Members of the Upper House and a couple of others including social commentator and aspiring politician, @troutish and myself (@_darren_brown_).

It was worthy and while I won’t go on about the reluctance of this Government to use social media more proactively, the discussion did confirm two things for me:

  1. There’s a bunch of people out there who are interested in our political system but at risk of becoming disillusioned because no one takes the time to offer a counter argument to the cynical views developed by reading newspaper headlines and watching 7 second grabs on TV, and
  2. Social media, like Twitter, provides a massive opportunity for someone to offer that alternative view and hopefully engage more people in our political system.
I’ve always been an advocate for greater engagement and involvement , but until today hadn’t seen that it’s probably something I could be doing more to facilitate, for the betterment of all – and hopefully to prove that I have yet another skill worthy of payment! :-)

So let’s address the question raised earlier today.

Why are Oppositions so negative?

Firstly if the title isn’t obvious enough, they aren’t in control of the State’s policy agenda. That is, their job is to offer an alternative to the government, or to oppose. That doesn’t mean Oppositions blindly oppose everything just because they’re not holding the reigns. In fairness, there is actually a lot that happens in Parliament where all Parties say their piece, then agree to compromise a bit for the sake of practicality and productivity – during the committee stages of new Bills is a good example of where that happens a lot.

And because of that, it’s sometimes very hard for the media to report the happenings of Parliament in a way that will even be heard, let alone interesting to the majority. As an example, when I worked in the office of a Leader of the Opposition, I was constantly frustrated when news outlets would report the outcome of our Parliamentary tactics as, “The State Opposition failed to suspend standing orders today” when it should have been, “The Government used its majority to deny the Opposition’s motion to suspend standing orders today” - but again, most of the voting public would rather watch Bear Grylls sucking the gizzards out of a live snake than follow through on a headline that simply confirms an expected outcome, so in retrospect who can blame a journo for trying to “sex-up” a daily summary of Parliament a little?

So that leads to most of the voting public only ever hearing about the disagreements in Parliament, and only when they are passionate and animated enough to compete with Mr Grylls drinking his own urine – Bear, not Brendon that is. And from that, it’s really no wonder many believe that all Parliamentarians carry on like pork-chops every day and the Opposition (regardless of political colour) never offers anything positive to the debate, just criticism.

But it’s more than just perception. It’s a huge gamble for any Opposition Party to release any specific policy too far out from an election, particularly if it’s innovative or if it involves significant expenditure. And when I say too far out from an election, I mean pretty much anytime before the caretaker convention kicks in.

While this is frustrating for the public, it is really quite easy to understand.

In comparison to the Government, Opposition Parties really do have very limited resources. The Leader has 10 or so staff and that’s it. Everyone else is multi-tasking – and working only with publicly available data. The Government on the other hand, has access to privileged information and thousands of departmental staff available to analyse policy ideas both in isolation but importantly also how any change in direction would impact across the rest of the government, with the benefit of knowing what else is on the agenda.

This means an almost impossible no-win situation for any Opposition with big ideas. If they release an innovative policy before the caretaker period, the Government will employ its significant resources to study the opposition document and either adopt it and implement it if it’s a good idea or pick it to pieces and use its large microphone to explain every single risk or flaw, thus rendering the policy more of a liability than an asset to the opposition come election time.

And there’s one more legitimate reason for Opposition Parties to keep their big policies under wraps until close to the election – money. There’s a few variables that determine how much both the Opposition and Government can spend in election commitments.

Firstly, there’s the amount of money the State can squeeze from the Federal Government in terms of GST reimbursement. The Premier and former Treasurer made a lot of this lately and WA’s share is planned to fall significantly however, in terms of making election promises, at least this figure is known well in advance i.e. it’s something everyone can budget for.

The next big income source is one that neither the Government nor Opposition can accurately predict, although the Government has information that should always give them a better idea – Royalties. Given that the State’s income is increasingly bolstered by the sale of commodities, fluctuations in international demand and the value of the Australian dollar means no-one really knows precisely how much cash the State will get until the ships have unloaded their ore at their destination. Having said that, Governments will sometimes use very conservative assumptions as to the value of the Dollar and likely levels of export so they aren’t caught short – and that means they often have a larger than predicted surplus to play with every May.

The last one is the killer for Oppositions. The fact is, Governments ALWAYS try to underestimate the level of surplus in pre-election budgets so they can announce a surprise windfall (and associated new spending and projects) just in time with the election. Lots of games get played with the budget papers to hide or underestimate money in pre-election budgets and the one being debated in Parliament right now is no different.

The problem for the Opposition is they have to base their election promises on what is visible in the budget papers – if you believe you only have one dollar, it’s irresponsible to promise to spend two. However, the Government knows where the extra money is buried and exactly when it’s coming, so expect a new school, tax cut or some other sweet promise from the incumbent Government that the Opposition will never be able to match, simply because they didn’t know there was enough money to do it.

So really, Opposition is a pretty crappy game until a month or two before an election when the Government shows its hand and you get to see what they’ve been hiding. Until then, it’s almost always unwise for Opposition Parties to release detailed policy commitments because it’s simply too dangerous.

Having said that, it should be noted that New Labor, under Mark McGowan appear to have made the conscious decision to start rolling out election promises early. Given what we’ve discussed above, that’s remarkably courageous or just plain stupid, but I guess only time will tell.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Lord of the flies

Imagine you’re an honest, hard working kid who has been beaten up by the grumpy school captain for three years. Pretend that when you first met him, you admired his knowledge and thought you and he could be friends, but after trying for several years to get into his exclusive lunch circle, the most attention you have ever had from him is his wrath.

Then one day a kid who doesn’t mind copping a bit of his flak comes along and openly challenges him. Then a few others join in and soon it looks like he is about to fall… where do you think human nature would lead you?

As a keen observer of what makes us tick, I predict all those who have been ignored or beaten by the head bully would join together and assist the fall.

Enter Premier Colin Barnett, his “remarkable stable” Cabinet and the throng of eager but ignored backbenchers watching the chink in his armour widening…

I’ve said it before, but just in case I was too verbose – in politics, it’s easier to maintain the support of your colleagues if they like you. And it’s probable that if you irritate too many people, one day when you develop a little hole in your shiny suit, they will, at best sit back and let you fall or worse, join in the fracas and actively help bring you down.

So here we are.

The Premier has been Mr Grumpy Pants for 3 years, shown no faith in his wider team, irritated a lot of people along the way and somehow still thought he had enough friends to impose a candidate for Churchlands on the lay Party.

Something about chickens, roosting…

And his response?
"I think Kate Lamont was clearly the outstanding candidate in that field, some good candidates, but Kate Lamont should have been selected... The people of Churchlands, it’s the adjoining electorate to mine. They are basically Liberal voters. And they have an expectation that the Liberal Party will deliver the highest quality candidate they can into that electorate. And I don’t know that we’ve done that”
Instead of apologising to the candidate to whom he gave false hope and standing up to the outgoing Member, he attacks everyone else. He’s a knowledgeable man, but doesn’t seem to predict human behaviour very well.

Now back to the school yard.

Isn’t it now almost inevitable that all those kids he snubbed will see the chink in his armour and either watch while he falls, or actively contribute to his downfall?

PS. I was wrong in predicting which candidate would get up (because the western suburbs clique isn't as strong as they thought they were), but if you have time re-read the bottom of this article about why the Premier has sprayed the lay-party today: The unholy fight for Churchlands (part 2)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Response to reader "Wizman" comment

I normally post replies to comments as a comment, but I thought this one deserved a post of it's own.
In response to Even children have depth perception, wizman commented at June 15, 2012 9:54 AM:
i caught you on 720ABC in the afternoon talking about liz constable and her replacement (you and peter kennedy would be a great state politics double act). anyway, with christian porter leaving, will a backbencher get 9 months to show some promise or not? when liz constable goes and assuming barnett wins again at the state election, does the "new member" who may or may not be delivered by parachute get a free ride into cabinet, or again does barnett trust a backbencher? if he continually overlooks the elected members doesn't this just reinforce the opinion that there is no talent, or is it just barnett's "incompetence as leader" at work again?
My response:

Hi Wizman.

Firstly, thanks. I admire PK and would love to work with him (WABN and ABC: Hint! Hint!)

I honestly hope Mr Barnett takes a bit of a calculated gamble by throwing a couple of backbenchers in the deep end, but I really don’t think he will. He reinforced that yesterday in Parliament in an answer to a question without notice – he made way too much of the fact that he has had a “stable” cabinet, effectively making yet another rod for his back. He is a very conservative man who prioritises stability in the public sector.

Unfortunately, that causes two big problems:
  1. Retiring Ministers are very problematic at elections. Norman Moore will be in Parliament for a few months after the election (because the LC doesn’t change until May 2013), so that one is not a drama. However, how on earth is the Government going to articulate its Education election promises when their spokesperson can’t speak for the party (because she’s independent) or the future (because she won’t be part of it)? I’m guessing that’s another role the Premier will probably take on in the caretaker period before the election.
  2. The other, which I think is the biggest problem and one that Mr Barnett is not fully cognisant of is the huge morale problem brewing in the back bench. Imagine being a 2nd or 3rd term Liberal backbencher who has played all the games and done as you were told for the last 8 or 12 years and hearing the Premier cite Independent and National MP’s as evidence of his available talent. Good leaders are inclusive and lay out a growth path for their ambitious subordinates – and Colin fails to do that over and over again. He needs to remember what happened to Natasha Stott-Despoja and Kevin Rudd – both very popular with the public, but rolled by their immediate constituents – their subordinates – because they weren’t making them feel valuable.

Colin’s reluctance to take a punt on anyone new is not evidence of the depth of the talent pool. It is, however absolute evidence of one of Colin’s worst qualities, which will be his downfall in spite of his many good ones.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Even children have depth perception

My father is good man. He has always been kind and loving and also knows a thing or two about human nature. And he used that understanding to teach me some valuable lessons. As a child, I remember sharing dad’s warm and secure canoe in the middle of a serene section of the Collie River during a camping trip in the area. My memory is that at the time, I had swimming skills but wasn’t a particularly confident swimmer - so guess what he did? Yep, unannounced he rolled the canoe onto its side and tumbled us both into the icy cold river. Within seconds I was doggy paddling strongly toward the muddy banks and from that day on, never again doubted my ability to swim.

It might seem a bit brutal, but it worked. Just like mother birds push their chicks out of the nest and horses nudge their foals onto their feet at birth, there really is something to the old theory of sink or swim.

But it seems much of today’s public don’t agree or at least don’t have the generosity to acknowledge that they do. Sadly, in the hours following yesterday’s resignation of WA’s Attorney General and Treasurer, I heard on talkback and read on news websites the same old tired rhetoric about the depth of talent in our parliamentary backbenches.

Rik Oshea’s post on the ABC’s Facebook page was indicative of many:
“My view? Staggering indifference. Had he stayed we'd still have a serious lack of depth problem. John Tonkin & maybe Sir Charles Court were probably our last real statesmen, not sure we have any great legislators at present.”
This is sad partly because it shows the level of cynicism the public maintain toward our Parliament but mostly because it is just so ill-informed.

The truth is it is very, very hard for anyone other than the Premier, Leader of the Opposition and Ministers of controversial portfolios (like Police) to get enough public airtime to be recognisable, let alone fairly judged on their abilities. Thirty minute press conferences are condensed down to a 7 or 8 second “grab” on TV news, newspaper column space has to compete with ever encroaching advertising to pay their bills and there is simply no way talkback radio can give any time to anyone other than the Premier and his direct nemesis.

The ugliest part of this truth is the vast majority of us would prefer to see a pretty blonde girl talking about the weather than watch an unscripted 3 minute address from any one of our political representatives. And because of that, it’s deeply unfair and often wildly inaccurate when people who have never met or even heard more than a 7 second grab from any of our Members of Parliament to judge their talent or lack of.

I know I won’t change many minds with this post, but I think it’s a very important point to make.
Journalists and their editors are often blamed for not providing the public with more opportunities to get to know their representatives in their own words - without truncation. But the fact is, like politicians, one way or another journalists get paid by the public and would therefore alter their content accordingly if there was a stronger demand for more open access to our MP’s.

That perpetual conundrum aside, of greatest disappointment to me as someone who knows there are many competent, hard working people who are invisible only because they are confined to the shadows of their respective Leaders, is that rare opportunities to shine a light on them aren’t being embraced.

I’ve made it very clear before that I respect Colin Barnett for his intellect and historical knowledge of all things politics, but his incompetence as a leader never ceases to amaze me. Yesterday, when a lazy journalist rolled out the cliché that he doesn’t have much choice in choosing a replacement for Christian Porter, he cited Ministers Constable, Hames and Buswell as evidence to the contrary. It is telling and deeply disappointing that Mr Barnett’s first and immediate reaction wasn’t to jump on the chance to talk about how he has too many competent backbenchers to choose from.

As I said above, there are a number of others in the shadows – on both sides - waiting patiently for their time to shine. Like my good old Dad, I have faith that many of them will quickly become strong swimmers if they are ever thrown in the deep end.

With regard to the Premier’s next move, I would love to see him undertake a bold reshuffle that sees 3 or even 4 backbenchers thrown in, but unfortunately I think his aversion to risk will see only one new face and a bit of a rearrangement of the deck chairs.

I hope some day soon our political leaders take the time to realise that blaming the media for missing opportunities is a moot point when so many massive ones float past them, the people we pay to set the agenda, apparently without even being noticed.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

It's not really BBQ weather

There’s a lot being said about Western Australian Treasurer and Attorney General Christian Porter’s decision to resign from Cabinet and vie for preselection for the Federal seat of Pearce.

All I’ll write about that here is “good on him”. He will be criticised for the way he did it, but there’s something to be said about the value of following his personal dreams. As a new dad, I think my advice to my child in a similar position would have to be “go with your heart.” Kudos to Mr Porter for doing that at least.

But for me, the most interesting outcome of the last few hours has been the re-emergence of the ugly factional alliances that damaged and scarred the Party in lead up to the 2008 election.

The person to watch over the next couple of weeks will be the Member for South Perth, John McGrath. He’s the fall guy the western suburbs clique use to do their dirty work – either because he’s too grandad-like for anyone to punch in the face or because he’s too du… um, well… let’s just say might not realise he’s being used by those who like to get blood on other people’s hands.

Mr McGrath is known as “Matchie” by some long-term Liberals, because he is (in)famous for hosting BBQ’s at his home that somehow turn into number-crunching leadership coups. Indeed his home was the secret BBQ bunker the faceless men used to bring down former Liberal Leader Matt Birney and if I recall correctly was also involved in the rise of Colin Barnett when it was determined that Troy Buswell finally had to go.

Matchie started the factional jostling before the Partyroom meeting this morning when he answered the question of whether or not Mr Porter had put his personal needs above the party with the thoughtful and telling single word of “Maybe”.

Then while Christian Porter was still speaking at his press conference, Federal Deputy Leader and western suburbs champion Julie Bishop was on the radio kicking Colin Barnett a little and shooting a big warning shot across Mr Porter’s bow: “I think this is a huge endorsement of Tony Abbott’s  team,” she said duplicitously. Then came the obvious sting in the tail, “However, I stress that Christian Porter will have to win pre-selection like everyone else before he can even run”.
Far from a ringing endorsement from the most senior Federal Western Australian MP.

Some will say, “yeah, yeah that’s just because Ms Bishop doesn’t want to make it sound like there’s a parachute involved .” And I partially agree.

A parliamentarian pushing a particular candidate does irritate lay-Party members, who passionately believe the pre-selection process is squarely in their domain. However, it is plain as day that Christian Porter would bring an enormous amount of value to the Federal Party, as a backbencher or anything else they see fit to give him. It wouldn’t be too hard for someone like Julie Bishop to justify an exception to the ‘no interference’ rule on this occasion.

And Ms Bishop’s comments were reinforced with some smarmy words from so-called Curtin power-broker, Peter Collier. When asked about Mr Porter’s move this morning, his feigned response was, “I’ll miss Christian, he’s a friend and he’s a talented colleague (but) I really have got no idea why he would want to go to Canberra – it all happens here in the West….”.

In my view, these three comments from these three people add up to something significant.

Mr Porter’s resignation and the combination of both a State and Federal election next year means old Liberal Party factions are being revived.

You see the western suburbs Curtin clique, and most particularly Peter Collier, already had a preferred candidate for Pearce – another former President of the Young Liberals. Sadly for that young man, they don’t control the numbers in Pearce. But that won’t stop them trying.

And that kind of competition, combined with the fact that the Premier has basically invited every backbencher to pitch for a place at the big table over the next few weeks will see old alliances re-formed and other new ones created in response.

Dusty BBQ’s will be washed down and at least a little bit of blood will be spilled as these voting blocks - or factions - recklessly swing their weight around in a last ditched effort to get their candidate promoted before the main event next March.

Watch this space and Liberals should don the disposable protective clothing immediately.

PS. Thanks to all those who have emailed me asking why there had been a break in my posts. The reason was the early birth of our beautiful baby girl, Madison. Mum and bub are home and healthy, de spite what a former friend and colleague once said, so I’m back at the keyboard.

ADDENDUM 15/06/2012: I should clarify that Julie Bishop wasn’t supporting the former young Liberal President for Pearce – she was, as a Party member corrected me the other day and Andrew Probyn wrote in today’s West Australian newspaper, in fact supporting Nick Bruining who has now decided not to stand.

As a perpetual limb-climber, I believe the fall is as valuable as the climb and I will therefore happily be corrected when I’m wrong and acknowledge it widely. Please keep the tips, suggestions and corrections coming!