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.


  1. db, your argument is compelling IMHO. however, what do you think is the *real* chance of colin actually putting a lib backbencher in education for 9-months, and in addition a *female*?

    i'm putting the odds at 50-1 against a new education minister, and any number you care to write on a new *female* education minister. there's more chance of black caviar entering state parliament in that role ... although in current form it would be 23 from 23!

    no, i am accepting no wagers on this, just proffering odds.

  2. Wizman, it should be a no-brainer but sadly your doubt is justified. The only problem for the Premier if he doesn't make the move is a backbench revolt - their patience is wearing thin.