• Part 1: Timing
Other parts coming soon:
• Murray Cowper
• Michael Mischin
• Liza Harvey / Rob Johnson
• Staff fallout
• Cost to the State
• Other movements and their wider impact
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Premier Barnett is a supreme thinker.
Take for example the way Troy Buswell found himself back in charge of the State’s purse strings last Thursday. From the outside, the Cabinet reshuffle the Premier announced last week looked messy, rushed even - and maybe it was -but the plan to give Mr Buswell the Treasury started a long time ago.
Given that Mr Barnett disclosed recently he had known Christian Porter was considering his move to the Federal sphere for “6 months or so”, this OpEd piece I wrote and never published in November 2011 shows the Premier was thinking of Troy way back then:
Something big shifted in Western Australian politics last week. Troy Buswell came back.
It was quietly reported that the Premier has asked Housing and Transport Minister Troy Buswell to re-join the EERC – the Economic and Expenditure Reform Committee. This group of senior Ministers meets regularly to scrutinise and evaluate proposals from their Ministerial colleagues. Basically, if someone wants to spend the State’s money, the responsible Minister has to make their case to the EERC.
And it’s not always a cordial affair. The meetings are often brutally open and frank in debate about the benefits of each proposal – economically and of higher priority to this group, politically. Ministers who don’t have the skills to sell their idea to their senior colleagues or bring forward a proposal that simply costs more than the EERC believes the State can afford, often leave empty handed.
Although the room also contains several advisers who play a significant part in the final decision, the meetings are typically chaired by the Treasurer who first asks the Minister to brief the meeting on the proposal. After the short introduction from the Minister or their Departmental Head, the Treasurer and his senior Cabinet colleagues ask clarifying questions. With the mix of personalities and intellect at the table ranging from cool, wise heads like Norman Moore, quiet contemplators such as John Day and ferociously barking attack dogs like Simon O’Brien and Brendan Grylls, chairing the meeting to deliver an outcome is no mean feat.
Which brings me to the big shift.
It is widely acknowledged that for a lawyer, Christian Porter is doing a great job of managing the State’s finances. Indeed, having sat through a number of fierce EERC meetings, Porter’s prosecutorial background equips him with an incredibly valuable skill for the Treasury portfolio – the ability to ask the right questions to quickly get to the crux of the issue.
So if the Treasurer is doing well, why would the Premier bring Buswell back to the EERC and risk it looking like a vote of no confidence in Christian Porter?
I propose two plausible reasons:
1. There will soon be a vacancy on EERC and the Premier is ensuring a hand-over
Given that the Premier confirmed Norman Moore expressed interest in the job of Agent General and then publicly defended the possibility of it happening, it is likely that the Premier is just ensuring EERC is fully staffed if Minister Moore departs in December.
The downside of this move is that Buswell’s presence on the EERC could cause tension between him and the real Treasurer – it’s always difficult to put aside anger and envy when you’re expected to work as part of a sled team that you used to lead.
2. December’s “minor” reshuffle will see more than just Troy Buswell back as Treasurer.
This makes sense on one level - Buswell is a standout in terms of intellect and political nous – exactly the kind of guy you would want defending the State’s economy in the lead up to the 2013 election. However, this is only sellable if Christian Porter is willing to say he isn’t enjoying being the Treasurer or moving on to something bigger and better. For those with ambition in politics, there’s only one job more coveted than that of Treasurer – you guessed it, the Premier.
As Premier, Colin Barnett is notorious for holding his cards very close to his chest so the public will know anything about his retirement plans until the day he enacts them. However, as unlikely as many say it is, it’s definitely plausible that he won’t be Premier at the next election.
Personally, the Premier turned 60 last year and after 21 years in the Parliament and 3 as Premier, he has a sizeable superannuation and good health that would allow him and his family to enjoy it. Professionally, he brought the Western Australian Liberal Party back from oblivion on the eve of the last election and has since stood strong and proud as the only Liberal Premier in more than his fair share of COAG meetings. Among an impressive list of his achievements in his 38 months as Premier, Colin Barnett brought the Queen to Perth, secured funding for the Stadium, started work on the foreshore redevelopment, sent more money to the bush than ever before and oversaw the beginning of construction of the Fiona Stanley Hospital.
Other than bringing water from the north, he has ticked a number of extraordinary boxes on any ordinary man’s bucket list – what else could he want in life? Perhaps a happy retirement on the porch of his Toodyay property reading about everyone dealing with what will be a difficult election in just over 12 month’s time.
Whatever the Premier’s rationale, the reinstatement of Troy Buswell to the EERC signals the beginning of a significant change to the Western Australian political landscape.
Watch this space.
(19/11/2011)Colin Barnett hates the way the West Australian newspaper has given him the unofficial title of “Emperor” but the fact is he plots, plans and executes in a way that would have embarrassed many actual Emperors of the past.