Saturday, July 14, 2012

Porter's Pearce pre-selection pomp

In advance of tomorrows Liberal pre-selection showdown for the Federal division of Pearce, Western Australia's former Attorney General/Treasurer Christian Porter has done what any well-funded, professional candidate for a poll should do - distributed his CV and references to those he wants to vote for him.

And the 47 page, glossy document speaks volumes about the man, the party and the emerging problem for us all in modern politics.

This article in today's West Australian newspaper says almost everything the pre selectors should know about the man - from the cutesy professionally staged photo of Mr Porter being embraced by his well-groomed wife to the pages of out-of-context single lines of "support" ripped from the pages of almost every newspaper in the land - it paints a picture of a somewhat narcissistic, yet accomplished young man who is on top of his idyllic life.

The message the document sends about the Liberal Party is unfortunate, to say the least, on a couple of fronts.

Firstly, the nauseating references from Fortescue Metals Group chairman and billionaire Andrew Forrest, Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief Sam Walsh and Oakajee Port and Rail chief John Langoulant just solidify the popularly held belief that the Liberal Party plays to the "big end of town" and often overlooks the value of small business and genuine local people. Being able to pick up the phone and solicit a reference from a senior executive of one of the world's largest companies is impressive, but what does Rio Tinto or Fortescue do for the people of Pearce? Where is the reference from a shop owner in Gingin or Steven Pollard, the Shire President of Northam?

The second, and much more problematic issue for the Party is the inclusion of references from several very high profile State Council members. If, and we all know it's a big if, the local preselectors choose to stand up and make a point about local candidates as they did in the recent state Churchlands seat, the only hope for Mr Porter is for the Liberal Party's State Council to overturn the decision. And that would cause a serious perception problem, if not a legal one for the Party. Given that these well regarded, high profile members of the Party's State Council have already effectively cast their vote in the most firm and public of ways, would this influence you as a local pre-selector? Would any loyal servant of the Party have the courage to preference someone other than Mr Porter knowing that their vote would not only be overturned, but also irritate senior Party officials?

At best, it's poor judgement of State Councillors to have provided a reference for Mr Porter at this point and at worst, it completely undermines the supposed sanctity of the local branch-led preselection "process" the Party relies on for credibility in the wider electorate.

The last, and most distressing point for us non-Liberal members is the problem Mr Porter's whole approach exemplifies - the tendency for modern political parties to preference celebratory and photoshopped finishing over real, raw, local people willing to jump in and scrap for their local issues.

Don't get me wrong, I believe Christian Porter is a very worthy candidate for any of our Parliaments - and I support his personal decision to follow his dreams.... But is he the right candidate for Pearce or did he only nominate for that electorate because of circumstance? It's obvious that it's the latter. He has no particular passion or connection with the area and the fact that he has chosen to sell himself to the people on the ground using glossy brochures, photoshopped staged photos and references from WA's most wealthy - and perhaps removed - elite, speaks volumes about what we, as a society are looking for in our future politicians.

I hope the preselectors of Pearce think hard before casting their vote tomorrow. Perhaps it's time to remind the tall poppies that they owe much of their place in the sun to the grassroots who let them through and supported them.

I wish Christian Porter well, but I really wish he had nominated for a seat that he was genuinely passionate about - even if it meant having to have a real fight for preselection. At least then we the voters could be confident that the Liberal Party candidates wanted to represent local people and not suspicious that they are just using us to get closer to a personal goal.

PS. This, like many documents, came to me anonymously - before anyone asks.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Reshuffle kerfuffle – Part 3: Murray Cowper

Other parts already published:

Other parts coming soon:

  • Michael Mischin
  • Liza Harvey / Rob Johnson
  • Staff fallout
  • Cost to the State
  • Other movements and their wider impact
“Murray Cowper! Murray for Murray! Murray #$%îng Cowper!! Seriously??”

Most phone calls I receive these days start with some sort of greeting (apart from the abusive ones that is LoL), but this is exactly how the well informed person on the other end of the phone began his conversation with me last Thursday.

And his disbelief is shared by many others in the Western Australian Liberal Party and beyond. I’ve had a number of confidential emails and phone calls from party members and even had a couple from Liberal MP’s who have been angered by the move.

Here’s a part of a comment that someone sent in response to Part 1 of this series. I did not republish it in full because I thought some of it was defamatory so I’ve removed those sections but not altered any of the words or context below:

“I struggled with the decision whether or not to comment on this post because what I am about to say will hurt the party I work for. But I decided at the end of the day, the truth needs to get out there at any cost.
I'll be frank and say the decision to axe Rob Johnson was a huge political mistake and may cost the Liberals the 2013 election. For numerous reasons, some obvious only to party insiders. But I'll make the following key points.
1. The Emperor, as he is now called by the party faithful, did not inform the Liberal party of his decision to dump Rob. Liberal Party HQ found out through the media. Yep, good ol' Colin holds the party in such high regard that we had to find out AFTER he had told the media pack of his plans to basically hand election victory to Labor. A further kick in the guts after the whole Kate Lamont shemozzle.
2. IF the Emperor had bothered to inform HQ of his decision to get rid of Johnson, we would have advised to do so would be political suicide, given that internal party polling clearly indicates that Johnson has wide community support and his tough law and order stance is keenly shared by the majority of the public. They know who he is, they know what he stands for and they like it. Any criticism shown to him by the media or Opposition doesn't stick, in fact, our polling showed that it actually increased his popularity. It is widely accepted that he largely contributed to our 2008 election victory and was streets ahead of Michelle Roberts and the Labor party in selling the law and order agenda ahead of next year's election. Colin has basically thrown that advantage out the window. With no thought. No consultation. No regard for party polling.
I'll make the point that politics did play a role in the decision to install Murray Cowper as a Minister.
Yes, the decision that had EVERYONE scratching their heads in utter disbelief and wondering if Cowper had undergone a brain transplant overnight. The truth is, Cowper threatened to go independent before the election if he wasn't given a Ministerial position. Whether he would have had the funds to do so will never be known because the Premier fell for his bluff and handed him a plum Ministerial job.
To all of the Labor hacks reading this, congratulations, you will probably be finding yourselves enjoying the luxury of Hale House come next March due to last week's incredibly foolish Cabinet reshuffle. “
Wow. We will talk some more about the appalling way Rob Johnson (and evidently the rest of the Party) was treated in another part of the series, but the bit about Murray Cowper speaks volumes.

As I reported in Murray for Murray-Welington? Maybe...  on 8 March, Minister Cowper (as he is now) was the only sitting Liberal Member to be challenged for pre-selection this time around. Without being particularly cruel to Mr Cowper, that challenge was seen by many as warranted.

To be fair, it’s clear to me that the big man also has a big heart. It’s clear that he is passionate about his politics. It’s clear that, as a former senior copper, he has had his fair share of real life experiences and understands some of society’s woes better than any of us. But sadly, it’s also clear that he doesn’t have the charisma or even subtlety required to appear competent during the cut and thrust of a Parliamentary question time, let alone the sometimes ruthless media pack that will await him in every day outside in the fern garden.

And any vision of a clumsy response from any Minister will decrease the public’s confidence in the whole Government – let’s not under-estimate that – Ministers are the only MP’s allowed to speak on behalf of “the Government” and therefore the public forms its opinion of the whole Government based on 7 second grabs of which ever Minister they see on the nightly news. Elevating Mr Cowper, especially to a portfolio like Corrective Services that sometimes requires a fast, eloquent response to reassure the public, is a big risk for this government.

With that in mind, the Premier’s decision to promote him ahead of so many others who have waited patiently on the back bench clearly wasn’t about proving he had lots of talent to choose from, because it kind-of suggests the opposite. So in the absence of another rationale for what many are seeing as an unwise promotion, it looks as though my reader’s suggestion stands – under Premier Barnett, the squeaky wheel does indeed get the oil!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Some thoughts on yesterday's "Local Jobs" rally

Regular QBF readers will know that I’ve been dealing with a fair bit on the personal front lately. However, since baby and mum are almost settled into a routine, I’m again spending most of my time trying to find and build a new career.

Yesterday I thought I’d try my hand at a bit of photojournalism.

Hence, I went along to the local jobs rally at Parliament House yesterday armed with my camera and iPad, hoping to tweet the proceedings and add a couple of supportive images. It turns out listening, tweeting and trying to upload high quality images from a proper camera (i.e. not a smartphone) is a bit more difficult for a newbie independent commentator than I had envisaged – so kudos to these who manage to do it day in, day out.

Anyhow, the best this newbie could do was listen, occasionally tweet and upload some photos 4 or 5 minutes after they were taken. Here’s one of my favourites:

What I saw was a good couple of thousand passionate people, the vast majority of whom were either wearing or carrying some sort of union branding, lobbying the government in a fairly basic but effective way – with their bodies.

While it was an impressive turnout and certainly made a point, I couldn’t help but thinking how the impact on Government would have been much greater if there wasn’t so much overt Union branding.

Of course, for the CFMEU, MUA and their peers, this was an important opportunity to demonstrate that they still have the ability to get thousands of people to down tools and interrupt traffic – I get that and understand that’s why they would have encouraged the promotion of their respective brands. But unfortunately for those who are genuinely concerned about the issue of local content/jobs, the 99% saturation of Union t-shirts and banners make it very, very easy for any Liberal Government to just dismiss the rally as their known enemies doing their usual rabble-rousing.

I’m not suggesting any change in tactics for the Unions, but from the perspective of someone who loves to play political chess, I couldn’t help but wondering if the self-promotion was more valuable than landing a blow on the Government.

Having said that, there were two interesting things I heard guest speakers say that in retrospect might very well answer my own question:

  1. The declaration by one of the Union leaders that “we are finally working together again to get justice”, and
  2. The inclusion of a couple of Federal ALP Ministers on their hate list.

The first point was an interesting public confession that unions haven’t been working well together recently. Clever. Our Premier could learn a lot from the person behind that comment. Swallowing just a little bit of humble pie in front of those who have lost faith in you goes a long way to being forgiven.

But again, as a guy who has spent most of his adult life developing strategies for political change, I found the second point a little confusing. Why would the Unions choose to muddy the waters, or indeed, dilute their very pointy message to the State Liberal Government by throwing in some parts of the Federal ALP Government? Maybe adrenalin got the better of the speaker and it just slipped out or maybe Minister Ferguson is so universally stinky to the Union movement, they strategically dropped his name knowing it might damage the Federal ALP Government and blunt their WA message.

I don’t know which it is but thought it was one of the few interesting moments of the day.

PS. Perhaps something else our Premier could learn - it's important to support your supporters: a message clearly not lost on 2013 ALP candidates Reece Whitby and Bob Kucera who were there yesterday.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Reshuffle kerfuffle – Part 2: Troy Buswell

Other parts already published:

• 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.
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.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Reshuffle kerfuffle – Part 1: Timing

Other parts coming soon:

• Troy Buswell
• Murray Cowper
• Liza Harvey
• Michael Mischin
• Staff fallout
• Cost to the State

“Curious”, “erratic” and “suspicious” are all words you could use to describe it. Why did the Premier announce his Farnham-esque (“This is the last, last time, I promise”) Cabinet reshuffle on a Thursday while half the Parliament was still sitting?

In politics, Cabinet changes are big news. They are typically planned, with a full media strategy behind it to maximise the bang for buck and minimise any potential criticism. But this one wasn’t.

On the most obvious point, it’s far from usual practice and more than a little risky to announce Cabinet changes while Parliament is sitting and particularly only hours before the last “questions without notice” of this Parliamentary session. The Legislative Council is far less likely than their lower house colleagues to ‘go feral’ in that situation for sure, but nevertheless, the opposition was provided an unusual choice to really misbehave with minimal long term consequences. It turns out the ALP didn’t choose that path this time, but the point is the Premier took a gamble when he declared to the 500 Club fundraising breakfast that morning that he would be announcing a “wider than expected” reshuffle later in the morning.

And the question is why couldn’t he wait until 5pm after question time – or if he wanted the 6pm TV news stations, why not 9am Friday, just 24 hours later? Governments typically only make compromises by rushing out big stories like this to either distract the public (and media) away from some very bad news elsewhere or to circumvent some other unhelpful event, before it happens.

So what else happened on Thursday? There was the “no decision” of Environment Minister Bill Marmion regarding the release of the EPA’s report into James Price Point -but that was hardly something that was going to be overseen by environmentalists regardless. Then there was the Deputy Premier taking the media on a long-planned tour of one of the Government’s biggest claims to fame, the Fiona Stanley Hospital… but surely the Government would have hoped for otherwise “clear air” so nothing reduced the attention on such a good news story??? Other than that, I’ve struggled to find anything else that actually happened, state-wise.

So that leads me to suspect the rush was not to distract from something that actually happened, but to mitigate the chances of something bad eventuating. But it failed, like so many other attempts by this government to manipulate the media since late in 2008.

The threat they were trying to neutralise was of course, friendly fire.

I’m told before the Premier dumped former Police Minster Rob Johnson on Monday afternoon, he asked him to voluntarily resign. Mr Johnson refused and having shown his hand, the Premier was left with no choice but to make it, umm, un-voluntary. LoL

Anyway, there’s two important points that I wanted to make here:

  • To Mr Johnson’s great credit, even after that ugly interaction on Monday and learning that he was to be publicly dumped at some time soon, he attended several public media events AND flew to Melbourne for a meeting of Police Ministers, all the while maintaining a highly professional image.
Don’t underestimate the value of that - there’s been a lot of vitriolic “spit on your grave, good riddance” kind of comment out there since Thursday, but this man learned that he was soon to be publicly humiliated, held it together and got on with his job. Would you be willing or able to do that?
  • The Premier obviously knew from the moment Mr Johnson refused to resign, it was going to get ugly. He should have started this negotiation a long time ago, but I’ll explore that in a future part. However, given that he blew that opportunity and instead chose to thrust it on Mr Johnson on a random Monday afternoon, one might have thought he would also be brave enough to cop it on the chin (sorry about the pun, I’m in a good mood). Instead, he and his team of geniuses (as Minister Collier refers to them) decided to make the announcement while the outgoing Police Minister was on a plane flying across Australia. Good management? Nope. Honourable? I don’t think so. Another disastrous attempt at sneaky media strategy… yep.
And the rest, as they say, is history. After Mr Johnson landed and learned the Premier had done what he did – but only after and Mr Johnson deserves credit for that - he responded in the only way someone who had been treated so poorly could, with grave disappointment.

And given what I’ve just highlighted about our Premier and his advisers, that’s a disappointment we should all share with Mr Johnson today.