It has traditionally been the conservative side of politics that has been associated with fiscal prudence, but the Western Australian election campaign demonstrates how easily that worm can turn under the right political circumstances. The Coalition ended week one by securing the endorsement of the Nursing Federation with a promise to deliver on its claim for $50 million of funding to improve working conditions, a move which has earned comparisons with the Prime Minister’s late-campaign promise that no Tasmanian forestry jobs would be lost from old-growth logging bans. This overlooks the important distinction that John Howard trumped Labor with a policy that was massively less expensive than their own, which included an $800 million fund to compensate the timber industry that signally failed to achieve its political ends.
The state Coalition by contrast has calculated that it has the political capital to make the more extravagant promises due to the credibility deficit Labor incurred by breaking its 2001 campaign pledge not to increase taxes or charges. It has accordingly indulged in some conspicuous displays of targeted pork barrelling, such as its promise to "cut in" a section of the Mitchell Freeway extension through the marginal seat of Joondalup regardless of the cost. Labor now finds itself with the backing of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in criticising the Coalition’s largesse. The threat for the Coalition is that the currency of election promises may have been so debased that a Treasurer warning of a $44 million "black hole" might receive a more credulous audience than a Liberal leader in a Santa Claus outfit.
Let’s see what else is in the papers:
A steady flow of newspaper headlines about the collapse of building contractor Devaugh is continuing to imperil Labor’s already precarious hold on the crucial seat of Albany. The Bunbury-based company was contracted in March 2004 to build the $20 million Albany justice complex and many local subcontractors were owed money when it collapsed, a matter of sufficient political sensitivity for the government to conduct a $621,000 bail-out. The West Australian reports that the administrator informed creditors this week that Devaugh "appeared to have become balance sheet insolvent from between June 30, 2002 and 30 June 2003". Robert Taylor of The West Australian suggests the government, and in particular Housing and Works Minister Nick Griffiths, was unduly eager to award the contract to a company based in Bunbury, its most marginal seat.
Graham Kierath, Liberal candidate for Alfred Cove and ready-made leadership aspirant, continues to play hard ball in his bid to unseat independent member Janet Woollard. Fresh from what The West Australian’s Inside Cover dubbed the "Postergate" affair, Kierath last week lodged a complaint over Woollard’s description of herself as an "independent Liberal" in campaign material, which was given short shrift by the Western Australian Electoral Commission.
Opposition Leader Colin Barnett made his debut entry as a comedian when he told a journalist who offered him hairspray at a windy outdoor campaign launch that he was "not after the gay vote". For some reason, Barnett’s stereotyping of the gay community as people who might be inclined to use hair products was received less warmly than that of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.