Yesterday’s papers: week two

Here’s two subscriber-only pieces I wrote for Crikey last week. The first is from Friday, and is showing its age only insofar as Centrebet is now offering $3.50 on a Liberal win.

For all that’s been said about the lessons of Northern Territory Labor’s near-defeat a fortnight ago, expectations that Alan Carpenter’s government will be comfortably returned in Western Australia are dying hard.

Saturday’s Newspoll showed 61 per cent of respondents expecting a Labor win, compared with 21 per cent for the Liberals. However, the poll put Labor’s two-party lead at just 51-49, and it was echoed by a 50-50 Westpoll result published the same day in The West Australian. This doesn’t seem to have impressed betting agency Centrebet, which has not revised its starting price of $4.25 for a Liberal win.

With just over a fortnight to go, Labor is taking to such perceptions with an axe. The process began on Wednesday when Alan Carpenter told television reporters his party faced a “knife-edge political situation”, and said he “always believed that we could lose”.

It was ratcheted up a notch yesterday morning when the ABC was told Labor had abandoned its most marginal seat of Kingsley to direct resources where it still had a chance. “Concern” was also expressed over Ocean Reef, Swan Hills, Riverton and Jandakot. The latter was particularly interesting, as just two weeks ago the party was trumpeting a 56-44 lead fuelled by gratitude over the Mandurah railway and Fiona Stanley Hospital projects.

Then came the real bombshell, courtesy of Geof Parry on the Channel Seven news: leaked polling across the five seats showed a swing to the Liberals of 7 per cent, which if consistent would give them 32 seats out of 59 along with another three for the Nationals. This was accompanied by findings that 57 per cent of respondents still expected Labor to win, while only 25 per cent thought the Liberals “ready to govern.

Later in the evening, a Labor candidate using a pseudonym wrote on my blog that the party’s strategy group was “cr-pping itself” over the data, which was “very real” and “not a tactic to scare voters”. Particular concern was expressed over the strategists’ failure to scotch the snowballing perception of Alan Carpenter as “arrogant” — a theme which has developed a life of its own since the early election was announced a fortnight ago.

When respondents to Saturday’s Westpoll survey were asked unprompted to name the single issue that would most influence their vote choice, fully 10 per cent responded with some variation on “Govt/Carpenter arrogance”. The apparent potency of this message has not been lost on the Liberals: the word “arrogant” appears twice, delivered with carefully modulated emphasis, in their latest 30-second radio advertisement.

Of course, the polling leak and accompanying talk of internal panic might just be a ruse to boost Labor’s winning margin rather than avert defeat. On the other hand, the shift to the Liberals recorded in last weekend’s polls was entirely consistent with the anti-Troy Buswell effect that was well understood to be at work in the preceding surveys. We have evidence now that is not merely anecdotal that the perception of arrogance is starting to bite. And those generous odds from Centrebet are still there for the taking.

The second is from Monday: I should add that Wendy Duncan is a better chance than I believed at the time, as she has done very well on the preference tickets.

The range of issues turned up by state elections these days (law and order, hospital waiting lists, water supply) is usually so narrow it can be hard to tell one campaign from the next. Two concerns which don’t often rate a mention are equal opportunity and sexual harassment.

It is an indication of the extraordinary state of affairs in the WA Liberal Party that Labor is pursuing these unconventional lines of attack in its first negative advertising of the state election campaign. Commercial radio audiences are being targeted with ads in which a young girl declares her aspiration to grow up in “a place where women have a voice in the community” and “a society which respects women”. An older female voice then breaks the bad news that the Liberal Party “boys’ club” has “only one woman running in their held seats”, and that “Liberal Shadow Treasurer Troy Buswell thinks it’s funny to play with a woman’s bra in public and to sniff a woman’s chair”.

The two issues are closely related. As well as making him poison in the eyes of women voters, Buswell’s heavily publicised indiscretions clearly presented a stumbling block to the party’s efforts to recruit female candidates. His emergence as leader in January also coincided with the departure of the party’s existing two women in the lower house. Shadow Tourism Minister Katie Hodson-Thomas announced her retirement plans before entering the party room meeting that confirmed Buswell as leader, having earlier complained he had subjected her to “inappropriate” remarks in the presence of male colleagues (she admits to regretting the decision now her long-standing ally Colin Barnett is back at the helm). Shadow Attorney-General Sue Walker quit the party a fortnight later, citing factionalism and her lack of “trust” in Buswell. Walker will attempt to hold her seat of Nedlands as an independent against Bill Marmion, who won Liberal preselection as the only male nominee in a field of four.

One failure at least could be put down to misfortune rather than carelessness. When Barnett announced his retirement in February, the unopposed preselection nominee for his blue-ribbon seat of Cottesloe was Deidre Willmott, policy director for the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a front-bench shoo-in. Willmott of course was compelled to stand aside when Barnett returned to the leadership a fortnight ago, and could not be persuaded with alternative offers of an upper house seat or a shot against Sue Walker in Nedlands. She has now been appointed chief-of-staff to Barnett and will no doubt take his place in Cottesloe if the Liberals lose the election, although this is not openly acknowledged.

When nominations closed on Friday, it was revealed the Liberals had managed a grand total of six female lower house candidates out of 58. Current polling suggests this will translate into two elected members out of about 24, both marginal seat newcomers with no obvious claim to a position on the front-bench. The situation is only slightly better in the upper house, where the most likely result will be four Liberal women out of 15. The Nationals too are likely to emerge with an all-male complement of three or four lower house MPs plus one in the upper house, unless their existing female MLC Wendy Duncan can pull off an unlikely win in Mining and Pastoral region.

The best Barnett has been able to make of the situation is to offer a front-bench position to Liz Constable, the long-standing independent member for the naturally Liberal western suburbs seat of Churchlands. Constable has been a notable presence alongside Barnett on the campaign trail, despite not yet having had much to say relating to her nominated portfolios of public sector management and government accountability.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

178 comments on “Yesterday’s papers: week two”

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  1. The Freight Rail system has been largely privatised (asset lease and running agreement), although wheat farmers were calling for the State Government to resume control from B&B not so long ago.

    The Minister for Planning and Infrastructure has been a fantastic Minister and should be exceedingly pleased with her achievements in what is a most angst portfolio. It is difficult to imagine any of the libs in cabinet having anything approaching her ability.

  2. I did note that in the West’s summary of the leadership debate that they lead the article by saying that the worm dipped noticably whenever Alannah was mentioned. Second paragraph they conceded that it also dipped whenever Troy was mentioned, so according to them they are equally poisonous in the minds of the electorate.

    A female politician judged on her eccentric hair is deemed as politically unpalatable as a male politician judged on his overt and admitted sexual harassment.

    they really don’t do anything to dispel the State’s redneck reputation.

  3. skink I think it goes to show how much of politics is ‘image’ and how very little is substance – if this were not the case then the Libs would have no chance whatsoever.

  4. of course it is image and perception – MacTiernan has shown herself to be one of the more competent ministers in the State government, and even the West admitted she deserved praise for delivering the railway, albeit through gritted teeth. Buswell however has tripped and fallen at every step in his political career. He couldn’t effectively manage the budget of Busselton Shire Council, but is seen as competent enough to be State Treasurer.

    Troy does however look good in a suit and fits in at the 500 Club.

  5. William, is there any chance you’ll open a thread on the really important election campaign curently under way in WA: for leadership of the CFMEU? We could be seeing the last days of King Kevin Reynolds and his Court Jester Joe McDonald, after a 30-year reign.

  6. If the liberal party had their way there would be no passenger line to the northern suburbs and the Perth to Freo line would be covered in mcmansions, shops and car parks.Alannah is my favourite minister,she is tough,competent and articulate. I wish i could say that about all ministers.
    Mark Mcgowan and his lies about his meeting with the hyphen shows him to be untrustworthy.His handling of the education portfolio is poor and may well cost Labor the election.

  7. From today’s Crikey email:

    Word filtering out of Menzies House in Perth, is that Colin Barnett finds himself in a position to be Premier in about a fortnight’s time. In fact many around the traps are speculating that the deals that were done to install Barnett as leader will need to be honoured, something no-one gave a lot of serious thought to at the time. But hey, he’s got a chance now.

    The main deal needing to be honoured involves Liz Constable being rewarded for being on the team, taking on the education portfolio. This then allows key Buswell backer Peter Collier to to take on the leadership in the Upper House.

    The current leader in the Upper House Norman Moore is no Barnett fan and would be forced out. Norman Moore is very close to NCB, also no fan of Barnett. Moore could be in line for an overseas post, if he continues to play the team game. It promises to be an interesting fortnight.

  8. Is Carps saving up for something big or are they going to portray the libs as reckless?

    Big infrastructure announcement coming? In spite of hiccups, the Perth-Mandurah line seems to be proving successful and popular in practice. Desal plant ditto. I can’t immediately bring to mind anything in the pipeline (sorry) for the next term, which surprises me for a government that, so far, has been enthusiastic about building big things.

    Another major rail project would be nice (airport link maybe, or even something really big like reinstating the rail to the Hills dormitory towns).

    In my previous life in the Public Service, Alannah McTearalong was my minister. She always came across pretty well, and only did one thing that I can recall really making my frontal lobes throb. Not bad considering the generally low standard of WA state pollies.

  9. If you’re so certain Sean there’s $1.25 in it for you for every buck you’re prepared to put on the line (according to Sportingbet) against $3.80 for the Libs

  10. I found that video at, a site which gives all the gossip about Sniffer.

    The site says it is authorized by the ALP.

    I’m asuming they had that site ready and waiting if he was still leader – but still it will be gold if he is Treasurer.

  11. 115 VPL – How sure are you? There’s $3.80 in it for you for every buck you’re prepared to put on the line (according to Sportingbet) against $1.25 for the Labor.

  12. Call me cynical, but I can see an ulterior motive in banning uranium mining in WA. The state can barely cope with the volume of mining it’s doing at the moment. There aren’t enough miners and facilities in mining towns. Keeping the uranium in the ground is great insurance for when the orders for iron ore run out. At that stage, the WA Government, of whatever party, can then start digging out the uranium to keep the state economy going.

    On the other hand, I suspect the uranium miners will be contributing more than small change to the Libs campaign in the final week.

  13. Gary, VPL wouldn’t back the Libs with your money. If he really believed what he says the Libs would be unbackable short odds by now.

  14. Another Liberal Sattler File Policy.

    An elected Liberal Government would legislate to allow for the naming of teenagers as young as 16 who have been charged over serious crimes.

    But the juvenile offenders would only be named if they were repeat offenders or had been charged over serious crimes, and were being dealt with outside the Children’s Court, either in the District Court or the WA Supreme Court.

    The Liberals policy was launched as a 16-year-old faced the Perth Children’s Court charged over the alleged bashing and robbery of a 35-year-old woman who suffers from cerebral palsy.

    It is alleged the teenager, who has been charged with one count of aggravated robbery, bashed and mugged the woman at the Curtin University bus station on Saturday.

    State Opposition leader Colin Barnett and shadow attorney-general Christian Porter announced the policy at the scene of a violent attack on a woman with cerebral palsy.

    “For too long young offenders who commit serious crimes have been able to escape the consequence of their actions and hide their identities because of their age,” Mr Barnett said.

    “It is time the crime of young offenders is given propriety over their age.”

  15. FC #120….objective journalism, such an extinct animal in this state.

    FC #121…I cant wait for the return of public floggings under these guys!! Lets hope they make bra-snapping a floggible offence!

  16. Hmm, Troy might not be in Barnett’s cabinet.

    The Liberal Leader, Colin Barnett, is refusing to say if he will make Troy Buswell his Treasurer, or include him in his Cabinet if he wins the election.

    After a tumultuous six months, Mr Buswell stood down as leader in order for Mr Barnett to return to the leadership.

    At a media event today, Mr Barnett said the Shadow Attorney General Christian Porter would definitely be in his Cabinet.

    But he refused to give the same commitment in relation to Mr Buswell.

    “I’m not going there, I’m not going there,” he said.

    “Look if I win the election, if I win the election and we’re a long way off that, come around and have a coffee with me on the Sunday morning and I’ll tell you about the Cabinet.”

  17. FC #123……”But he refused to give the same commitment in relation to Mr Buswell.”……

    We all know that “Sniffer” will get a jersey, whether it be as Treasurer or not. Why do you think he stepped aside like he did.

    If its not Treasurer my guess it’ll be the something like Sport and Rec and Tourism…..plenty of wine-tasting, free tickets and partying. About the only thing that “Sniffer” excels at!

  18. Apparently the Liberals have promised to build the Fremantle Eastern Bypass Road (ie extension of Roe Hwy to Fremantle) they can kiss their southern suburbs hopes goodbye

    This was apparently in the local rag (Cockburn Gazette)

  19. Apparently the Liberals have promised to build the Fremantle Eastern Bypass Road (ie extension of Roe Hwy to Fremantle) they can kiss their southern suburbs hopes goodbye

    They promised the exact thing last election 🙂 That’s always been Liberal policy, put more trucks on Roe Hwy, instead of putting freight on Rail.

  20. Regarding the Mandurah rail line, can anyone tell me if this is the first time that trains have ever run there, or was there a previous service that was closed? (Also, what is the northern line that Carpenter has talked about extending)?

    Great to hear you have such a dedicated, switched on, transport minister over there. We’d kill for one of those here in Victoria. Our’s is bloody useless – her most famous quote being – “Do I want to run a railway. I don’t think so”.

  21. Gary, Steve – I am not at all certain about a Liberal victory. Nor am I certain about a Labor one (although that certainly seems the more likely). I wouldn’t bet even if I were.
    However, it seems like easy money for anyone who IS certain…
    Regarding uranium mining, I can’t see the big deal myself but Carps obviously thinks it is one NOW (not so much just a short time ago). However, the Federal Government obviously considered it had some power in this area (ie former 3 mines policy). Not sure of the source of this jurisdiction but could the Feds override any State position – pro or anti??

  22. RE 128 Darn

    No there was no rail service to Mandurah or the southern suburbs at all.

    There was a piss-weak mini busway that Richard Court built, and one or two buses an hour from Mandurah

    The Liberals were going to build the line through Kenwick then onto the existing Armadale line, restraining capacity and adding half an hour to a trip to the city

    Labor bit the bullet and did the direct route with 2 new underground city stations. The 80km trip from Mandurah takes 45 minutes or so.

    The Northern suburbs line was built by the Labor Lawrence government in the early 90s going all the way to Joondalup (30ks or so from city).

    They also extended it to Currambine.

    The Gallop government extended it more north to Clarkson in 2004.

    Carps has pledged to extend it even more north to Butler.

    Butler and Clarkson are the sprawl growth area’s north of the city, and the rail service is very popular.

  23. VPL @ 29

    The High Court in the Workchoices case seemed to indicate that the Feds have power to “cover the field” with regard to laws wth respect to Constitutinal Corporations. No reason why this could not extend to mining (also could use the external affairs power).

    Presumably the Feds could also squash any attempts to export Uranium as well if the libs get in.

  24. 129 VPL – I’m wondering why you can’t be certain but not bet. You don’t have to bet to back up your certainty surely. You don’t bet and wouldn’t even if you were certain.

  25. Darn @128

    the rail line to Mandurah is a completely new one which runs down the centre of the freeway.

    the line north was built ten years ago, again down the centre of the freeway. Since it was built several new sandpit suburbs have grown up beyond the end of the railway as Perth sprawls further up the coast. The plan is to extend to those new suburbs, only a couple of stops really. No great vision required there.

    Note that there are only four rail lines in Perth – one west to Fremantle, one north, one south and two east. It hardly compares with Melbourne’s train and tram network. Perth folk are still welded to their cars, usually single occupancy.

  26. [The Liberals were going to build the line through Kenwick then onto the existing Armadale line, restraining capacity and adding half an hour to a trip to the city]

    This line still may be built. The section near Kenwick had tunnels dug under roads and a freight railway before the Gallop government came in, so that got turned into a 2 km spur line to Thornlie. There’s also a tunnel in the middle of the freeway median down at Jandakot, so it’ll be pretty easy to extend the Thornlie spur to the existing Mandurah line, via Canning Vale – more sprawl suburbs in the south-east of Perth, which is growing at a huge rate. If built, this would be the first passenger line in Perth which doesn’t go through the CBD.

  27. In fact, if Carpenter doesn’t want to play the ‘Liberals are reckless with money’ card, the Kenwick-Jandakot line could be the big announcement they haven’t made yet. Now that’d be good to see.

  28. Apparently the DPI wants to make the circle route (98,99) (the city’s most patronized bus service) into a light rail route

    it basically circles the entire city taking in universities, tourist spots etc

  29. BTW here as some excerpts from the locked article. Apologies if its too long I would give a link but it is via subscription only

    Upper house the main game
    Opinion: 28-August-08 by Joe Poprzeczny from West Australian Business News that came out today

    Mr Sullivan, who is contesting an upper house seat for his new party, recently sent to resource companies and other business houses, a copy of which has been handed to State Scene.

    “The next state election is important for the resources sector, including [company’s name removed],” the Sullivan letter begins.

    “The prospect of a Labor government now seems inevitable, with the Greens holding the balance of power in the parliament.

    Put bluntly, it is that the political situation is essentially a clash between two ideological blocs, with Carpenter-led Labor still quietly confident it will hold power.

    With Mr Barnett as leader it seems the Liberals are now far more likely to win a handful more seats than they would have had Mr Buswell remained leader.

    Barring a major scandal, Labor is likely to be returned with, at worst, Mr Carpenter having to rely on the support of former Labor minister John Bowler, who has a good chance of emerging as an Independent pro-Laborite MP for Kalgoorlie.

    The prospects in the lower house for what can fairly be described as WA’s conservative bloc – the Liberals, Nationals, Family First and Christian Democrats – therefore remain bleak, with Labor likely to hold firm on 29 of the 59 seats.

    As State Scene has pointed out, even if the Liberals won, say, a whopping 26 seats – which would include 23 by the Liberals and the three Independent Liberals, Liz Constable, Janet Woollard, and Sue Walker – they’d still need the Nationals to come on board as formal coalition partners or minority government backers.

    True, nothing is impossible at any election, but to expect Mr Barnett to emerge with 23 seats is an almighty ask.

  30. Luke – fair enough on the Corps power I guess, don’t think the external affairs power would extend to MINING but it would be nugatory if you couldn’t EXPORT (which would be covered). However, since they already allow exports from SOME mines wouldn’t a prohibition on WA mines breach s 117 (might be a stretch???)
    As for that crazy Mandurah railway, wow huh? Time and budget blow-outs be damned it is a nice piece of engineering. As a daily train user myself (albeit on the sadly neglected Armadale line) I like a nice train – they have that lovely new train smell. One thing that struck me as odd though – the urban infill/sprawl hasn’t been even – you pass through development, bush, then development again…
    Ok – drifting from the election a bit – back on topic, that announcement about naming and trying juveniles (albeit older juveniles) as adults… I don’t much like it but presumably someone thinks there’s votes in it???

  31. [Apparently the Liberals have promised to build the Fremantle Eastern Bypass Road (ie extension of Roe Hwy to Fremantle) they can kiss their southern suburbs hopes goodbye

    This was apparently in the local rag (Cockburn Gazette]

    Whatawat? That’ll be very hard now… where that road was originally planned in Beaconsfield / White Gum Valley has been a bit of a dead zone for years (near Wood St and Curedale St, for the locals), but since the reserve got deleted there’s been a lot of the old derelict houses being renovated or replaced – this is ~1km from the coast on top of a hill, so the blocks are being sold for quite impressive prices. It’ll be a lot harder to build that road now than it would have been in 2005, had Barnett been elected then.

  32. Nice little Libs /Greens clash over biofuel Power station.

    “The Liberal candidate for Blackwood Stirling, Wade de Campo, says he supports the development of a 40 megawatt biomass power station near Manjimup.

    The Greens’ candidate, Luke Petersen, says the station should be split into smaller plants to reduce the impact on local produce growers who oppose it.

    But Mr de Campo says the plant has received environmental approvals and has been found to be safe to the community.

    He denies he has a conflict of interest since he also serves as the local shire president, and is the owner of a trucking company.”

  33. VPL@142

    yes, people think there are votes in locking people up, especially yoof offenders, hoons and taggers. takback radio always talk it up. Despite Perth having low crime rates, and the rates falling in all catagories except burglary, Perth voters are all in fear of crime. they should try living in Sao Paolo

    as evidence, I given you the party blurb for Christain Porter, shadow attourney-general, who rates these issues as more important than schools, but less important than heavy trucks passing through his electorate (see above)

  34. did someone move all the keys on my computer whilst I was out of the room?

    can’t add up, can’t type. if my IQ drops any further I’ll be reaching for the phone and calling talkback radio

  35. 142 [Ok – drifting from the election a bit – back on topic, that announcement about naming and trying juveniles (albeit older juveniles) as adults… I don’t much like it but presumably someone thinks there’s votes in it???]

    Springborg in Queensland has lost two elections so far with that as his favorite them. Hopefully after the third strike here it will disappear for ever. I doubt there are any votes in it.

  36. Thanks to everyone who provided all that enlightening info regarding the rail (and light rail) development in Perth and surrounds. I haven’t visited your fair city yet but this certainly gives me a lot of incentive to make the long trip over – especially if the progressive Carpenter government comes up trumps again in two weeks.

  37. VPL @ 142

    The external affairs power allows you to sign all sorts of international treaties which you can then impose on the States (and of course it allows you to control export permits).

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