Whichever way you look at it, Saturday’s by-election in the hills of Perth was a heavy blow to the West Australian Government and Premier Mark McGowan and a corresponding boost for the Liberal Party.
Liberal candidate Alyssa Hayden won the Darling Range seat with a 9 per cent swing against the Government. The Liberals are on a roll. Her win coincided with the triumph of Malcolm Turnbull and Mathias Cormann pushing tax cuts through the Parliament. In themselves, the tax cuts look like small beer but it was the parliamentary victory that mattered.
The big swing against Labor in the hills must have left Liberals even more perplexed by their Party’s decision not to field a candidate in the upcoming by-election for the federal seat of Perth, mysteriously given up by Labor member Tim Hammond. The gossip around the town was that the Liberals were short of a quid, which was hard to believe, and could not afford to run in Perth.
The wins in Darling Range and Canberra will lift Liberal confidence and the Party’s exchequer. If indeed the Party is cash-strapped, business will be happy to cough up by way of insurance, just in case Malcolm and co hang in there next year and WA Labor is a one-term wonder.
Labor in the West needs to wake up to two fundamental errors evident at the time of the Cottesloe by-election, which was not contested by the Party. (Pearls and Irritations 26 March, The West Australian Liberals Get Serious.)
The Labor Government has underestimated its opposition and it has gone way past its use-by date for blaming the State’s problems on the previous government. The Government took this tired blame-game to a vindictive extreme when it commissioned former Treasury official John Langoulant to conduct a witch-hunt on projects managed by its predecessors. Copies of the Langoulant report were distributed to Labor branches and went down like a lead balloon with members at the grassroots.
Premier Mark McGowan is perhaps too fond of the camera and his spruiking for high-rise apartments in the oceanfront and riverside suburbs is out of order. He pops up in every conceivable publicity stunt, even going to Rottnest Island with tennis player Roger Federer to take tourist pictures.
Mark unwisely placed himself centre stage in the Darling Range campaign and it was a shame to see him blaming the defeat on the former Labor member who was discovered to have exaggerated his qualifications and has been sufficiently crucified for one lifetime. This may be the official excuse but let us hope some deeper thinking is going on behind the scenes.
It is a big week in Australian politics. On Monday morning in the House of Representatives Bob Katter introduced the Banking System Reform (Separation of Banks) Bill inspired by the Roosevelt Depression-era Glass Steagall legislation. The Citizens Electoral Council in Melbourne is to be congratulated for keeping this culture alive in Australia. In the short time allotted for such introductory speeches, Bob advised honourable members to read J.K. Galbraith’s book on the 1929 Depression. The Galbraith classic has never been out of print. It was good advice. I must get around to reading the book myself. The Tasmanian Independent Andrew Wilkie seconded Bob’s motion and I look forward to their speeches when Parliament resumes in a couple of months.
This will be a new experience for our Canberra House of Trivial Pursuits – dealing with a serious matter requiring some knowledge of political and economic history. Will honourable members be up to it?
The portents are not good. On the Monday evening news, we heard from the Banking Royal Commission about a Receiver charging one and a half million dollars in fees against a five million dollar farm on the West Australian south coast, leaving the farming couple with nothing after 50 years of hard work. We heard that the activities of Receivers were not covered by the Royal Commission’s terms of reference.
Well, extend the terms, Prime Minister, pronto. All honourable members have known for years about this sort of filth going down in their electorates and governments have done nothing.
On the same news programme, we heard about the latest Labor Party advertisements attacking Malcolm Turnbull for being a fat-cat, Goldman Sachs type of thing. As the Prime Minister noted, this was not telling the Australian public anything they did not already know. Meanwhile, the Liberals are criticising Bill Shorten for being a pragmatic, right-wing trade union official. This is his life story and it is a normal, common or garden career path in the Australian Labor Party.
When there is no philosophical or ideological difference between the major parties they step up their personal abuse, thereby making themselves even less relevant to the voting public. The best comment on the whole shooting match came from Bob Katter, the man of the moment, when he said there was a cigarette paper’s width of difference between the major parties on any significant policy area in the last 30 years. Such is the legacy of the Mont Pelerin thought collective.
Soon Bob and Andrew will introduce a dose of old-fashioned, New Deal common sense to the federal Parliament. This is just what the doctor ordered. If honourable members fail to support him we may hold a sneaking suspicion that they are still hoping to wangle cushy post-parliamentary jobs for themselves in our discredited, disgusting financial sector.
Jerry Roberts is a member of the Australian Labor Party