WA voters between the devil and the deep blue sea

An opinion piece from our WA Chairman

It’s hard to get excited about the upcoming WA state election (Saturday March 9th). In fact, the general public mood in WA is one of indifference, ignorance, and apathy. This probably augers well for WA Premier Colin Barnett, in the sense that if the electorate doesn’t notice you that much, then they’re probably not itching to get rid of you just yet. Despite holding the narrowest of leads and relying on the support of the WA Nationals (who are actually not in a formal coalition with the Liberal Party in WA), Barnett is at unbackable odds to retain power and to increase his margin.

With a booming state economy, driven by WA’s enormous mining sector, there’s undoubtedly some who are benefiting considerably from the current economic prosperity. But that prosperity has also led to Perth becoming the fastest growing city in Australia, with not only immigrants, but also people from the Eastern states, flocking to WA. This has put considerable pressure on WA’s services, water resources and infrastructure.

As in the rest of Australia, electricity prices are high, house and rental prices in Perth remain extremely high, the general cost of living is high, and there is a feeling amongst some that the prosperity is being managed poorly – and that it’s not really benefiting the masses very much at all.

Premier Barnett seems to convey an economic-growth-at-any-cost mentality. He wants to rip it up, ship it out, and sell it off to China. And like many other economic rationalist fundamentalists, Barnett thinks that any investment in WA is good, regardless of who the owners are. In fact, in his time as Premier, he has done nothing but kowtow to China.

Many West Australians were not happy at the Barnett Liberal government granting a 50-year lease to a Chinese company, to produce sugar by the Ord River in WA’s Kimberley region, a project that had generously seen hundreds of millions in taxpayer funds spent to support local infrastructure for the project.

In a disgraceful display of contempt for democratic processes, the Barnett government incrementally brought in Sunday trading in Western Australia, despite a 2005 public referendum emphatically rejecting Sunday trading. The small business community was opposed, along with the WA Nationals, but big business supported it, so you’ll never guess who the WA Liberals wanted to please. When new Labor leader Mark McGowan also agreed to it, Barnett finally got his way on the issue. Again, the issue epitomised Barnett’s mentality of “economic growth before all other considerations”.

A similar approach is demonstrated by the Liberal government on such issues as genetically engineered crops and uranium mining. Genetically engineered canola crops were approved, despite many expressing concern, whilst the Labor opposition voiced disapproval. Premier Barnett lifted the ban on uranium mining imposed by the previous Labor government, and WA’s first uranium mine was approved, despite protests.

Although fracking is yet to become a major issue in WA, one can only imagine what Barnett’s approach might be, given his record in other areas.

Barnett has upset unions in WA by contracting out to multinational giant Serco some hospital services such as cleaning. Like other state Liberal (and Labor) governments throughout Australia before him, Barnett is very keen to amalgamate some local councils in WA into regional “super councils”. This has drawn the ire of some high profile councillors in Perth’s Western suburbs, such as Cottesloe mayor Kevin Morgan, who accuses Barnett of cronyism, and is running against him for the state seat of Cottesloe.

Western Australia has completely draconian racial vilification laws, that actually saw one Perth man sentenced to prison for three years, merely for expressing his opinions on YouTube. Given Barnett’s openly hostile attitude towards Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who was booked to speak in Perth (but the event host mysteriously cancelled at the last minute), it should be very obvious that Premier Barnett is no friend of free speech.

Or freedom of association. Despite strong opposition from unionists, church figures, aboriginal activists, forest campaigners, civil libertarians, and biker groups, the Liberal government went ahead with passing anti-association laws, that will apparently only target bikie and other criminal gangs.

Despite a parliamentary report finding that there was “no justification for giving police extra powers”, Colin Barnett was determined to press ahead with controversial “stop-and-search laws”. In the end, the laws were blocked by the Nationals in the Upper House, but don’t be surprised to see them raised again, should Barnett win a second term.

Barnett has done nothing to reverse restrictions on smoking tobacco, but on the other hand, his government made possession of (any amount of) cannabis a criminal offence again, reversing the policy of the previous Labor government.

The Nanny State seems to be very alive and well under Colin Barnett. His government recently decided to put a ban on Mixed Martial Arts events in WA being fought in cages, infuriating many fans of the rapidly growing sport, and ensuring that the highly popular Ultimate Fighting Championship could not host events in Perth, as they believe cages are much safer for MMA fighters, and they won’t allow UFC events to occur in a boxing ring. But like King Canute trying to hold back the tide, the government is concerned about the “gladitorial image of cagefighting”.

The style of the Barnett Liberal government can probably best be described as very authoritarian economic rationalist. And there can be little doubt that overall, WA’s current Liberal government is a pretty bad one. But would the Labor alternative be any better?

Many West Australians will have very bad memories of the last Labor government to hold power in WA, and for this reason, they will be loathe to trust Labor again, just four years later. The other big problem Labor has is Julia Gillard. She is very much on the nose in WA, to the point that WA Labor strategists were determined to keep her out of the state entirely during the state election campaign.

Labor’s problem is that they haven’t communicated what differences may exist between themselves and the Liberals. This could hardly inspire anyone hoping for any significant change to the Barnett regime. Instead, WA Labor leader Mark McGowan embraced Sunday trading, and has let his campaign get bogged down in fighting the Liberals over relative trivialities.

But Labor may have a few differences to the Liberals. Unlike Barnett, McGowan has voiced concerns about foreign ownership of WA farmland, and has vowed to “monitor” the issue. He has also said there would be no extra genetically engineered crops in WA, and he has vowed that there will be no privatisation of government services.

WA Labor had a long-standing opposition to uranium mining in WA, which may be a good thing, if the destination for our uranium were to be countries like China, India or the United Arab Emirates. But McGowan, undoubtedly keen to appeal to the business community, promised that Labor would only oppose new mines, and would not close any, or stand in the way of any currently in the approval process.

When the only promoted difference between the major parties seems to be the exact point where they’re going to build rail lines to, or where they’re going to build the next grandiose sports stadium, it’s hard to get excited about the WA election. (Hundreds of millions WA tax dollars will be spent on a new sports stadium that will almost certainly only end up with a corporate name).

The WA Labor team may lack political experience, but at least they will no longer have three terrible performers from their last government as part of their team – Carpenter, McGinty and Ripper. Their new leader Mark McGowan is a fairly slick operator, but overall, they hardly look inspiring.

So who should West Australians vote for? Certainly not either of the major parties, if they can help it. Neither are fit to govern in their own right. And certainly not the pie-in-the-sky Greens. Voters should carefully consider local issues and the policies of individual candidates in their local seats. Quality independents, like Kevin Morgan in Cottesloe, deserve support. As far as any parties are concerned, voters may wish to consider the Shooters And Fishers Party (generally supportive of civil liberties), or the Australian Christians (socially conservative and opposed to Islamisation). Rural voters may wish to consider the WA Nationals (pro-rural and small business, and not in a formal alliance with the WA Liberals).

The following sitting MPs are specifically opposed to water fluoridation, so it might be worth considering a vote for them:

Mr Peter Abetz MLA (Liberal, Southern River)
Vincent Catania MLA (WA Nationals, North West)
Ian Britza MLA (Liberal, Morley)
Graham Jacobs MLA (Liberal, Eyre)

If one has to make a choice between the major parties, such as where preferences go, Labor may be the better alternative, as the Liberals are likely to win, and it may be better for democracy to have an opposition of decent strength.

The Australian Protectionist Party will not be contesting the state election this time around, but we certainly intend to contest the federal election in September.


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