Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Western Australia: January to June 2008

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Western Australia: January to June 2008

Article excerpt

Western Australians began 2008 with the expectation of a continuing economic boom before a serious gas explosion on the North West shelf early in June, combined with high international oil prices and a bear stock market gave pause for thought. There was a change of leadership in the Liberal party in this period and both major parties experienced a bumpy pre-selection process and a range of unwanted distractions ahead of a forecast early election. By 27 June 2008 Newspoll indicated a ten per cent slip in the Liberal Party's primary vote from its 2007 high of 41 per cent, with Labor maintaining its 2005 electoral victory point of 42 per cent. The Greens (WA) improved their standing with a jump to 16 per cent and in two-party-preferred terms Labor led the Liberal party by 54 to 46 per cent. Once again the reports of the Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) featured prominently in the state's political affairs and by the end of the period under review, no fewer than three long-serving members of the parliamentary Liberal party and one Labor member had defected to the cross benches of the lower house to join a growing band of independents whose numbers had swelled from two to seven since the commencement of the thirty-seventh Parliament in 2005.

Parties, Parliament and the Corruption and Crime Commission

The phrase "the yuck-factor" was coined by the media early in 2008 to describe some incidents that called into question the behaviour of some prominent members of parliament. In early January the then Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party Troy Buswell faced allegations that, in October 2007, he snapped open the bra-strap of a Labor staff member as he performed a "party-trick" in the Speaker's chambers during a late night sitting of the House. The ensuing media focus was fuelled by footage of Buswell apparently intoxicated during a division in the house on that evening.

Notwithstanding Buswell's actions, moves were afoot within the party to oust leader Paul Omodei, who had consistently rated poorly in polls throughout his two year tenure as leader, and replace him with Buswell, who was considered a talented parliamentary performer in spite of his antics. A spill motion moved in the party room on 17 January saw Buswell defeat shadow Justice spokesperson Rob Johnson by seventeen votes to ten. Johnson had nominated following Omodei's last-minute decision to withdraw from the contest. Prior to the meeting Carine Liberal Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Katie Hodson-Thomas announced she would be leaving politics at the next election, citing inappropriate remarks from Buswell as one reason behind her decision. A notable absentee from the ballot was Nedlands MLA Sue Walker, who had become increasingly isolated from the party in the previous twelve months, culminating in her announcement in early February to quit and stand as an Independent at the next election.

Any potential for celebration following Buswell's win was curtailed when it emerged that the Liberal party whip MLA Trevor Sprigg had died suddenly on the morning of the meeting after returning early from a family holiday to attend the ballot. Sprigg, a prominent former footballer, was first elected to the lower house seat of Murdoch in February 2005, and was succeeded by former public prosecutor and law lecturer Christian Porter (thirty-seven), son of the former Liberal Party Director Chilla Porter, at the 23 February by-election. Porter assumed the shadow Attorney-General portfolio from newly independent Sue Walker, and was considered a potentially strong opponent to veteran parliamentary performer and Labor party heavyweight Jim McGinty.

Independent Barrister Gall Archer presented her Review of the Corruption and Crime Commission Act 2003 to the parliament on 18 March, in which she recommended, among other things, strengthening the agency's powers in relation to organised crime. The Review came down in the midst of a period in which the Parliamentary Inspector for the CCC, Malcolm McCusker QC, was publicly questioning the practices of the agency in carrying out its functions. …

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