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WA Election 2008

Dec 16, 2008

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The Western Australian branch of the ALP has posted an expurgated version of a report conducted by former Senator Robert Ray into its recent state election defeat. The highlights for mine are as follows:

• Ray cites various elections over the past year-and-a-bit to observe that the advantages of incumbency are clearly not what they used to be. In particular, “a formerly inviolable rule of politics was that if opinion polls showed the country or State ‘heading in the right direction’ by more than 55%, re-election was a certainty”. The Howard government was nonetheless defeated with 58 per cent supporting such a proposition, and Alan Carpenter’s Labor joined the club with the figure on 54 per cent. Trumping the statistic in the latter case (and no doubt the former as well) was the belief of 53 per cent that it was “time to give someone else a go”.

• “As a rule, the higher the voter turnout, the better Labor does.” This time it was 82 per cent compared with 85 per cent in 2005. “Was the Labor vote lower because of the reduced turnout or was the loss of community support for Labor a driver of lower turnout? So far, no plausible explanation has been offered.”

• “Too many in the electorate thought that the surplus was just sitting around, unused”, when it was in fact being committed to capital works programs. Voters “readily formed the view that they, as individuals, had not benefitted from the boom and were resentful that the Government was not spending some of the surplus on them.”

• Colin Barnett “looked like he had made a personal sacrifice to resume the leadership and had been unfairly ambushed by the calling of the election”.

• “Dream team” candidates who were defeated in decisive seats such as Mount Lawley and Morley were placed in the wrong seats – though it’s unclear where they should have run instead. Bumping Bob Kucera aside in Mount Lawley is universally recognised as an error, though I do wonder what role the Royal Perth Hospital played in Labor’s loss of that particular seat.

• Ray faults The West Australian for “displaying a bias not seen since the Murdoch excesses of 1975”, which “spread to the rest of the media as though it was the norm”. On the former count, I wonder if Ray remembers the role Murdoch’s Adelaide News paper was said to have played in the defeat of Des Corcoran’s South Australian government in 1979, an election which had many parallels with this one.

• Ray rightly complains that Labor did not run an ad responding to the Liberal effort which gave viewers 30 seconds of silence to think of “three good things Alan Carpenter’s Labor has done in eight years of boom”, which would have written itself. The West Australian reported shortly after the election that such an ad had been considered but rejected on the grounds it would have seemed “reactive”.

• The Nationals “had a simple message, promoted it for 18 months and were allowed to get away with the fiscal irresponsibility of their promises and the illusion of their independence from the Liberal Party”. Blame lay with a “Perth-centric” Labor campaign, which was no doubt inspired by the new electoral landscape ushered in by one-vote one-value.

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