Dylan Caporn looks at the State Labor Party’s summer
There is no denying that the Barnett Government is a juggernaut at the moment. With an 18% lead on the opposition as preferred party, a personal approval rating of Premier Colin Barnett nearly four times that of the Leader of the Opposition; the entire government has a MC Hammer ‘Can’t Touch This’ feel behind it.
The Opposition should constantly be on the lookout for instances where it can cause damage to the Government. The opposition were given plenty of help when findings were released in regards to the lead poisoning scandal that had once plagued the port of Esperance, and does so again in the waters of Fremantle.
On a day when the Labor Party should have been on message, attacking the Government over the lead scandal, it was of no assistance that emails surfaced about a challenge to the security of Eric
Ripper’s leadership. These rumours descended into talk of disunity after Ripper proceeded to belittle the author of the leaks, Member for Pilbara, Tom Stephens, attacking him as ‘an incompetent, ineffective politician’. That 24 hour news cycle wasn’t about damaging lead findings, but about an Opposition in crisis.
The battle came to a head a few days later, with a meeting of key members of Labor’s Old Right faction (of which Ben Wyatt is aligned) to discuss the leadership issue. Wyatt declared himself a candidate for the top job, forcing both men to ‘do the numbers’.
The effects of the attempted coup are still evident a month later. A Labor love-in turned into a sour Valentine’s Day as Ripper demoted Wyatt’s supporters and promoted his own. Ripper loyalists including Ken Travers (North Metropolitan) and Michelle Roberts (Midland) were rewarded with Finance and Treasury respectively, while Paul Papalia (Warnbro) lost his Corrective Services portfolio.Wyatt’s bid was destined to fail right from the get go as key union figures, who’d previously indicated they would support Wyatt, threw their support behind Ripper. By the end of the tumultuous week for the ALP, Wyatt had withdrawn his candidacy, been stripped of the Shadow Treasury role and Ripper lived to see another day.
Mark McGowan, the other possible successor, declared himself out of the race, saying that he didn’t believe that the timing was appropriate. This is a genuine concern.
It is too far out from the scheduled 2013 election (unless Barnett does a Carpenter and calls it absurdly early) for a change in the leadership. But, the ALP are not going to risk digging the hole further by staying with Ripper until the next election and will more than likely dump him for either Wyatt or McGowan sometime before 2013.
The ideal time for a change would be just before or just after the winter break in Parliament this year. This gives the opportunity for the new leader to cement themselves in the minds of the public, but also prevents them from becoming stale within the minds of the public
If the party does stick with Ripper for the 2013 State Election, then an application of the last Newspoll to a 40,000 ft view of the State sees the party lose 10 members: Peter Watson (Albany), Andrew Waddell (Forrestfield), Mick Murray (Collie Preston), John Kobelke (Balcatta), Tony O’Gorman (Joondalup), Rita Saffioti (West Swan), Chris Tallentire (Gosnells), Carol Martin (Kimberley), Tom Stephens (Pilbara) & Eric Ripper (Belmont). In this hypothetical result, the Barnett Government may even gain the ability to rule without the necessity of the National Party.
The other possible contender, McGowan, faces the same problems. Although he didn’t stand for the ballot in January, there will more than likely be ample opportunity for him to stick his hand up for the role in the coming 12 months. However, he faces similar problems to Ripper, in that he is quite dull. This added to the stigma that he is a giant prick, means that if the ALP were to follow him into battle, they’d probably be slaughtered.The reason the whole leadership debacle surfaced was because the Newspoll released in early January revealed a massive gap between Ripper and Barnett. The biggest problem that Ripper constantly faces every day is PR. To put it frankly, he’s dull and uninspiring, which can cause internal problems within the party as well as perception problems with the electorate at large. His inability to ‘rally his troops’ if you will, means he can’t get the support to go up against the Barnett Government, making him appear weak and hardly as a credible alternative Premier.
Ripper’s other problem also plagues Barnett. He turns 60 this year, and he certainly looks his age. Both will have it in the back of their minds that their successors must have youth on their side, instead of just another member of the ‘old guard’. For the Liberals the choice is easy, Christian Porter. For the ALP, it’s Wyatt.
Wyatt, a 36 year old lawyer, has only been in Parliament for 5 years, after replacing former Premier Geoff Gallop. He has served as the Shadow Treasurer under Ripper, and has always been considered by many in both parties to be the next Labor leader. Despite the inexperience, in comparison to Ripper, he is a much livelier leader. If he became leader, Wyatt would be able to revitalise the opposition front bench, moving some of the younger faces forward, and some of the older ones, back. On a side note his election would also mean he becomes the first aboriginal to lead a major party in Australia, a key vote winner, as it was for his uncle Ken Wyatt in Hasluck last year.
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Labor needs a change. Desperately. However, if they can wait it out for another 6 months with Ripper as leader, and ignore the polls, they can change the leader at the right time, giving the party a fresh new look, instead of the dry, dreary, nearly tired one, it’s currently seen as.