WESTERN AUSTRALIA: by Joseph PoprzecznyNews Weekly
The self-inflicted wounds of Premier Carpenter
, June 10, 2006
When Alan Carpenter succeeded Dr Geoff Gallop as WA premier in January, he was looked upon as an ideal choice. But today, even members of his own party are having second thoughts about his suitability for the job, reports Joseph Poprzeczny.When former Western Australian Labor Premier, Dr Geoff Gallop, resigned the premiership last January, because of his little-known but long-standing bouts of acute depression, party insiders immediately looked for a telegenic replacement.
All eyes quickly turned to State Development Minister, Alan Carpenter, a former television presenter.
Understandably, his emergence prompted a sigh of relief, one not dissimilar to that in 1987 when Labor unexpectedly found itself without its two-election-winning leader, Brian Burke, who had signalled he'd be leaving politics for diplomatic posts in Dublin and the Vatican.Telegenic
Labor turned to Peter Dowding, a onetime divorce lawyer, because he was judged to be telegenic and thus likely to win the 1988 election.
That decision and Dowding's credible media performance, for a time, was so favourably looked upon that he soon came to be known as "Smooth Pierre".
Unfortunately for WA Labor, all the evidence to date shows it's without a "Smooth Al". The four months since Carpenter became premier have been anything but smooth.
Although not all the rough riding can be attributed to Carpenter, much that he's done is already prompting some to wonder who, within their ranks, may be available to lead them should his polling fail to come up to expectations over the remainder of 2006 and into 2007.
Carpenter's first big mistake was a journalistic throw-away line about one of his ministerial appointees, former Bayswater Council mayor, John D'Orazio.
So confident was he of D'Orazio's abilities that he elevated him to the electorally-crucial high-profile post of Police and Justice Minister.
At the same time, he claimed D'Orazio was the new Cabinet's "rising star". Although most thought this was swinging the lead somewhat, informed sceptics waited. Perhaps the potential "Smooth Al" knew more than they.
As things transpired, the "rising star" acclamation is likely to become Carpenter's most memorable faux pas
, one the Liberals will undoubtedly regularly remind him of as the February 2009 election approaches.
Within weeks of D'Orazio's appointment one media outlet dubbed him the "Godfather".
The term came from a witness who appeared before the Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) that had investigated on-going murky business dealings within Bayswater Council. D'Orazio unequivocally denied he was Bayswater's "Godfather".
On top of that, the CCC indicated it had no reason to further investigate matters there, which meant Carpenter stuck by his "rising star".
However, matters rapidly deteriorated for D'Orazio with claims by several young pharmacy assistants publicly alleging that he, as their former employer, had failed to pay their superannuation.
Although several union leaders balked at allegations of the pharmacist-turned-Labor MP, Carpenter continued expressing confidence in D'Orazio.
Then, a week after Carpenter's first 100 days in power, D'Orazio scored a hat trick with revelations that he'd had a car crash after having lost his licence for failure to pay a traffic fine.
This proved too much for Carpenter who promptly demoted his accident-prone ministerial "rising star" to take charge of the Seniors, Disability, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs portfolio.
But demotion, not outright sacking, sparked widespread disquiet within Labor's backbench ranks and D'Orazio, next day, resigned to become a backbencher.
Strangely, the first to put his hand up to fill the D'Orazio vacancy was former Sports Minister, Bob Kucera, who just before Christmas was asked by Gallop to resign because of his failure to disclose private financial matters involving a company that Cabinet had discussed at length.
But Kucera's bid to resurface as a minister sparked another unseemly incident. Labor backbencher Carol Martin discounted suggestions of conflict of interest and instead publicly stated that Kucera had been strong-armed out of cabinet by a gravely ill Gallop.
"When Geoff made the decision to pressure Bob into resigning for whatever reason, he was actually suffering from what we know now is clinical depression," she said.
"Mental illness is a terrible thing and I'd never criticise Geoff for actually taking any actions while he was suffering from it."
Well, that was also too much for Carpenter who joined several leading party figures to force Martin to publicly apologise for her insinuations about Gallop.
At the same time, Carpenter's long-time journalistic pal and principal private secretary, Peter Terlick, resigned and announced he was without a job, so was "open to offers".
If these were the only upheavals during Carpenter's so far brief tenure, he may still deserve the "Smooth Al" appellation, even if only just.
But there have been several other well-publicised bumps for Carpenter-led Labor.
His Health Minister, Jim McGinty, was revealed as having agreed to a remuneration package for the head of the WA Football Commission, Dr Neale Fong, which easily outstrips that being received by Prime Minister, John Howard.
Fong's $630,000 annual package is for five years and he's refused to be based in the Health Department's administrative complex, preferring instead a separate office near the Football Commission that has cost taxpayers more than $400,000 to refurbish plus a $130,000 annual rent.
Like D'Orazio, Fong has had driving problems, having gained 12 demerit points and thus lost his right to drive for several months.Embarrassing incident
This came on top of an earlier embarrassing incident in which Fong's wife, Peta, was charged with having driven her husband's government vehicle while under the influence.
And there have been other unwelcome bumps.
At the party level, party state secretary Bill Johnson is attempting keep the lid on unrest over Carpenter's refusal to back uranium mining in a state that has abundant deposits ready for exploitation.
Rather than signalling that these could begin being prepared for mining, Carpenter is sticking to the party's no go line.
But a growing number of Labor backbenchers disagree and, last week, the president of the mining-oriented Kalgoorlie branch, James Donnelly, went public and resigned his position after a bitter row with Johnson over uranium.
Donnelly has said he'll be taking the matter further by challenging Johnson to become state secretary.
"I just cannot work with the man [Johnson]," Donnelly said. "He is dictatorial and the way the state party is being run is a shame."
The state branch of the Australian Workers' Union is also at loggerhead with Carpenter's anti-uranium stance. AWU state secretary Tim Daly says WA was set to be left behind.
"There is a shift in the public view and in public opinion, and the paranoia over nuclear power is starting to diminish," he said.
To further tarnish Carpenter-led Labor, it has emerged that its state president, former Federal MP and onetime Kucera chief-of-staff, Sharryn Jackson, has been given a $100,000-a-year job heading up something called the Community Cabinet Liaison Unit (CCLU), which sits inside Carpenter's department.
Inquiries have revealed the CCLU has a staff of eight who also compile press releases for Labor backbenchers.
To make matters worse, Carpenter is said to have agreed to the "backbench spin machine" being located in his department because of an unexplained factional deal.
All this is reminiscent of the 1980s Brian Burke-led Labor, when Western Australians were increasingly subjected to media reports of jobs for the boys and girls and of the role of the government propaganda machine which was seen as integral to the later discredited WA Inc. operations.
Interestingly, Carpenter, as a television presenter and political commentator, was a commendable and ardent critic of all such practices.
This vast contradiction has had many wondering if he'll show himself to be more resilient than his predecessor Geoff Gallop and, if not, to whom Labor would look to leading it at the February 2009 election.