New PM has hard digging ahead in WA

28 Jun, 2010 05:00 AM
Mary Clark, a member of the CWA for 57 years, and CWA President Anne Nicholson share a joke. Photo: Tony Ashby
Mary Clark, a member of the CWA for 57 years, and CWA President Anne Nicholson share a joke. Photo: Tony Ashby

ANY hope in the hearts of Labor candidates in Western Australia that Julia Gillard will increase their chances of winning at the next federal election seems, on early indicators, to be misplaced.

''A looming sense of doom pervades the atmosphere now as Julia Gillard, once the secretary of the group Socialist Forum, takes the reins,'' Barry Walters of Subiaco wrote in the letters page of The West Australian on Friday.

''Now our nation is to be led by the extreme Left, a political philosophy with no sympathy for small business, with contempt for employers and professionals, with hatred for perceived privilege and with a lamentable ignorance of and disdain for what it is like to have to earn a living.''

''We have had a coup, the same that has happened in Kyrgyzstan and other Third World countries,'' wrote B. Molloy of Bedford.

Of the 24 letters printed, 18 were openly hostile towards Gillard and Labor. She was described as a ''kiddy commo'' and ''a big bright orange carrot called first [sic] female prime minister''.

The paper's online poll found 70 per cent of readers would vote against her, 30 per cent for her.

Talkback radio was no more sympathetic. Callers attacked her for being one of the ''gang of four'' which had come up with of Labor's ''dud policies''. She was a schemer who had shown no loyalty to Rudd, and, according to caller ''Maureen'', possessed a ''dull monotone voice that has absolutely no conviction when she's speaking''.

For the west, this is not extreme; it's normal political discourse. Rudd was reviled and the Labor brand in WA, declining for the past 20 years, next to worthless. The government holds a rump of four seats out of 15 in this state. The fear was that under Rudd this would get even worse.

''Gary Gray - he's just about gone,'' talkback host Howard Sattler told The Sunday Age, despite the parliamentary secretary enjoying a 6 per cent margin in his seat of Brand. Even Stephen Smith, the Foreign Affairs Minister, was said to fear for his political future despite a margin of 8.85 per cent and 17 years of parliamentary service in his seat of Perth.

Other seats that Labor hoped to hold or gain, such as Swan, Fremantle and Canning, were looking like losses.

Gillard's job is to turn around this extremity of feeling; to somehow win over the west. The only possible way is to cut a deal with mining companies on the resources tax.

And, without a lurch to the right on the other burning issue in WA - asylum seekers - it is hard to see how she could please an electorate where some talk of torpedoing refugee boats.

But at least the change provides a glimmer of hope for Labor. Alannah MacTiernan, a popular former state Labor MP who had been expected to unseat Liberal Don Randall until the mining tax saw her support collapse, cautiously welcomed the ''fresh start''.

Gary Gray feels the same way. Before Thursday's leadership change, he was on radio throwing support behind Gillard, calling for an end to the politics of spin and saying: ''I'd like to see the government governing for all Australians.''

Her appointment means ordinary citizens may have another look.

''She's a clever lady,'' said Marj Moyle, of the Country Women's Association's Mundaring branch, which meets in a tiny house in the hills above Perth, at the border between country and city. ''I hope she does well.''

''We've got to give her a chance,'' added fellow member Alison Billington.

When pushed, all seven of the women meeting at the CWA hall on Thursday put up their hands when asked if they would consider voting for her.

It is an uphill battle. WA is different. It's where the state's Electoral Matters Minister, Norman Moore, is an open secessionist who told The Sunday Age: ''I just wish I was 30 years younger and I could start this [campaign] off again. To be fair, most of my colleagues look at me and smile whenever secession is raised, but I think deep down they wouldn't mind having a good look at it.''

Western Australians do not have the factories and highly unionised workplaces that form the basis of Labor's vote in the eastern states. The state of the mining industry is so intimately part of the psyche in WA that the tax on it has been taken by voters as a personal insult. You hear over and again that their resources are theirs, not the Commonwealth's.

It also fed into an existing campaign, stoked by Liberal Premier Colin Barnett, that WA is being ripped off by the Commonwealth Grants Commission's redistribution of wealth to other states. ''Not only have they taken our best footballers for a long time, they've taken our money for longer,'' says Sattler. ''Rust-belt states like Victoria, why should we keep propping you up?''

Gillard's removal of the advertisements for the mining tax has bought her time. But don't think her success or failure will have anything to do with her sex. ''I don't care if she's a female or an alien or if she has 16 legs,'' Billington says. ''A person should get into power on their ability, not because they've got bosoms.''



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