As the dust settles on the Western Australian election result, let’s not forget that for 8 ½ years Colin Barnett has led the state with distinction.
Barnett may be right in saying that time in office was his government’s biggest handicap in this election: two four-year terms is an eternity in our volatile electoral times. Had he not become Liberal leader a month before the 2008 election however, the Liberals would not have had the first of those terms at all, and most likely not the second either.
It’s being forgotten Barnett actually came to office unexpectedly in 2008. He stepped into the Liberal leadership as that election campaign commenced, when chair-sniffing predecessor Tory Buswell’s leadership collapsed, the parliamentary party was in turmoil and recriminations were flying everywhere as the state election loomed. The widely-respected Barnett was recalled from internal exile in desperation: there simply was nobody else to turn to. The Liberals, not expecting to win, and fighting amongst themselves for years, had neglected policy (the health policy, for one, was actually written days before it was launched), and Labor’s solid Alan Carpenter was expected to storm home in September 2008. Yet Barnett united his team, formed a credible campaign strategy around his own reputation for competence and integrity and crafted an emphatic win from nowhere.
All this in Labor’s headiest days of 2008, when Kevin Rudd was at his rampant, egocentric peak and the federal and every state and territory government was Labor. Coming from nowhere, Barnett’s election gave Liberals across Australia hope that while it may have been dark then, the dawn was not as far away as we feared. For that, all Liberals owe Colin Barnett a great debt.
In his first term Barnett followed the John Howard model. Having deliberately underpromised in the 2008 campaign, Barnett over-delivered in government, riding the resources boom but managing the state’s finances prudently with treasurer Buswell who, until his personal peccadilloes brought him down for good, proved a dab hand at economic management. That his second term turned sour was due to many factors, some of which like falling commodity prices were beyond his control, but Barnett’s integrity and that of the government he has led was not one of them. Of that, Barnett should rightly be proud.
Barnett may have been defeated at the polls, but he can stand tall as a premier and indefatigable champion of his state. His innate decency and sense of fairness may have been low on charisma, but high on decency and integrity. He is respected, rightly, across the political spectrum.
But for now it’s goodbye and thank you from all Liberals to Colin Barnett, whose generous and graceful concession speech on Saturday night is a mark of the man. He has done well, and he will be missed.
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