Perhaps it’s distance, both physical and temporal, that gives me the opportunity to be a little mellower in my assessment of the contribution of Alan Carpenter to the Western Australian Labor Party than some others of recent days, following his announcement of his resignation effective this Friday. Truth be told, though, I was never as bitter about his undoubted failings as others have been. Disappointed, certainly, but not bitter.
Don’t get me wrong – if I chose to I’d have, I’m told, relatively good personal reasons for bitterness. It was Mr. Carpenter’s decision as Premier to require my resignation or termination as a Chief-of-Staff in his government in 2007. Having made that decision, he delegated responsibility for telling me to his then Chief-of-Staff, Rita Saffioti (as an aside, Ms Saffioti undertook what was obviously an entirely horrible task in a highly creditable way). I think the last face-to-face discussion I had with him was relaying some of the excellent humorous musings of Alex Manfrin at a comedy debate for Artrage in 2006.
However, there are a few things that get lost if we focus too heavily on Mr. Carpenter’s ill-advised decision to call an early election, his flawed installation of a number of ultimately unsuccessful candidates, or any of the other campaign tactics which spectacularly backfired last year (and other, earlier decisions as well).
His more positive contributions include, for example, his significant impact in the 2001 campaign where he virtually destroyed Colin Barnett on local radio, his subsequent parliamentary performances as the Gallop government’s chief attacker and his great – when he chose to show it – sense of humour. The Opposition Leader, Eric Ripper, has also mentioned his contributions to education in raising the school-leaving age and to state development with the Pluto natural gas project.
His departure opens the door to another by-election, a subject on which I have two observations. Firstly, if, as seems likely, Peter Tinley gets the nod from Labor and then the people of Willagee it will be a distinct win for the Right of the Party, regardless of whether or not he identifies as factionally unaligned. However, it’s a little disappointing that the four people with military experience/qualifications who’ve sought election for Labor in WA in recent years (Mark McGowan, Duntroon graduate Ben Wyatt, Paul Papalia and now Peter Tinley) have gone into State, rather than Federal, parliament. It is the latter arena, after all, in which this experience could make the greater contribution to public policy in Australia. I’m amongst those who had hoped that Mr. Tinley would have another crack at Stirling.
The second observation I make is that in this by-election the Opposition Leader should step up to the plate and take a leading role in the campaign. This may run counter to polling or focus group results, but the fact is that in order for Eric Ripper to be a credible contestant at the next State election he must start an active campaign of overcoming whatever disadvantages he has collected over the course of the last government’s terms. It’s time for him, and the Party behind him, to start promulgating a positive endorsement of his leadership, not more of the idle assumptions about seat-warming that have featured so heavily to date.
First, he has to believe that a strong role in the election is important and demand it. There is no obligation on the Party to pressgang him into it. Having asked for such a role, he has a right to expect the support of the Party in following through.
Mr. Ripper loves the campaign trail and shines in his dealings with members of the community. This is because he has a genuine interest in the lives of the people of Western Australia, and it’s that interest, rather than silly name-calling, that wins hearts. Fremantle was, and now Willagee is, cast by the media as a test of his leadership: it’s time to take to the field and decisively pass that test.