Alan Carpenter departs

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.

6 Responses to Alan Carpenter departs

  1. crankynick says:

    I think you can blame Carpenter for getting himself almost completely separated from the rest of the party while Premier, though, even before the rest of the campaign. I heard plenty of stories in the 12 months before the election was called of backbenchers forced to corner him on the floor of Parliament, because they weren’t able to access him outside of the chamber.

    HIs naivety about party office system, and inexperience in dealing with factional chiefs also meant he only exerted control over the lay party to the extent of getting his preferred candidates up (all of who were fine choices, btw, IMHO) – and didn’t take the steps necessary to ensure he had a competent team in party office.

    And the senior politicos in government running the campaign (in the absence of a strong hand in party office) can take the blame also – Carpenter didn’t make that decision to call an early election alone, he had advisors around him who recommended it – not that they’ll admit it now.

    It’s my honest belief that Labor lost that election largely on the poor quality of ministerial staff and senior advisors in government – very few of them had been through an election in senior positions, and almost none of them had any significant experience doing the hard yards in a marginal seat.

    The simple fact is that Labor lost because the government and the campaign were being run by a bunch of people who learned everything they know about running an election campaign from watching The West Wing.

  2. Rewi says:

    Thanks crankynick.

    I think the comment in the first paragraph is supported by complaints that were airing even very early on in Mr. Carpenter’s Premiership, when I was still working for the government. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to distinguish between what might be considered normal levels of backbencher griping and escalated tension.

    I agree with you about the candidates he chose as well, and that it was the process of their preselection that did the real damage.

    As for how the campaign itself was run, unfortunately I’m not in any real position to comment because I wasn’t involved.

  3. crankynick says:

    and that it was the process of their preselection that did the real damage.

    I don’t think it was – I don’t buy that voting punters actually give a shit about preselection machinations in the way that the post-election analysts and sections of the media think they do.

    Look at them one by one – whoever ran in Morley was fucked, because D’Orazio only ran as an independent as payback to cost Labor the seat.

    The Mt Lawley campaign was the worst campaign I’ve ever seen run, and Karen Brown was up against a well organised and well funded Lib.

    Durack was on a hiding to nothing from day one. The swing was always running against Labor, and the northern marginals are where it happens – with the exception of Quigley, the swing ran against most of those northern marginals.

    And Saffioti got up.

    (Was there another in the so-called “Carpenter Group”? I can’t remember)

    I just don’t buy the argument it was the preselection process that caused or added to any of the problems they already had – none of them was helped by an appalling central campaign or the general lack of organisation, but they all had pretty specific local problems that would have killed any other candidate also.

    The sole exception may be Mt Lawley, if they had left Kucera in to fight it, and found Brown a spot elsewhere.

  4. Rewi says:

    Thanks for those further comments. What I meant by that, which may be wrong, was that the impression I got was that the conduct of those particular preselections caused significant disenchantment which led to reduced activist involvement in those campaigns. This, I perceived, aggravated simmering discontent.

    That said, to the extent that this was the case it’s hard to judge whether it was any more serious than the SNAFU discontent that permeates the party periodically.

    I agree that voters really don’t care about preselection battles, except perhaps in so far as publicly aired disputes contribute (albeit marginally) to an air of disunity.

    Speaking of preselections, any news on candidates for Willagee?

  5. crankynick says:

    I hear Timley, but I’m about as close to the process as you are these days.

  6. crankynick says:

    Also, while I’m thinking about it – I tend to think the lack of volunteer support was more to do with the appalling lack of preparedness in the local campaign offices, rather than disenchantment,

    That was certainly the case for us – we only got contacted about running our usual booth a week and a half before the actual election.

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