After a largely unchallenged run as premier for almost eight years, WA Premier Colin Barnett is having an increasing number of bad days.
The ReachTel poll in The West Australian newspaper on Saturday putting his Liberal National government on almost level terms with Labor six months out from an election – after a series of bad polls – should have meant a good weekend.
Instead, local government minister Tony Simpson quit on Saturday, followed by transport minister Dean Nalder – the latter via a front page splash before he even told the premier – with both criticising Mr Barnett.
“It started off as a good weekend with the opinion poll showing Labor and the Liberals neck and neck, which was not a bad result given the year we’ve had,” Mr Barnett said on Monday.
Three weeks earlier, he had also told a high-powered crowd at a Rio Tinto dinner to mark 50 years of iron ore mining that he had just had a bad week.
At that time, he had just come from a tense meeting with Mr Nalder over his links to a private poll of marginal seats, commissioned by business people backing him to roll Mr Barnett.
The poll, leaked to the media, showed the government would lose the election.
Mr Nalder says he will challenge if there is a leadership spill on Tuesday, but is given little hope of winning.
His main criticism of Mr Barnett has been “erratic” decisions, citing an unwillingness to commit to a new tunnel to the Fremantle Port as part of its controversial multi-billion dollar Perth Freight Link project.
Mr Nalder, an ambitious 50-year-old former banker and WAFL footballer, says he is doing what he thinks is right in trying to unseat a premier who helped him become an MP three-and-a-half years ago and a minister a year later.
Colleagues, led by Deputy Premier Liza Harvey, were lining up to criticise Mr Nalder on Monday.
His time as a politician has been as much tumultuous as a meteoric rise.
Mr Nalder lost the finance portfolio over a series of conflict of interest scandals, including his stake in a company that leased cars to public servants, which he should have divested within 60 days of becoming a minister.
“He has not got a great record of success and I get the impression he is trying to run before he can walk and I suspect a lot of his colleagues have got that view too,” political commentator Peter Kennedy told AAP.
His personal judgement is viewed negatively, including the belief he has let himself be flattered by the rich business people and Liberal donors who paid for the recent poll.
That includes financier John Poynton and property developers Nigel Satterley and Greg Poland, who have fallen out with Mr Barnett.
The disunity is of course good news for Labor and their leader Mark McGowan.
Mr Barnett, 66, will have to defy history – and those voters who are sick of him – to become the first to win a third election since four-year terms were introduced in 1989.
He is also fighting a perception his government wasted the riches of the greatest mining boom in the nation’s history.
WA’s jobless rate of 6.3 per cent in July was a decade high and the second worst in the nation, it has a record budget deficit of nearly $4 billion forecast this year and debt is tipped to hit $39 billion.
Mr Barnett is playing down the infighting, saying his colleagues want him to stay, which the ReachTel poll supports – he was backed by 45 per cent of respondents, compared to 31 per cent for Ms Harvey and 5.5 per cent for Mr Nalder.
However, among the 46 Liberal MPs are disgruntled former ministers he has dumped and those who are worried about losing their seats and their jobs.
One option for Mr Barnett is to step down in a peaceful handover to someone other than Mr Nalder.
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