Roy­alty rum­bles rock Libs’ throne

The Sunday Times - - OPINION -

WHETHER by ac­ci­dent or de­sign, se­nior Lib­er­als Liza Har­vey and Sean L’Es­trange this week added fuel to what was al­ready a sim­mer­ing is­sue: the lead­er­ship of the WA Lib­eral Party.

De­spite claims by Lib­eral leader Mike Na­han to The Sun­day

Times last month that it was his “in­ten­tion to lead the WA Lib­eral Party to the 2021 elec­tion”, sev­eral Lib­eral sources are pri­vately say­ing oth­er­wise.

What I’m be­ing told is that there will be a new WA Lib­eral leader be­fore the end of next year, and that Na­han will will­ingly hand over the ba­ton in 2018.

It is gen­er­ally ac­cepted that there are three con­tenders to re­place Na­han — for­mer deputy premier Liza Har­vey and for­mer Lib­eral-Na­tional gov­ern­ment ministers Dean Nalder and Sean L’Es­trange.

Har­vey and L’Es­trange, by stick­ing their heads up this week when they prob­a­bly shouldn’t have, have set tongues wag­ging that they could well form a new Lib­eral lead­er­ship team, sooner rather than later.

In The West Aus­tralian this week, Har­vey and L’Es­trange pub­licly voiced their views that the Lib­er­als should op­pose the La­bor Gov­ern­ment’s gold roy­alty in­crease.

Har­vey was par­tic­u­larly vo­cal, say­ing she was “ir­ri­tated” that the Lib­er­als ap­peared to be drag­ging their feet on com­ing to a po­si­tion on the tax.

This was de­spite the fact that Na­han had claimed the Lib­er­als would “not be rushed into mak­ing a de­ci­sion”.

“I’m re­ally ir­ri­tated with it,” Mrs Har­vey was quoted as say­ing.

“There are dif­fer­ing views in the party.

“In a per­fect world we prob­a­bly should have done this three of four weeks ago. “I think we should op­pose it.” L’Es­trange was quoted as say­ing: “I’m not sup­port­ing it.

“It’s a La­bor bro­ken prom­ise tax hike and not a Lib­eral pol­icy.”

Pre­dictably, Har­vey went into dam­age con­trol say­ing: “He (Na­han) has ab­so­lutely uni­fied sup­port from the whole party.”

Na­han was soon af­ter forced into declar­ing the Lib­er­als would de­clare their hand this week in terms of their po­si­tion on the pro­posed gold tax.

While the ini­tial story has been about the gold tax saga, ex­pect the sub-plot (Na­han’s lead­er­ship) to get more at­ten­tion now.

For weeks, Lib­er­als and jour­nal­ists have pri­vately been dis­cussing Na­han’s lead­er­ship and the likely tim­ing of his demise, and who would re­place him.

Be­ing Op­po­si­tion Leader straight af­ter an elec­tion loss is not nor­mally a job any­one wants.

I clearly re­mem­ber the 2005 State elec­tion af­ter­math, when the Lib­er­als went through three lead­ers be­fore set­tling on Colin Bar­nett in 2008.

Na­han has done an OK job as Lib­eral leader.

His ma­jor prob­lem is that he was trea­surer to Colin Bar­nett and there­fore can­not es­cape crit­i­cism that the for­mer Lib­eral-Na­tional gov­ern­ment badly mis­man­aged the econ­omy.

But the last few weeks have been par­tic­u­larly bad for Na­han.

In­formed sources tell me Fed­eral Lib­er­als were fu­ri­ous with Na­han for say­ing the Lib­er­als may mount a High Court chal­lenge to try and get WA a fairer GST deal.

Na­han was also made to look av­er­age when WA Lib­er­als, at State con­fer­ence, passed a WAxit mo­tion.

Na­han was against the mo­tion, and the fact that it passed made his lead­er­ship look weak.

And now, you have the likes of Har­vey and L’Es­trange openly air­ing views that again make Na­han look weak.

It is well known Har­vey would take the lead­er­ship if it was handed to her.

And in re­cent weeks, all the talk has been that L’Es­trange was see­ing him­self more and more as po­ten­tial re­place­ment for Na­han.

In­ter­est­ingly, Nalder this week de­cided against pub­licly air­ing his views on when, and if, the Lib­er­als should op­pose La­bor’s gold roy­alty in­crease.

Maybe Nalder learnt the hard way in 2016 that if you stick your head up on lead­er­ship is­sues, you quickly get it cut off.

Game on.

Joe Spag­nolo Po­lit­i­cal Edi­tor

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