The Liberal Party and the ALP are the two political parties with experience in governing Western Australia. In the same way that the ALP had systematically failed in governing NSW, we can now say that the Liberal Party has failed systematically in governing WA, and that this cannot be remedied by working it through or even making piecemeal changes.
Politics happens at the interface between the individual and wider society. The WA Liberals have failed at that interface, and on either side of it.
It is easy to laugh at Troy Buswell, an adolescent man whose behaviours toward women, alcohol, and property should have been better than they were. It is easy to keen for Buswell, whose father suicided when he was a child. It is easy to be impressed by Buswell, who topped UWA's economics undergraduate program and had all the outward trappings of success from a young age. It is easy to sneer at Buswell, for having blown WA's AAA rating while revenues were booming and drains on the budget (like transfer payments or infrastructure projects) were relatively low.
People who cared about this complicated man for his own sake should have seen that he needed help. There are professionals who help people through such problems, but Liberals sneer at scientific expertise. People who thought highly enough of Buswell to nominate him for high office, and who had the ability to deliver those who impressed them into such office, should have intervened with measures other than telling/begging press gallery journalists to shut up.
Keep in mind that the people is whose interests the WA Liberals are run is the state's business elite. What we might call Buswellian excess has pretty much been stamped out of the higher levels of the country's corporates, and is actively stamped out in the better-run private and public-sector organisations: it's inefficient, if nothing else. A corporate director, a branch manager who went so wildly off the rails so often would be managed out, dumped, or otherwise dealt with decisively rather than indulged for so long.
Buswell had his career-ending accident on 23 February. Did I mention he was Transport Minister as well? It was not reported until 10 March. The entire WA parliamentary press gallery should have been sacked for such a lapse.
Troy Buswell is a failure of the entire WA Liberal organisation, from the Vasse locals who never challenged his preselection to Colin Barnett, who brought him back when better men than Buswell would have been long gone for far less. The disconnect between the Liberals and corporate Australia could not be clearer.
Next year it will be ten years since Buswell entered parliament. He is not an old man and not without qualities - or flaws. Who would employ him, and to do what?
Buswell is a failure in himself, and a public policy failure on two levels.
Firstly, any WA public servant who is acting inappropriately with facilities and powers entrusted to them can fairly accuse their prosecutors of not making an example of Buswell. Every day, fragile people are pummelled by justice systems in this country in ways that don't correlate to their offence. It isn't quite true to say that Buswell has been let off scot-free because public disgrace is not nothing, and a man who is a prisoner of his own whims is a prisoner indeed. He isn't free to seek help, because clearly there is no help to seek.
Secondly, if the Barnett government cannot address the very real mental health issues surrounding its own Treasurer, can it pretend to any voter that it can address mental health services in any real way for anyone? Every day, in WA and elsewhere, individuals and families and communities deal with mental health issues, negotiating support services that exist in fits and starts if at all.
A booming economy brings the implicit promise that social services will improve as everything seems to get better and shinier when the economy goes well. If Troy Buswell stumbles time after time, year after year, and the nearest thing he gets to sympathetic listeners are journalists whose highest qualification is to quote him accurately - what hope does anyone in that state have? His is the saddest political meltdown since Chris Sumner.
The fact that Buswell can't be easily replaced is an organisational failure on the WA Liberals' part. Christian Porter looked like playing Hotspur to Buswell's Hal, and a strong state organisation that believed in itself would have curbed his Canberra ambitions to avoid the current predicament. Porter is well placed to realise the ambitions some have for him if the whole Howard-Abbott model of governing fails utterly and discredits everyone who has played a greater role in it than he has.
The other person missing from much of the commentary has been Deidre Willmott. Her political pedigree should be every bit as strong as Buswell's. President of the UWA Student Guild, head of the 2006 Commonwealth Games, Executive Director of the WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry, chief of staff to two WA Liberal leaders - she was the stand-out candidate to replace Colin Barnett in his safe seat of Cottesloe, until he reversed his decision to retire in 2008.
Plenty of promising politicians rebound from setbacks like that and run for other electorates. No safe seat, or any seat in Parliament really, has been found for her. When Chris Ellison resigned from the Senate in 2009 the WA Liberals made a show of considering Willmott, before replacing him with nobody in particular. Willmott set up the organisation to facilitate the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting; the following year, when Porter went to Canberra and Barnett exhumed Buswell, Barnett insisted straight-faced that nobody but Buswell who could do the job.
Willmott should be the Margaret Thatcher of the west, but instead she's blowing up balloons at a PR outfit.
One who deserves a great deal of blame for WA Liberal organisational dysfunction is one who has benefitted most from it: Matthias Cormann. He secured power in the WA Liberals by stacking the organisation at all levels with people no better than himself. It is fair to judge his performance in his current job against the machine he built and operated in the WA Liberals, and to keep this in mind when suffering his leaden rodomontades on fiscal rectitude.
The WA Liberals are crap at running WA. They fought off Gonski and the NDIS and have nothing better, or else, to show for it. There is some talk about a train line but every major city has that talk, but the only people who hang their hats on it are those who get paid to write feasibility reports. They've blown a historic mining boom in a boom-bust state. As the bust starts making itself felt with a Job Liberator from Sydney rubbing it in and contributing nothing, there are - according to the WA press gallery - only two people who apparently even understand that state's economy: a clapped-out drunk and a has-been who never was (not including Willmott here because nobody else does). Businesses keeps their capable managers and foists try-hards and numbskulls onto the community, like Joey "seagull shit" Francis.
On April 5 WA will re-elect six Senators. It will re-elect David Do-Nothing to do his special brand of nothing at Defence. It will re-elect oddly-coiffed Michaelia Cash in much the same way (and for much the same reasons) that Moonee Ponds flung Dame Edna to London and New York. It will probably not re-elect the third Liberal candidate, a woman who may well be a capable person with much to offer (I am detecting a pattern here, but let's pretend we're press gallery journalists and just ignore it).
It will almost certainly elect Scott Ludlam, who artfully managed to insert home affordability into a critique of WA under the Liberals, who managed the balancing act of describing the WA environment as both vast and delicate, and whose use of Aboriginal words to describe features of that state made the familiar sound exotic. It will re-elect one of Tony Abbott's Sydney Uni rugby mates under the Labor banner, because political diversity is what democracy is all about and WA Liberals were too dim to spot him.
It will not elect a state parliament for three years, and this is probably just as well.
WA has a strong tradition of electing independents in the Windsor-McGowan mould when the muppetry of the major parties gets too much. This tradition needs careful cultivation.
WA Labor has some nice candidates and some fine ideas. Some candidates were related to people who had been successful Labor candidates in the past. However, they can't expect to waltz in over the prone corpse of Barnett, just like they didn't last time. WA Labor should be aiming to dispatch this government to history as thoroughly as the takedown of the United Australia Party in the 1940s; but it cannot do that with a kind of pallid like-the-Liberals-but-less-so-in-some-areas approach.
The WA Liberals are moribund and there is no way to change them without making them even more like that. It would be a wicked problem if they weren't, from this distance, such a joke. I wanted to insert a metaphor about dead bloodied sharks in a shark net spun from bullshit attracting other sharks; but I can't so I'll end this here.