11 March 2014

Systematic failure in Western Australia

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.


  1. Wow Andrew.

    Don't hold back. You're very nasty with a person's family background.

    I'd rather have life experiences than sheltered conservative kids from the establishment. ..so typically Liberal there mate.

    Tim Smith in Victoria has just been busy playing factional war with Kew.

    What do you think of us guys here in Victoria?

    I hope the creeps have been weeded out for the sake of the party in this lovely part of Australia.


    1. No I'm not, if it's good enough for the Murdoch press to do amateur psychoanalysis, it's good enough for me to present him as a complex person more to be pitied than scorned. The whole point of the article was to show Buswell never had a chance in a toxic environment, which is why your final two pars make no sense. Read it again, 'ugh.

      Your third paragraph made no sense. No opinion on Tim Smith but I don't like his mates Kroger and Frydenberg.

    2. Sorry about the last two paragraphs...

      That's what happens when it's not on a computer.

      Just to clarify , the vetting procedure that allows people like Troy to come through the political system is dubious to say the least.

      How do we ensure that other "complex" people get weeded out?

      What mechanisms can we put in place to not allow appointments that are are so political eg.Brandis et al to ring up Tim for a human rights gig with no relevant qualifications as well.

    3. Fair enough..

      It's the same analysis I would have of the selfish anglo middle class that produces the hacks and tossers in our media and political class.

      It's only fair that we ask the same question ....

      Who the hell raised such a prat?

      That's a fair sociological question to be asked within a political context that's thoughtful and balanced

      Present company excluded with you sir.

    4. I remember watching Dr Pamela Stephenson conduct a talk show with prominent people and engage in psychoanalysis.

      She is a registered psychiatrist.

      I would love to see that on s.b.s with many of our celebrities and prominent business people with a highly regarded psychiatrist.

      A dinner party for two or a coffee chat would be a great show.

  2. Btw..

    Q and A with Brandis et al was hilarious.

    Lisa Wilkinson let it rip along with that media chick from The Oz.

    Ms Langdon was the star and formidable on race and Brandis' bizarre world view.

    When the audience laughed a couple of times against Brandis it was so sad to watch...

    Even their liberal gals felt embarrassed for him

    1. I'll take your word for it. I hate he-said-she-said journalism, so why would I watch Q&A or the Drum?

    2. I'm with you there, Andrew. The few times I've tried to watch Q'n'A, I can't decide whether to stab my eyes with a fork or open the gun safe and do an Elvis.

    3. David...

      So extreme with your t.v habits.

      Let me suggest that a glass or two of wine eases the nerves.

      Try to picture them naked if that helps...smirk

    4. That's after a couple of soothing glasses of red Anon.

  3. Barney's hypocrisy is blinding. On the one hand Troy is a dear friend and on the other he lets the poor sap run himself into the ground ... and a gate. True bastardry.

  4. I remember a number of columns back that you predicted WA would implode Andrew.

    You can't have foreseen the Buswell matter. Amazing though that the press gallery did not get wind of it or else kept quiet. I wonder which one.

  5. Andrew
    You should be requested by both sides of politics to head their office to speak the truth and set a direction for any leader who wants to be a success in his job and if I was the federal leader of the Labor Party you would be first on my to do list of appointments.
    Not just this article but I very much look forward to reading your articles.

  6. I've always thought Buswell was a fairly unleasant man, but it's hard not to have some sympathy for him. He obviously has a few personal demons.

  7. Troy Buswell vs. Geoff Gallup: compare & contrast.

  8. https://twitter.com/thetiprat/status/443018052905353218/photo/1\

    Brandis and Langdon a picture tells a thousand words.

    Ms Langdon has won my respect with her intellect and grace.

    Her response to that very idiotic comment by that man was pure class.

    I bow to her knee.

  9. Is there any evidence that Buswell is actually suffering from mental health issues? As an ignorant outsider it looks an awful lot like playing the mental health card for sympathy to divert attention from the latest incident of bad behaviour. I am fully prepared to regard him with (qualified) sympathy if he is ill, but Liberal Party assertions of a breakdown, faithfully reported without question in the MSM doesn't carry much weight.

    1. Azrael the Cat13/3/14 4:07 pm

      If you check the DSM-V (the primary diagnostic manual in psychiatry), you'll see that all but the most serious of mental illnesses are diagnosed from the patient's behaviour. This is what you'd expect, as one can't examine the patient's brain directly, and whilst research into brain function has been of excellent value in producing treatments, there isn't a 1:1 correlation between particular brain patterns and illness due to the natural variability between individuals, and the neuroplasticity of the brain.

      Healthy functioning and benign variation is manifested in brain function, just like illness. Put simply, we ARE our brains, so there isn't this distinction between behaviour and mental illness that you assume. Behavioural tendencies are the output of brain function, and if they are dysfunctional and can be managed through psychological or pharma-psychiatric treatment, then we medicalise them. At extremes, a very small number of mental illnesses create delusions and psychoses, but we went a long way past requiring that as a criterion for mental illness (it would exclude depression, most bipolar and anxiety disorders for a start) a long time ago.

      All societies have a conceptual division between the failings that are attributed to a person's character, and those that are taken to dysfunctions (I would point you to my own peer-reviewed work on this, but it's behind an academic journal paywall and I like my online anonymity). E.g. we hold people responsible for things they do under a sudden bad temper - things they would not have done if they weren't so short-tempered - even though the person could not, on the spot, 'choose' to not be short-tempered (and even though the person might only be able to alter their temper through psychological treatment). There isn't any consistent distinction between the lack of control under a hot temper, and illnesses like depression or addiction - it's a rough judgment based on what we (as a society) think people should be accountable for.

      It's also why it's unfair when, as happens every few years, some journalist reads the DSM and gets stuck into psychiatry for making no distinction between depression and 'ordinary grief', or non-psychotic mood disorder and 'just being an up and down person'. It's a false dichotomy - we don't have separate social and psychiatric brains. To the extent that seratonin levels determine happiness (and that's more complicated than most people think), it does so in relation to external sources of grief just as much as any other cause. Moreover, it's not as though you can divide people with consistently low mood states into groups separated by biological v external cause - all of them have environmental and biological precursors for their mental state. There isn't this line that people can imagine you can draw between grief and depression, as the 'mind' that is altered by external events simply IS the brain that is treated by psychiatry.

      So, whilst it's most certainly improper to suggest illness or diagnoses for a person one hasn't even met, let alone treated, it isn't at all unreasonable to equate behaviour patterns with illness.

      There are more serious questions of whether there should be greater societal involvement in determining the reach of the concept of mental illness, and whether we're dumping political functions onto the medical profession by leaving it to doctors to determine whether, for example, we should hold alcoholics accountable for their behaviour or instead to treat it as an illness as per the DSM-V classifications, but that's a broader issue than Buswell.

    2. VoterBentleigh13/3/14 10:18 pm

      I agree with JB. The Coalition are suggesting that this latest incident of bad behaviour is a result of mental illness. Not all bad behaviour is caused by mental illness. Not all mentally ill people crash cars or act illegally either. Plenty of people without mental illnesses do. The Coalition seem to attribute repeated "indiscretions" (as the Coalition supporters like to term it) from their members to mental illness. Yet when it comes to the "indiscretions" of Craig Thompson and Peter Slipper there is no claim of mental illness. Given Nikki Savva's (a loyal Abbott supporter if ever there was one) recent insinuations (on 'Insiders') about that people with mental conditions on the DPS had no cause to be, it makes me livid to then hear the Coalition sing the sympathy anthem for their own when it comes to mental illness. Perhaps Buswell has a mental illness, but where is the professional diagnosis? In my view, his is a cover up. As soon as the police arrived at the scene, they would have seen that the car was a government vehicle and would have checked to see who owned it. I don't need a lesson in psychiatry to ascertain when I'm being duped.

  10. Interesting stuff. Do you have an rss feed?

  11. Great read Andrew. One local writer working outside the press gallery - he's been refused journalist credentials by Barnett's notorious GMO - described Buswell as the "canary in the coalmine". On top of Porter, former Nationals leader and Royalties for Regions wunderkid Brendon Grylls and Health Minister Kim Hames are both stepping away from politics, leaving Barnett isolated and the party in very much the rabble you correctly describe it as. The government's rapid decline since winning office has been quite extraordinary, and its hard to imagine the next three years of the fixed term as being anything other than long and painful. Not that McGowan has really landed many blows. Abbott and fellow travellers may have held the Barnett govt up as a shining light in recent years but this state govt are deep in the mire now.

    Also note that Willmott is back at the CCI now. Penned an article today in the West about the senate election. You can read it here: http://cciwa.com/about-us/CCI_News_Centre/Business_Column/business-column-articles/2014/03/12/australia-s-powerhouse-deserves-strong-senate-vote

  12. Andrew...great insights

    It's not just Troy that concerns me.

    Many young ambitious apparatchiks are GOD like in their status and think they're untouchable.

    Problem. ..yes.

    I see abuses of power and pure greed.

    Capitalist pigs are about to be created.

  13. I was just wondering if you heard the interview on the b.b.c with Julie Bishop.

    I thought it was bloody brilliant despite our media saying it was harsh

    That's what decent journalism is ,that many in our media have forgotten to do.

    You go in nice but hard.

    Well done B.B.C

  14. The most extraordinary part of the whole spectacle has been Barnett's demands that we all just lay off asking any questions about poor old Troy, you know so he can rest up now! Argh, the state Treasurer & Transport Minister, no less, crashes a state car clearly under the influence of alcohol then flees to Sydney rather than face the music. Meanwhile Barnett sits on this large pile of the brown stuff for as long as possible before the inevitable where's the Treasurer gone, you know from his Parliament seat question arises. Then Barnett tells us all to just lay off a bit...

  15. "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."

    It's a shame you didn't. You are an astonishingly poor and incompetent writer, and you would have been a strong contender for the Worst Metaphor of 2014 prize if you'd gone ahead.

    1. Got anything to actually say? Just another ad hominem attack without putting up anything relevant.

      Myself living in WA I think the Liberals were very suprised when they got back in last election. What shits me the most though is that they have been given a free pass on all of the infrastructure upgrades/projects that were "promised" in the election campaign, because "no money". Wonder why there is no money, surely not correlated with the piss poor seat sniffing, bra snapping alcoholic treasurer...