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Reviving a moribund WA Liberal Party

By Bernie Masters - posted Tuesday, 28 March 2006

The West Australian Liberal Party's woes will not be resolved by the relatively simple task of electing a new parliamentary leader.

Key actions needed by the party are:

  • reform of its constitution;
  • to attract competent people to stand as candidates for parliament; and
  • a substantially increase in its lay party membership.

New leader Paul Omodei is facing an impossible task if all three of these actions aren't implemented as urgent priorities.

The current constitution of the Liberal Party allows a blind eye to be turned to branch stacking and has little formal role for lay party members. It gives significant power to the party's state director, with most grievances resolved by internal procedures that are a case of “Caesar appealing to Caesar”.

The bitterness of the recent leadership fight has hidden the more serious issue of the party's lack of quality MPs who in time could become potential leaders. Matt Birney allowed power to go to his head and he failed to consult outside of a narrow field of key advisors.

New leader Omodei was a competent minister in the Richard Court Government but he doesn't have the debating skills or intellectual sharpness to match with the state's new premier Alan Carpenter.

Recycling of Colin Barnett will be “more of the same” after he led the Liberals to a resounding defeat in 2005.

Only newcomer Troy Buswell is seen as having the ability to be a capable leader, but he's been in Parliament barely a year. While I can be accused of being biased against him (Buswell won preselection for the seat of Vasse which I'd held at the two previous elections, after which I resigned, stood as an independent candidate and lost by 209 votes at the 2005 election), the fact remains that he has his own baggage that may count against him, should he assume the leadership in the future.


Lay members are the sources of policy ideas, polling day volunteers and financial contributions, without whom the party will stagnate and remain irrelevant at the state level. In the last 10 years, lay party membership has collapsed, with the party deep in debt.

Branches in my former seat of Vasse are moribund, holding few meetings or functions and certainly providing few initiatives or ideas to their MP or the party.

An example of the constitution's deficiencies is shown by how I lost Liberal endorsement for the seat of Vasse in December 2003. Under the constitution, branches must invite all MPs within their area to branch AGMs. To do otherwise is unconstitutional, but the constitution also says that complaints about branch activities must be lodged within 10 days of those activities happening. Two branches in the electorate held AGMs without informing me, by the time I heard about them, the 10-day limit was passed and I couldn't sustain my objection against the irregular branch meetings. My lack of attendance at both AGMs was counted against me, even though it was difficult to attend when I didn't know they were on!

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About the Author

Bernie Masters was the Liberal MP for Vasse from 1996 to 2005 and the shadow minister for science and the environment from 2001 to 2004.

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