What price can you put on stability?
At the moment, it’s coming at the price of competent governance.
Premier Mark McGowan has made much of his Cabinet stability. There have been only a handful of reshuffles in more than five years of the McGowan Government, and even now when it has become achingly clear his deck is stacked with subpar performers, the Premier is resisting pressure to make imminent changes.
Speaking in Karratha last month, Mr McGowan said West Australians valued stability “particularly in a world environment that is so uncertain and has so many issues going on”.
He made that comment as he was forced to defend his decision to keep on Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan after she downplayed the threat of foot-and-mouth disease by claiming an outbreak would drive down the cost of supermarket staples.
In doing so, she lost the trust of the very people she is supposed to represent. Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook said he was “angry as all hell” at her comments.
In an opinion piece published in The West Australian, WA Farmers president John Hassell demanded she step aside after “actively undermining” the industry.
But Mr McGowan ruled out a reshuffle any time soon, urging people to “move on” given Ms MacTiernan had apologised for her “clumsy language”.
While the Premier insists Ms MacTiernan, who will retire at the next election, is safe for now, a reshuffle is likely in December.
It presents Mr McGowan with an opportunity to clear the decks and make way for a new generation of talent.
One casualty of that reshuffle should be Corrections Minister Bill Johnston.
Like Ms MacTiernan, he has lost the faith of his stakeholders. The Prison Officers Union wants him gone, blaming him for chronic staff shortages which they say put workers at risk.
Corrections has lurched from scandal to scandal in the past few months. Dangerous criminals have been granted permission for late-night parties to watch football matches. Aboriginal teenagers were shackled and moved into a high-security adult prison.
We’ve now heard among that cohort of 16, there have been three suicide attempts and 13 self-harm incidents. In addition to his corrections responsibilities, Mr Johnston holds the mining and industrial relations portfolios. Clearly, he is spread too thin.
Attorney-General John Quigley, who was described as “confused and confusing” by the Federal Court Judge presiding over the defamation trial between Mr McGowan and Clive Palmer is another whose position looks shaky in a reshuffle.
The longer these underperformers stay on, the more exposed Mr McGowan is.
From attacks from the depleted opposition benches, but also — far more potently — from inside his own caucus room.
Winning an election by a landslide comes with a flipside. It creates a mammoth backbench stacked with ambitious MPs all of whom crave a seat at the big kids’ table.
If he does not act soon to reshuffle the decks, Mr McGowan may find that stability comes at an enormous price.
Responsibility for the editorial comment is taken by WAN Editor-in-Chief Anthony De Ceglie