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starting all over again (the return, 2012)

20 February, 2012
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Tomorrow (21 February), the WA Legislative Assembly will sit for the first time in 2012 (the Legislative Council returns on 3 March). There have been a few news items and reshuffles during the summer recess, so in preparation for the first new material for the year (all going well, this will appear this time next week), we’ve prepared this ‘short’ recap of some of what’s happened recently. We’re also in the process updating our list of who’s who among the regular interjectors on this site.

The biggest story was Eric Ripper’s resignation as Opposition Leader, announced on 18 January following several weeks of speculation about leadership changes within the Labor Party. Mark McGowan was seen as the main contender as leader, although Peter Tinley was very briefly mentioned as another candidate before he ruled himself out. Reports had claimed that Ripper had lost the support of several factions within the ALP, with members of the Opposition advising him to step down.The announcement was made in a dignified speech by Ripper, who even interrupted his own press conference to answer a call (to a journalist) from someone named Chester.

Mark McGowan, the Member for Rockingham and formerly Manager of Opposition Business, took over from Ripper as Opposition Leader and started assembling his Shadow Cabinet. Among the appointments were Ben Wyatt as Shadow Treasurer and Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Native Title, Michelle Roberts as Manager of Opposition Business and Shadow Minister for Police (replacing Margaret Quirk), and Paul Papalia as Shadow Minister for Education. The changes made by McGowan show the ALP preparing for what promises to be a critical year within state politics, with Western Australians to go to the polls in 2013.

The Barnett Government also saw some changes after the last sitting dates for 2011. Following a planned burn near Margaret River which developed into an out-of-control, devastating bushfire in November 2011, Rob Johnson lost the portfolio of Emergency Services. Troy Buswell was given the ministerial appointment, with Johnson only finding out his demotion was happening when it appeared on Twitter. The Keelty report into the government’s handling of the bushfire has not been released yet, although it is apparently due to appear this week.

While McGowan was taking over as Opposition Leader, Premier Colin Barnett was forcing the resignation of a media adviser, James Larsson. A few days before Ripper’s resignation, Larsson had sent text messages to journalists from a Subiaco pub, claiming that McGowan was also in the establishment. It was quickly confirmed that McGowan was actually at home, but Larsson also emailed a photograph of McGowan’s home taken from Google to the media, accompanied by a sarcastic comment about McGowan being “a man of the people”.

Eric Ripper’s resignation speech also confirmed that he would retire from politics at the 2013 election. A few weeks later, as mentioned previously, Norman Moore, the Minister for Mines, also announced that he would be stepping down at the election. Among the other members retiring in 2013 are Carol Martin, Tom Stephens, and Martin Whitely. Pre-selection decisions are currently being made ahead of next year’s election, including the return of Bob Kucera as candidate for the seat of Mount Lawley.

Finally, while not involved in the reshuffle of ministerial portfolios, the Member for Jandakot, Joe Francis, was busy on Twitter (@JandakotJoe) documenting his summer road trip with his dog, Rex (mentioned on several occasions in Hansard, including in this exchange). He also provided Rex with his own Twitter account, @RexTheDoggy (presumably Rex did not object to this handle).

In the last few weeks, we’ve also seen protests against a proposed native title agreement covering Perth and the south-west of the state, with a tent embassy established by Noongar activists on Heirisson Island. Different protests are also planned for this coming weekend further west along the river, demonstrating against the planned waterfront development which would see extensive building works around the Esplanade area, but also the removal (and not the replacement) of Riverside Drive. A bushfire near Northcliffe is now out of control, having previously been contained by firefighters the previous week. Smoke from the fire had also cloaked the Perth metropolitan area, some 350km north.

The new stadium is still going ahead at Burswood, despite the latest reports on the unsuitability of the site. The Perth Arena is still under construction, possibly to be opened at the end of the year – just after the ten year anniversary of the Perth Entertainment Centre’s final event (demolition of the Entertainment Centre itself was completed in December 2011). The road works on William Street have continued past their third expected completion deadline, since the middle of 2010 (such that there is now no expected completion deadline on the signs on the Horseshoe Bridge). The road works on Wellington Street around the Arena site began while the road works on William Street were ongoing, adding to the gridlock around the CBD. Debate around the urgent need for more public transport infrastructure continues, or at least debate about having a debate – according to Troy Buswell in today’s West Australian, “We’re about 12 months off being able to sit down and look at some serious investment decisions around light rail…. It’s about three years to plan and two years to build”. Even with reports that the Perth metropolitan area’s population is forecast to grow faster than the government had estimated in its 2031 planning policy, radical projects such as a fast, frequent public transport link between a central location and the airport, or a ring network connecting inner-city areas but does not go through the CBD, for example, are at best many years off.

All this and more, when WA’s Legislative Assembly returns. From 2pm tomorrow…

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