Economics, Policy, Politics, Water

46 – Fresh water for Perth 4: post-election wrap up

In the recent State Election for Western Australia, the loser was the political party that made headlines and controversy by promising to build a 3700 km water canal to deliver water to Perth, regardless of the cost. Did the electors have a sudden burst of economic responsibility, or was there another explanation for the result?

A number of people have asked about the recent State election result for Western Australia and how it relates to the watery issues discussed in PDs 39, 40 and 41.

For the record, the Liberal Party/National Party Coalition lost to the Labor party. Did the infamous canal promise of Liberal leader Colin Barnett (PD 40) lose it for them? It would be nice to think that the electorate was astute enough to reject any party that made such a bad election promise. Unfortunately, it probably isn’t so. While the canal didn’t help the Coalition, it seems that on its own it probably did not swing the election result.

I understand that in the last week of the election campaign, the Coalition was at least neck and neck in the polls, if not slightly in front, until an infamous media conference two days before the election. Colin Barnett called the media conference to release the costings of his various election promises. An observant journalist noticed that the numbers in the table provided did not add up to the supposed total. Unfortunately for Colin, the error of $200 million could not be attributed to any incompetent clerk, as he had physically typed the list himself. The tragi-comic spectacle of him desperately denying that there was any error, but eventually conceding that their was, and then trying to claim that it didn’t matter, was the lead item on every news bulletin. The Party scrambled to identify $200 million worth of funding cuts to existing agency budgets (you can imagine how well-considered those were) but the damage was done.

So in my judgement that is why they lost so badly. The electorate was softened up to have questions about Barnett’s economic credentials by the canal debate, and this $200 million error two days before the election seemed to answer those questions.

In some ways it is a shame that a silly and simple error like this, one that anyone could make when under pressure, was enough to change so many votes, when a truly appalling promise that would have cost the State billions was not.

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A month or so after the election, something remarkable happened. The state’s Economic Regulation Authority released a comprehensive draft report on their “Inquiry on Urban Water and Wastewater Pricing”. I’ve not read it yet, but it seems like it might be at least a step in the right direction. It remains to be seen if the Government will accept their recommendations.

David Pannell, The University of Western Australia

Further Reading

Economic Regulation Authority (2005). Inquiry on Urban Water and Wastewater Pricing, Draft Report.