Mike Nahan forced Labor to stick to one election promise this week before urging it to break another one. (ABC News: Andrew O’Connor)
After seven months as Opposition Leader, Mike Nahan is now widely seen in the McGowan Government ranks as the gift that keeps on giving.
It was a sentiment highlighted in recent days when Dr Nahan said the Government should plug a $400 million budget black hole by dumping some sections of the Metronet rail project — Labor’s signature election promise.
The Liberals created the hole when they killed off the Government’s proposed gold royalty increase by supporting a disallowance motion in the Upper House.
The solution to the budget hole, according to Dr Nahan, was simple — the Government should cop one on the chin and break its key transport promise.
The Opposition Leader offered to meet with the Government to provide guidance and advice on which particular sections of Metronet should go, saying the Ellenbrook line should be on the hit list.
Dr Nahan even argued there was good precedent for breaking transport promise. The Liberals did it when they were in government, so Labor should follow suit.
“We came into the 2008 election with a commitment to Ellenbrook, we looked at the data, it wasn’t viable, we dropped it. We lost votes but we did the right thing,” Dr Nahan said on Thursday.
“Second, in 2013 we promised MAX Light Rail. The more we looked at it the more it blew out in costs, so we dropped it.
“We got pilloried for it but that’s what you have to do.
“If you do not have the money and the costs are blowing out and there’s no business plan, like there is none for Ellenbrook, you have to cut back, not raise taxes.”
The comments were bemusing to many in political circles, to say the least.
When does a broken promise matter?
Putting the serious issue of WA’s perilous finances aside for one moment, any journalist at Dr Nahan’s media conference could have been forgiven for thinking they were watching an episode of the ABC’s political satire show Clarke and Dawe.
The Liberals chose to block the gold royalty increase after protests by the mining industry. (ABC News: Eliza Laschon)
Only two days before, the WA Liberal leader and his colleagues argued their decision to kill the gold royalty hike was, in part, because it represented a broken election promise by Premier Mark McGowan — who pledged not to raise taxes on West Australians.
Transport Minister Rita Saffioti wasted no time capitalising on the obvious irony.
“They’re [the Liberal Party] all over the place. They’ve blocked the gold royalty because they’ve said it’s a broken election promise and now they want us to break more election promises,” Ms Saffioti said.
The Government had already warned householders —”mums, dads and ordinary West Australians” — there could be more bill pain or new taxes on the way because of the Liberals’ decision to block the royalty rate increase.
Dr Nahan suggested that was not necessary, saying the Government should instead cut spending.
“They have an expenditure problem,” Dr Nahan said.
Some may claim it was a bit rich from a former treasurer who — at the time he was dumped from government seven months ago — left the state with debt north of $30 billion and a deficit of $3 billion.
Senior government minister Sue Ellery wasted no time sticking the boot in on Twitter.
“So now [Mike Nahan] has two messages to sell — why he backed big business over mums and dads, and why he thinks they don’t deserve their bit of Metronet,” she tweeted.
Ellenbrook critical to Christian Porter’s seat
Even some Liberals would understandably have been have been left scratching their heads at Dr Nahan’s sales pitch.
Federal Social Services Minister Christian Porter — who is likely to face a tough battle to hold his seat of Pearce — was probably one of them.
Mr Porter would likely have been none too impressed with Dr Nahan’s comments urging the McGowan Government to dump parts of Metronet.
He is a big supporter of the Ellenbrook line — which sits in his seat — and is well aware that winning over voters in the rapidly growing area is critical to him holding onto it.
Just last week, Mr Porter pledged to fight hard to secure a large portion of funding made available under a $10 billion Turnbull Government urban rail fund to use on Ellenbrook and other WA projects.
Nahan appreciated but treading water
When Dr Nahan was still dithering on the gold royalty issue last week, his deputy Liza Harvey dumped him in hot water with comments published on the front page of a newspaper.
“There are differing views in the party,” Mrs Harvey was quoted in The West Australian.
“In a perfect world we probably should have done this [made a decision] three or four weeks ago. I think we should oppose it.”
The next day — as Mrs Harvey and Dr Nahan tried to hose down talk of division in Liberal ranks over the gold issue and how it had been handled by the party — the two appeared all smiles for the camera.
Liza Harvey and Mike Nahan were forced to hose down talks of division in Liberal ranks this month. (ABC News: Eliza Laschon)
“I think Mike’s doing a terrific job, he took on the job nobody wanted,” Mrs Harvey said.
“Opposition Leader after an election defeat is a really tough call to make. He has absolutely unified support from the whole party.”
Mrs Harvey’s comments represented a widespread feeling amongst Liberal MPs.
While they are appreciative of Dr Nahan taking on a role nobody else wanted after a massive election defeat, they also know he is just treading water in the role, waiting for the right time to hand over the leadership reigns to someone else.
After performances like this week’s, the Government appears very happy to have him leading the WA Liberals for as long as possible.
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