History will be kinder to Colin Barnett than the voters were in his final go-around at the ballot box.
In the final analysis, Barnett will be remembered as one of the most consequential premiers in WA’s history. He ranks below only Sir Charles Court on the Liberal side for impact and achievement.
An emergency candidate to lead a party in disarray in 2008, Barnett discarded retirement and overcame improbable odds to snatch a famous victory over Alan Carpenter. He then enacted a plan for the State he had developed in those “Gulag years” in opposition.
He promised to make decisions and to run a government of integrity. On that score, he succeeded. Confronted by the global financial crisis, he deferred decisions on capital works such as the stadium until he felt they could be paid for.
What followed was the incredible expansion of the resources industry, as WA’s export output doubled, underpinning a golden period of prosperity for West Australians and State finances. In both cases it proved illusory. Mining incomes swelled bank balances but then jobs disappeared as the expansion phase ended. Barnett locked in the surging mining royalties for huge pay rises for public servants, creating a crisis when the GST share inevitably fell.
There were big boosts to social and disability services and child protection, decisions he regards as among his proudest. The irony of the massive public sector union campaign against Barnett is that they’ve never had a better friend on the conservative side of politics.
He built Fiona Stanley Hospital, Perth Children’s Hospital, Elizabeth Quay, the stadium and sank the rail line through Northbridge.
With the Nationals, he pumped spending into country WA which had felt neglected and forgotten. These projects form a legacy that will endure for generations.
The most overused sobriquet — that of “Emperor” — was largely unfair. Barnett was too often asked to do so much because those around him contributed so little.
However, the glaring blot on his record is the state of the books. It made it easier for voters to discard his government when they concluded — as he admitted in his concession speech — that his time had run out.
Gareth Parker presents Mornings on 6PR from 8.30am.