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The rise and fall of a political king maker

Five days of balance-of-power negotiations in 2008 changed the fortunes of WA’s regions.

They also etched the name of Brendon Grylls — king maker — on to the political landscape.

Those talks allowed Mr Grylls to implement the $8 billion Royalties for Regions program, which redirects millions of dollars in royalties into a special fund quarantined for projects in country WA.

Former WA Nationals leader Hendy Cowan, whose retirement in 2003 made way for Mr Grylls in the seat of Merredin, was angered by the news of his successor’s demise.

He said two of Mr Grylls’ accomplishments stood out — passing the legislative base for Royalties for Regions spending and extending the National Party’s influence beyond its traditional base and into the mining and pastoral region.

“The money was already there. He didn’t have to argue for it,” Mr Cowan said.

“He was able to achieve that. Without money, action does not follow.”

The Nationals held the Lower House balance of power in 2008 and chose to support Colin Barnett as premier, allowing the Liberals to form a minority government.

Mr Grylls shifted his family to Karratha in the lead-up to the 2013 poll, in an audacious move to leave his seat-for-life in the Wheatbelt and expand the Nationals’ footprint to the Pilbara.

Just four years after he entered Parliament in 2001, he replaced Max Trenorden as State leader.

Nationals leader Brendon Grylls was defeated in his Pilbara electorate. Picture: Mogens Johansen/The West Australian
Nationals leader Brendon Grylls was defeated in his Pilbara electorate. Picture: Mogens Johansen/The West Australian

Citing a desire to focus on his personal life, Mr Grylls resigned from the ministry and as leader of the Nationals later that year, only to return three years later, replacing Terry Redman, and pushing his new tax plan on the big miners.

Mr Grylls’ former chief of staff, Doug Cunningham, recounted Mr Grylls delivering his “mantra” at a supporters function in the lead-up to the 2008 election.

“We are not enticed by the trappings of high office. Ours is a calling to serve country people linked by the common thread of political neglect,” Mr Cunningham recalled Mr Grylls saying.

Mr Cunningham said that matra was Mr Grylls’ “North Star” throughout his meteoric political career.

“Success has many fathers but it was he, alone, who shaped the Royalties for Regions program that has seen more than $7 billion invested in 3700 progrects across regional Western Australia, from Kununurra in the north to Esperance in the South,” Mr Cunningham said.

Mr Redman said Mr Grylls left a “great legacy”.

Outgoing Minister Joe Francis has made a scathing attack on the Liberal Party’s bad campaign, broken promises and the leadership.

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