She’s back. Alannah MacTiernan’s return to WA’s political scene was made official this week, after her election to the Legislative Council and her inclusion in the Government’s first Cabinet with responsibilities for agriculture and food and regional development.
On Thursday, in announcing the Labor stalwart’s Cabinet position, Premier Mark McGowan described her as a “force of nature” with an affinity for regional WA.
Speaking to Agenda before being sworn in, Ms MacTiernan said she was ready to take on the job.
“It’s enormously exciting — the idea that I can have a job where I can get out into all of regional WA is sort of like a dream job,” she said.
“There are jobs if we get agriculture working properly, if we’re not just selling everything as a commodity, there are real prospects of jobs in agriculture and we’ve got to open this access up to people in the city as well as people in the country and our farm schools do that.”
“She’s been around a long time in political life, she’s been in the Upper House, the Lower House, local council, the House of Representatives and now the Upper House again. The only place she hasn’t been is the United Nations”
The regional development portfolio puts Ms MacTiernan in charge of the multimillion-dollar Royalties for Regions program created by former Nationals leader Brendon Grylls.
But the program is set to be redefined under Labor, with Ms MacTiernan slated to introduce changes which she says will create more sustainable outcomes under the funding.
“One of the things that we are concerned about is that some of the projects have been capital intensive and they have left local authorities with enormous operational cost and very little capacity to cover that,” Ms MacTiernan said.
“Obviously we’re going to have a look at to what extent we have created many Royalties for Regions monuments, have we created an unsustainable operational costs for some of the regions.
“What we would want to focus more on is Royalties for Regions investment focused on the new generation of industries and jobs rather than necessarily some of the more monumental stuff that has gone on.”
Mr McGowan spruiked Ms MacTiernan’s experience this week. “She’s been around a long time in political life, she’s been in the Upper House, the Lower House, local council, the House of Representatives and now the Upper House again,” he said.
“The only place she hasn’t been is the United Nations.”
Her experience stretches back to the late 1980s, when she was elected to the City of Perth.
“Whenever you walk down a regional street with Alannah, you’ll find that everyone knows her”
From there, she was elected to the Legislative Council in 1993, and then to the Legislative Assembly seat of Armadale in 1996. When Geoff Gallop brought Labor back into power in 2001, she was appointed transport and planning minister, a role in which she oversaw the construction of the Mandurah rail line.
In 2010, Ms MacTiernan left State Parliament to contest the Federal seat of Canning, but was unsuccessful. She then ran and won the race for mayor in the inner-city Vincent council. After the retirement of Federal Perth MP Stephen Smith in 2013, Ms MacTiernan ran as a Federal candidate again. She won and went straight into Opposition.
“I’ve just had the opportunity and I’ve had many years of dealing with industry and three years, I must say the most enjoyable time of my life, in Canberra — the absolute opportunity to see and learn so much more about industry and what drives industry, about innovation and what is actually out there happening,” she said.
“Here’s an opportunity for me to help put that back into the system.”
Before last year’s Federal election, Ms MacTiernan made the choice to stand down from Federal Parliament, saying at the time: “If I was at the beginning of my political career, I could afford to be more patient in this regard.”
But it was Mr McGowan’s captain’s call late last year on the retirement of Ken Travers that parachuted Ms MacTiernan into first spot in the North Metropolitan Region.
At the time, Mr McGowan said she was like Madonna — “she only needs one name”. One Labor source told The West that “she appeals to people who are not Labor voters, probably more so than any other Labor politician I can name”. This week he said, “whenever you walk down a regional street with Alannah, you’ll find that everyone knows her”.
On the campaign trail, Ms MacTiernan was a popular figure, often appearing alongside Mr McGowan at shopping centre walk-throughs and party events.
“It’s enormously exciting — the idea that I can have a job where I can get out into all of regional WA is sort of like a dream job”
Senior Labor figures are hoping Ms MacTiernan’s regional portfolios, which will see her out and about in regional cities and towns, will help the party shore up country seats picked up in the emphatic State election victory last weekend.
In the Lower House, Labor candidates won the regional seats of Pilbara, Bunbury and Murray-Wellington and came close in Geraldton, Kalgoorlie and Dawesville, while in the Upper House, the increase in party support has seen an extra seat in each country region.
In the Mining and Pastoral Region, a significant fall in support for the Liberal and National parties means Labor is on track to win three seats.
“Labor has long had great representation in the country,” Ms MacTiernan said. “Occasionally the tide goes out and we lose that, but certainly very much part of my job is to make it very clear that Mark McGowan wants to govern for the whole State.
“Absolutely part of my job will be making that message clear … that each part of the State is treasured and we want the best for each region.
“In my role as planning and transport minister I had a big presence in the regions and a lot of the work that I did was working with our members in the regions and I think doing some really good things.
“We want to make sure that we’re out there doing that.”
On Monday morning, Ms MacTiernan will take her place around the Cabinet table, joining 17 of her colleagues for the first official meeting of the McGowan Government.
The Cabinet, which includes nine members of the Labor Left faction, and four from the Right, was officially sworn in yesterday morning.
Labor sources told The West this week that the Left were rewarded for playing a crucial role in winning battleground seats contributing to the party’s powerful majority on the floor of the Legislative Assembly.
But it came at a cost, with senior Right figures Kate Doust and Margaret Quirk missing out on Cabinet spots, and Bill Johnston stripped of the energy portfolio.
Mr McGowan stressed unions did not have a say in the Cabinet picks and said it was a “Cabinet for the times” with ministers from many backgrounds. Among the 18 members, there are three teachers, three lawyers, two economists and a mechanic.
Three were born overseas, and another three are from interstate.
Despite Mr McGowan being the first Premier in decades not to have studied at the University of WA, five of his ministers have degrees from there, one from Murdoch University, two from ECU and one from Curtin University.