WA election: McGowan must deal with MPs’ union ties

The Australian, March 13, 2017

Former trade union officials and MPs with close ties to powerful unions– will be a force in the new West Australian cabinet, but premier-elect Mark McGowan is also under pressure to give a senior portfolio to longtime union antagonist Alannah MacTiernan.

Ms MacTiernan — the former federal member for Perth, who has lobbied for years to reduce the influence of union leaders inside her party — has made it known she is interested in becoming energy minister in the new state Labor government.

Faction leaders appreciate her track record as a minister in the Gallop and Carpenter state Labor governments, including that as infrast–ructure minister she completed– the Perth to Mandurah rail line on time and on budget.

But the dilemma of how to divide– portfolios among union-backed MPs is understood to be a looming dilemma for Mr Mc–Gowan, a former naval lawyer who is not aligned to a union faction.

“We will have 17 cabinet positions because that’s the maximum allowed under the constitution,” he said yesterday. Ten of Mr McGowan’s 20 shadow– ministers had a significant trade union background. Three more were closely allied to union powerbrokers.

The former union officials in West Australian Labor’s shadow ministry included– education spokeswoman Sue Ellery, industrial relations spokeswoman Kate Doust, water spokesman Dave Kelly, community services spokeswoman Simone McGurk, police spokeswoman Michelle Roberts and racing and gaming spokesman Mick Murray.

Labor’s health spokesman Roger Cook, who is expected to be made deputy premier this week, was once national president of the National– Union of Students and is close to left-wing union United Voice.

In opposition, the energy portfolio has been held for the past five years by former shopworkers union official Bill Johnston. He spoke in favour of a 50 per cent renewa–bles target at an energy conference last year, creating a campaign headache for WA Labor, which was forced to abandon plans to announce a target.

However, union backgrounds are not typical among the estimated 20 new Labor MPs who will take their seats in the lower house, where Labor could hold 40 out of 59 seats when counting finishes.

There are two former union officia–ls among those Labor candid–ates whose wins are considered certain; state secretary of the Australian Workers Union Stephen– Price in the seat of Forrestfield, on Perth’s eastern fringe; and Amber-Jade Sanderson, former assistant state secretary of United Voice, who has won Morley– in Perth’s northeast.

Labor’s ranks will now include a former war crimes investigator in Bosnia (Barry Urban in Bunbury), a former personal trainer turned small business owner (Lisa O’Malley in Bicton), two former journalists (John Carey in Perth and Reece Whitby in Baldivis), a school teacher (Sabine Winton in Wanneroo) and a high school principal (Matthew Hughes in Kalamunda–)