The WA Boys Club

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Last Thursday, on 17
January, Troy Buswell became leader of the Western Australian Liberal Party, in
his first term in State Parliament as the Member for the regional south-west
seat of Vasse.

Buswell is the fourth Opposition
leader in three years and his record of conduct and judgment since entering
public life makes his rapid elevation all the more extraordinary.

In the week prior to his
challenge, Buswell told reporters
that he needed ‘more experience’ before he could be considered for the
leadership. Last October, while Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Buswell engaged
in a drunken episode in State Parliament that culminated in him attempting to perform a ‘party
trick
‘ by snapping open the bra of a Labor staffer. He later attempted to kiss and
cuddle Opposition police spokesman Rob Johnson in the Parliamentary Chamber
while still under the influence. The then Liberal Leader, Paul Omodei, told the
media that Buswell had offered his resignation the following morning.

On other occasions, Buswell is known to have made ‘inappropriate’ remarks of a ‘sexual nature’ about Carine
Liberal MP Katie Hodson-Thomas in the presence of a number of male colleagues. On
the day of Buswell’s election as leader, Hodson-Thomas announced that she would
not be contesting the next election because Parliament had become a ‘boys
club’.

Nobody wants to be a wowser, but there are limits. Given that Buswell’s
drunken boorishness was both very recent and occurred after he already held the
senior position of Deputy Leader, it is difficult to accept that he has
experienced a Damascene moment since he attained the Leadership.

The West Australian has reported that Buswell has told close colleagues that he will no longer drink in public,
unless his wife Margaret is by his side. Presumably this advice is meant to be
reassuring, but rather than any behavioral transformation, the idea that the
new Opposition Leader is so unable to trust himself that he needs spousal
supervision is suggestive of a juvenile lack of self-discipline that is hardly
befitting of high political office.

Buswell’s honesty has also
been a political issue. At the last leadership spill of the WA Liberal Party,
in March 2006, when Omodei toppled the previous leader, Matt Birney, Buswell – who
was at that stage the Deputy – allegedly lied to Birney, saying he had voted for the ousted man, when he had in fact backed
Omodei. Buswell apparently told Birney that he had supported him even after the
ballot had taken place, only later telephoning the deposed leader to disclose
the truth.

At the time of the challenge, it was alleged that Buswell
had strong links with the former Liberal Senator and powerbroker, Noel Crichton-Browne, which
included a meeting that is alleged to
have taken place in a car outside Parliament House around the time of the
Omodei-Birney leadership stoush. Labor has made much of this meeting in the Parliament, particularly in light of both Buswell and
Crichton-Browne subsequently featuring in the WA Crime and Corruption
Commission’s investigations in relation to a disputed coastal development.

Leader of the Opposition is a major position of civic responsibility in
Westminster-style democracies and the holder can reasonably be expected to set
a public example of some propriety. It is legitimate to question what broader
implications might be read in to the sudden rise of a character like Buswell.

There seems little chance that Buswell has been elevated because he
represents anything particularly novel, sophisticated or of current appeal in
an ideological sense.

His inaugural speech
to the Parliament was notable for exhorting the neo-liberal ideals that have
just seen his Federal counterparts dumped from office, revealing him as a
creature from the pre-Rudd age; a political world that has now vanished. It is
of specific significance in these days of looming climate change disaster that Buswell
gave particular emphasis to his view that the
‘encroachment on our rights and freedoms is in many instances driven by
excessive government regulation, especially that enacted in the name of the
environment…’

Given what we know of his
principles and strength of character, it is apt to revisit an old political
cliché and pause to wonder: now that the WA Liberals have decided that Buswell
is the answer, what on earth was the question?

New Matilda

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