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Barnett wins challenge but is wounded

AAP logoAAP 20/09/2016 Greg Roberts

BARNETT FIGHTS OFF CHALLENGE BUT MIGHT LOSE ELECTION

Colin Barnett emerged successful from an ugly four-day challenge to his leadership and on Friday will mark the eighth anniversary of becoming premier. Tuesday's attempted leadership spill was defeated 31 votes to 15 among, a significant minority even though Mr Barnett declared it a convincing 2-1 win.

THE GOVERNMENT LOOKS ANGRY AND DIVIDED

Liberal government MPs aired their grievances after an extraordinary weekend in which ministers Dean Nalder and Tony Simpson quit and unloaded on the premier. Mr Barnett admitted the meeting involved criticism of his leadership style, the behaviour of his office, who other MPs have labelled as a toxic, bullying, out-of-control machine and its debt-busting privatisation agenda. "It was very therapeutic and probably overdue ... some members were critical of me, some members were critical of each other, Dean had the opportunity to speak at length about his actions actions as did Tony Simpson," he told reporters. If he admitted that, imagine what was actually said.

IS THE TENSION REALLY OVER?

There is significant anger and division that has been festering for years despite the premier's majority support. "I don't think we're that naive to believe it was done in good faith with no agenda, clearly the hope was to damage the premier if not to knock him off." Notre Dame University senior politics lecturer Martin Drum said. The Liberals emerged from the meeting insisting they were united, but a few more bad polls before the March election will change that.

CAN THE PREMIER PACIFY HIS INTERNAL CRITICS?

He accepts some of the criticism of his autocratic style and his office and its power and exclusion. But it was heavily qualified. "I think I'm a decisive leader, sometimes people might find that a little abrupt," the premier said. Some complain he makes big decisions without consulting ministers or he contradicts them. Another view is that Mr Barnett's honest, plainspeaking style in today's controlled political environment is a good thing but some MPs feel excluded. He argued on Tuesday that happened bceause "government just moves so quickly, I deal with many many issues".

CAN THE WA LIBERAL PARTY RECOVER FROM THIS BY MARCH?

"This certainly hurts the premier's chances of getting re-elected, there is no doubt about it," Professor Drum said. Labor has consistently finished ahead of the Liberal National Government in polls this year. As well as how bad the infighting looks, leadership spills have a negative effect at the polls: look at PM Malcolm Turnbull's struggles this year. Ironically, the weekend's turmoil in WA came on the same day the best poll the government has enjoyed in a long time was published, putting it behind 51/49 to Labor.

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