Western Australia Premier Barnett Survives Challenge

  • Liberal lawmakers reject motion calling for vote on leadership
  • Barnett’s popularity has slumped as mining investment wanes

Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett on Tuesday saw off a challenge to his leadership by members of his own party, spurred by criticism he mismanaged a once-in-a-generation commodities boom in the resources-rich state.

A motion calling for a vote on the Liberal Party leadership was defeated by 31 votes to 15. Dean Nadler, who resigned as transport minister at the weekend and said he would challenge for the leadership if it became vacant, told reporters after the motion that Barnett was “the captain of the team” and he wouldn’t vie for the top job again.

“It was a strong, convincing win,” Barnett told reporters in Perth, adding that he believed his government had a 50:50 chance of being re-elected. “Everyone needs to lick their wounds a little bit and then get on with it.”

Barnett, 66, faced claims from political rivals that he squandered the wealth created from the decade-long mining boom during his eight years in power. He now has just six months to turn around the party’s fading fortunes, with opinion polls showing the main Labor opposition is favored to win the March state election.

“Today shows that about one-third of his party-room don’t support Barnett so it’s not an overwhelming victory and he’s the underdog to win the election,” said Martin Drum, a senior political lecturer at Notre Dame University in Perth. “Voters are frustrated at the economic fortunes of the state and they tend to blame the government for that.”

Barnett rode the crest of the mining boom after coming to power in 2008, as Chinese demand for natural resources drove unprecedented wealth in a state bigger than Alaska and Texas combined. At the height of the boom when the world’s biggest miners including BHP Billiton Ltd. and Rio Tinto Group were ramping up production, unskilled workers earned in excess of A$200,000 ($151,000) a year and apartment rents in some remote mining towns exceeded those of Manhattan penthouses.

Still, Barnett has been criticized for not ensuring the state was prepared for the downturn that came as a global commodity supply glut combined with faltering Chinese demand. His government had racked up debt as it raced to build infrastructure, including new roads, hospitals and a A$1.5 billion sports stadium, to cater for an expanding population.

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