“You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”
So goes the historic quote when referring to MPs who have overstayed their usefulness, most famously directed at the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, on May 7, 1940 following his disastrous leadership during the first year of the Second World War.
Maybe it’s time for some of the state Liberals in the party room to stand up and aim these famous words at the current Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Regional Development, Jim Chown, for his utter failure to make a mark on the government in the 12 months he has had the job.
In the game of politics, when your political party is in opposition and way behind in the polls, its incumbent on all Shadow Ministers to pull their weight and to go hard and hammer the government at every single opportunity, and score points off them while laying out an alternative policy agenda.
By putting someone who never made it into the Barnett Ministry into a key shadow portfolio, at a time when they desperately needed energetic representation in the bush, was a strange decision by Liza Harvey and the factional war lords.
Elevating Jim Chown, over Ian Blayney, into the Agriculture portfolio has turned out to be a major political mistake unless it was all about boosting numbers against any future leadership challenge.
The political fallout has been huge it saw Blayney quitting the Liberals to join the Nationals and regional WA ending up with a disinterested and unmotivated Shadow Minister who has spent his time since being promoted into the portfolio planning his last factfinding tour to Europe and negotiating a bigger plusher office.
Chown, known as the house ghost, is rarely seen, or heard and has racked up a pitiful number of kilometres on the road working either his electorate or his portfolio. We see no photos of him inspecting wind-blown crops in the mid-west, empty dams in the great southern or drought impacted pastoral stations.
There are no Facebook posts of visits to cellar doors that were forcibly closed during the lock down or dairy farms forced to sell up because of the power of the supermarkets, he has written nothing on the impact of the governments regional closures on small business or the impact of Covid-19 on the states fishing industry.
In fact, it takes longer to read Jim Chown’s full title of Member for the Agricultural Region, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Food Regional Development, Royalties for Regions and Fisheries, than it takes to read his press releases attacking the government or finding fault with the efforts of the government Ministers for Agriculture, Fisheries, Transport and all the other portfolios that impact the regions.
A search of the Farm Weekly or The West will barely see his name appear, he has not been active on Facebook or Twitter and writes no regular media opinion pieces like this one, he has no independent web site, no bill boards, no print ads, no TV ads (unlike Steve Thomas MLC), and he makes no effort to get out and meet with the 50 or so industry peak bodies that come within his remit.
In fact, I suspect the only thing you hear from Jim Chown is the sound of his pay cheque being cashed each week.
Mind you, that is probably why the party dropped him to the unwinnable No 3 spot on the Agricultural Regional ticket. A move that has given him room to focus on his future while in self-imposed exile as he sits out the next 11 months of his time in office (the legislative council term ends May 21, 2021).
In the meantime, the current Minister for Agriculture and Regional Development has a clear run in the media. She is flat out pumping out daily press releases, Facebook posts, newsletters, letters to the editor and Tweets to her 6851 followers. The contrast is staggering for someone who has battled illness, she is a hive of energy and you cannot but admire the effort she goes to get her policy message out.
In turn, there are no lack of policy issues for someone such as Chown, with an open ended portfolio, funded access to a plane, a large travel allowance, plus the help of staff to investigate and find holes in the government’s administration of the state.
For instance he could have pulled apart the diversion of Royalties for Regions funds to ALP marginal seats such as the Bunbury Ring Road when Albany Highway was a higher priority, the dribble of water flowing out of regional stand pipes in drought impacted shires, the painfully slow development of the Fitzroy irrigation precinct, the uneconomic focus on hemp, the lack of investment in farm safety and country roads, the disastrous impact of the regional restrictions on employment or the Minister’s fascination with regen agriculture over industry best practise?
Take your pick, there is no lack of political fodder to hammer the government on, or reasons to travel around the state lining up photo ops to feed social media and the Farm Weekly in support of the opposition’s message.
The lack of effort on behalf of his electorate and portfolio responsibilities is a disgrace and the leader should dump him from the shadow ministry or even better he should do the honourable thing and step down and let Steve Martin the new No 1 on the Liberals Ag Ticket be fast tracked into Parliament.
Having someone who is doing so little to support the bush in such a key portfolio area, leaves the Liberals open to the accusation that they have given up on holding and winning regional seats. If they want to get back into the fight they need someone who actually wants to get into the ring and take on the government, especially if they are going to have any hope of winning back key regional towns like Geraldton, Bunbury, Albany and Collie.
The way the Liberals are currently travelling they give every impression they are handing over country political representation to the Nationals to focus on winning only metro seats and a couple of regional coastal towns.
In a way it’s the inevitable end result of the relentless energy of the Nationals leadership who have pushed hard to be the sole representatives of regional seats compounded by the lack of energy displayed by the likes of the Shadow Liberal for Regional Development.
The contrast could not be starker. The leader of the Nationals Mia Davies, is a tireless worker matching Alannah MacTiernan’ s Facebook page post by post not to mention having 4649 followers on Twitter vs Liza Harvey 3558 and Alannah MacTiernan 6859, an impressive effort for a regional party that picked up just 71,313 votes out of 1.33 million at the 2017 election.
As for press releases, the Nationals WA have countless media statements going back to 2016 on their web site. Add to that a continually active Facebook page plus they out Tweet the Liberals 5116 to 2976 so the people in the bush have absolutely no doubt what this party stands for.
In contrast the Liberals have just 20 media statements on their home page going back a month. Raising questions as to where are the rest after 3 years in opposition and a full year of Liza Harvey’s leadership?
Surely, they have started the roll out of policies and have a long list of the governments failures posted on the traditional web page format that voters and journalists can search. But no such site exists.
In another example of a party and an individual MP that outperforms both the Liberals and Jim Chown for energy and effort we have Rick Mazza, the one man band from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers. He has none of the resources of Liza Harvey but out shoots the Liberals Facebook followers 6147 to 5465.
Then there is One Nation with their relentless Colin Ticknell representing the South West who goes to anything and everything. His tweets alone will tweets 9141 blows away Jim Chown 0. In fact, Chown holds the record of all 95 MPs in state parliament with zero political Facebook friends and zero Twitter followers. He clearly has given up even attempting to show any interest in politics.
The only thing where the Liberals are punching above the Nationals is with their own party’s Facebook followers with 5472 compared to the Nationals 3788 but it helps when you have a swag of Federal Liberal MPs in Canberra vs the National Party with none, plus the Libs are in power in Canberra so one would expect them to have a far bigger Facebook following.
Looking at all this as a package, serious questions must be asked about what is going on in the Leader of the Opposition’s Office and how come they have virtually no policies released and no real rural media presence.
It’s time for a shake-up of the opposition shadow bench and a clean out of the non performers to drive a more effective opposition. If it doesn’t happen someone is going to stand up and say, “Depart, I say, and let us have done with you,” and it wont just be aimed at Jim Chown.