Colin Barnett

Colin James Barnett (born 15 July 1950) is a former Australian politician who was the 29th Premier of Western Australia. He concurrently served as the state's Treasurer at several points during his tenure and had previously held various other portfolios in Western Australia's Court–Cowan Ministry.

Colin Barnett
Colin Barnett (formal) crop.jpg
29th Premier of Western Australia
Elections: 2008, 2013, 2017
In office
23 September 2008 – 17 March 2017
MonarchElizabeth II
GovernorKen Michael
Malcolm McCusker
Kerry Sanderson
DeputyKim Hames
Liza Harvey
Preceded byAlan Carpenter
Succeeded byMark McGowan
Treasurer of Western Australia
In office
27 April 2010 – 14 December 2010
Preceded byTroy Buswell
Succeeded byChristian Porter
In office
12 June 2012 – 7 July 2012
Preceded byChristian Porter
Succeeded byTroy Buswell
In office
10 March 2014 – 17 March 2014
Preceded byTroy Buswell
Succeeded byMike Nahan
27th Leader of the Opposition in Western Australia
Elections: 2005
In office
26 February 2001 – 9 March 2005
DeputyDan Sullivan
Preceded byRichard Court
Succeeded byMatt Birney
In office
6 August 2008 – 23 September 2008
DeputyKim Hames
Preceded byTroy Buswell
Succeeded byEric Ripper
In office
17 March 2017 – 21 March 2017
DeputyLiza Harvey
Preceded byMark McGowan
Succeeded byMike Nahan
Member of the Western Australian Parliament
for Cottesloe
In office
11 August 1990 – 5 February 2018
Preceded byBill Hassell
Succeeded byDavid Honey
Personal details
Colin James Barnett

(1950-07-15) 15 July 1950 (age 72)
Nedlands, Western Australia
Political partyLiberal Party
Alma materUniversity of Western Australia

Barnett was born in Nedlands, Perth. He graduated from the University of Western Australia with an economics degree. Having lectured in economics at the Western Australian Institute of Technology and served as an executive director of the Western Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, he was elected to the Western Australian Legislative Assembly for the seat of Cottesloe at a by-election in 1990. Barnett served as a minister in the Court–Cowan Ministry from 1993 until its defeat at the 2001 election, after which he was made leader of the Liberal Party, replacing the outgoing premier, Richard Court. He resigned as leader after the unsuccessful 2005 election, but regained the position prior to the 2008 election, where he was elected premier. Barnett was sworn into office on 23 September 2008 by Ken Michael, the Governor of Western Australia at the time. At the 2013 election Barnett and his government were re-elected to a second term.

The Liberals were defeated at the 2017 election, and WA Labor's Mark McGowan succeeded Barnett as Premier. On 15 December 2017, Barnett announced his intention to resign from politics, which he did on 5 February 2018.

Early lifeEdit

Barnett was born in Nedlands, an inner western suburb of Perth, on 15 July 1950. He was educated at Nedlands Primary School and Hollywood Senior High School.[1] He began studying geology at the University of Western Australia, but switched to an economics course from which he graduated with an honours degree and later a master's degree. In 1973, he became a cadet research officer for the Australian Bureau of Statistics in Canberra, being promoted to senior research officer before returning to Perth in 1975 to become a lecturer in Economics at the Western Australian Institute of Technology (later renamed Curtin University).[2]

In 1981, he was seconded to the Confederation of Western Australian Industry, becoming the founding editor of their publication, Western Australian Economic Review. He was later appointed their chief economist, and served with them until 1985, when he became the executive director of the Western Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.[3]

Early political careerEdit

After former state Liberal leader Bill Hassell retired from politics in 1990, Barnett won the ensuing by-election in his old seat of Cottesloe.[4] He had not previously been a member of the Liberal Party, only joining during the preselection process.[5]

Despite this, Barnett was appointed to the shadow cabinet of Barry MacKinnon shortly after entering parliament, with responsibility for housing and works. He also added the fuel and energy portfolio in August 1991.[4] In May 1992, MacKinnon was replaced as leader by Richard Court. Barnett ran for the deputy leadership against Cheryl Edwardes, and after an initial 16–16 tie was elected by lot.[6] He retained responsibility for fuel and energy in the subsequent reshuffle of the shadow ministry, and was also given the state development portfolio.[4]

Court Government (1993–2001)Edit

After Court led the Liberals to power at the 1993 state election, Barnett became Minister for Resources Development and Energy and later, Minister for Education and Minister for Tourism in the Court–Cowan Ministry. He was also the Leader of the House in the Legislative Assembly and remained deputy leader of the Liberal Party. He was generally regarded as a competent and successful minister, and was associated with a number of important resource development projects.[7]

Opposition (2001–2008)Edit

The Court government was defeated at the 2001 election. Court had a somewhat frosty relationship with Barnett and wanted to keep him from becoming leader of the opposition. While Court was from the conservative wing of the state Liberal Party, Barnett is from the moderate wing. Court engineered a plan to have federal MP Julie Bishop succeed him instead. Under Court's plan, both he and Barnett would have resigned from the state legislature. Bishop would have resigned from federal parliament and handed her seat of Curtin, the safest Liberal seat in the Perth area, to Barnett. Bishop would have then run in either Barnett's seat of Cottesloe or Court's seat of Nedlands, both reckoned as comfortably safe Liberal seats. Court would then hand leadership of the WA Liberals to Bishop once she was safely in state parliament.[8] When Barnett found out about the plan, he claimed to have "choked on his Weet-Bix" at what he described as "an act of treachery or deceit."[9] However, when Bishop rejected the plan, Court, finding himself in an untenable situation, resigned.[10] Barnett then took the leadership after defeating his only opponent Rod Sweetman.

At the 2005 state election, Barnett proposed the construction of a canal from the rivers of the Kimberley Ranges in northern Western Australia to Perth to meet Perth's growing water supply problem. The proposal was costed by Barnett at A$2 billion, however it soon emerged that no feasibility study or detailed costings had been done.[11] Some experts put the cost as high as A$5 billion. The Prime Minister, John Howard, refused to commit federal funds to the project. He released the policy costings only a few days before the election, when a A$200 million error in the costings document was discovered.[12] When the Gallop government was returned with its majority intact, Barnett accepted responsibility for the defeat and resigned the Liberal leadership.[13] On 9 March 2005 Liberal MPs elected Matt Birney, the member for Kalgoorlie, as Barnett's successor.

Barnett spent the next two years on the backbench—the first time in his career he had not been either a minister or opposition frontbencher. In November 2007, he announced that he would retire from politics at the next state election, at that stage due by May 2009.[14]

Premier (2008–2017)Edit

WA GovernmentEdit

Barnett in 2012

On 4 August 2008, Troy Buswell resigned as Opposition Leader and two days later Barnett was re-elected unopposed to the Liberal leadership despite the fact that he had previously announced his retirement and Deidre Willmott (who would subsequently be appointed as his Chief of Staff)[15] had been endorsed in his electorate. On 7 August 2008, Premier Alan Carpenter called an early election for 6 September 2008. Barnett led the Liberal Party to the election, which saw a significant swing away from the incumbent Labor Party, leading to a hung parliament. The balance of power rested with the WA Nationals. While the federal Liberals and Nationals are in Coalition at the federal level, the WA Nationals do not necessarily follow their federal counterparts' lead politically, and leader Brendon Grylls had torn up the Coalition agreement a year earlier. Knowing that Grylls was in a position to effectively choose the next premier, both Barnett and Carpenter courted the Nationals' support.

A week after the election, the Nationals agreed to support the Liberal Party as a minority government. As part of the deal, Grylls and two other Nationals, Terry Redman and Terry Waldron, accepted posts in Barnett's cabinet. However, the National ministers had only limited cabinet collective responsibility, unlike past Liberal-National coalitions in Western Australia (and at most levels in the rest of the country), and the Nationals reserved the right to vote against the government on issues that affected their electorates' interests. Additionally, Grylls declined to become Deputy Premier, a post which went to Liberal deputy leader Dr Kim Hames.[16] Carpenter resigned rather than face certain defeat on the floor of the Assembly, and Barnett was sworn into office on 23 September 2008.

Barnett was the sole state premier opposed to Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's key Health reform policy deal at the April 2010 COAG meeting. Barnett at the time led the only Liberal State Government in Australia, while all others states were led by Labor Governments. The reasoning for Barnett's strong opposition towards the reform was because it would require the State Governments to forfeit a proportion of their GST revenue. The Rudd Government's proposal was that 30 per cent of the GST revenue pool was to be dedicated towards the Commonwealth's contribution for hospital services, which had a disproportionate impact on those States receiving a less than per capita share of the GST pool (for Western Australia, this would have resulted in an estimated 64 per cent of GST revenue being forfeit). Barnett had already been angered that Western Australia was given a decreased 7.1 percent amount of the GST revenue (lower than last year's revenue amount of 8.1 percent)[17] while Western Australia is a state that will be heavily relied upon for the nation's economic growth due to its booming resource sector. Western Australia therefore would be heavily dependent on GST revenue to fund major resource sector projects although they would not be supported by GST revenue, thus becoming extensive expenditure for the state.[18]

Barnett believed that if Western Australia had agreed to a proposition for the States to handover 30% of the GST revenue pool, the arrangement could eventually lead to the federal government being able to acquire 100% of the state's GST revenue. The reaction of Barnett towards the health reform has been considered by political writer Peter van Onselen as a preservation of the states' rights.[19]

From 27 April 2010, Barnett held the Treasury Portfolio after the resignation of former Treasurer Troy Buswell. In a cabinet reshuffle he handed the portfolio to Christian Porter later that same year.[20] Barnett returned to the treasury portfolio when Christian Porter suddenly decided to pursue a career in federal politics and resigned immediately from all his state ministerial portfolios on 12 June 2012. Porter's resignation saw Barnett serve as an interim Treasurer until he was officially replaced by Troy Buswell the following month on 7 July.[21]

Barnett led the Liberals to victory in the 2013 state election, taking 31 seats on a swing of 8.8 points. This was theoretically enough for the Liberals to govern alone, and marked only the second time that the main non-Labor party in Western Australia had won a majority in its own right since adopting the Liberal banner in 1944. However, Barnett said after the election that the coalition with the WA Nationals would be retained.[22] According to ABC election analyst Antony Green, Barnett would have been forced to keep the Nationals in his cabinet in any event. Even after the 2008 electoral reforms, rural areas are still significantly overrepresented in the Legislative Council. Green argued that the rural weighting in the Legislative Council makes it politically impossible for a Liberal premier to govern without National support, even when the Liberals win enough Legislative Assembly seats to theoretically govern alone.[23]

Controversial policiesEdit

In October 2004, Barnett led a campaign to raise the age of consent for homosexual acts from 16 to 18. This policy of recriminalisation was opposed by several major organisations, including Amnesty International, the World Health Organization, and the Australian Medical Association, as well as all other parliamentary parties, including the Nationals.[24]

In October 2009, Barnett announced a series of new policies relating to drug legislation including a repeal of the Cannabis Control Act 2003.[25] The previous laws were formulated by Geoff Gallop's drug summit, taking input from experts such as academics, police, social workers, lawyers, medical professionals and members of the public.[26] Barnett has stated it is his intention to overturn these laws because of his beliefs and stated that the drug summit members made a mistake introducing them[27] and that cannabis was a "gateway drug".[28] To help with the enforcement of this new policy, Barnett also supported legislation to give police the power to search and seize property without any suspicion or belief that a crime has been committed.[29] A Liberal parliamentarian, Peter Abetz, voiced support for these laws in parliament by drawing reference to the work Adolf Hitler did to bring security to Nazi Germany.[30][31] Barnett said that Abetz was making a valid point.[32]

In June 2013, Barnett said that Western Australia would not sign up to the Gillard Government Gonski School Funding Reforms. Barnett said that he will not let the federal government govern schools.[33]

In December 2013, Barnett announced a controversial plan for great white sharks to be shot and disposed of at sea if they come within one kilometre of the coast of Western Australia, while acknowledging broad dissent in the community.[34][35][36]

In 2015, former Liberal leader Bill Hassell—who had preceded Barnett as the member for Cottesloe and "has a habit of excoriating Barnett in the media" according to The Australian—labelled Barnett a social liberal and a useful over-spender. Barnett claimed mining royalties were spent on "disability, mental health and other areas of social need". In December 2007 when former Liberal leader Barnett was once again a backbencher and contemplating political retirement, he claimed: "I'm disappointed that the Liberal Party has been taken over by hardline right-wingers" and "The party has become inflexible and has held a hard line on social issues, and that has not worked with 30-year-old voters" and "We should be more moderate on social issues. Saying sorry to Aboriginal people is part of that. We should have said sorry long ago".[37]

2016 leadership spillEdit

On 17 September 2016, Local Government Minister Tony Simpson and Transport Minister Dean Nalder resigned from Cabinet.[38] Subsequently, a motion to spill the leadership of the WA Liberal Party was brought by backbencher Murray Cowper. On 20 September, it was defeated 31 votes to 15. Nalder, who would have nominated against Barnett if the spill motion had passed, promised not to launch future leadership challenges.[39]

2017 election defeat and resignation from politicsEdit

Most polls since Barnett's landslide victory in 2013 showed the Barnett government well behind Labor. A Newspoll conducted from October to December 2015 and released in January 2016, revealing the government significantly trailing 47–53 two-party against the Labor opposition, representing a double-digit two-party swing of more than 10 points since the 2013 election. Had this been repeated at an election, it would have been more than enough to deny Barnett a third term. Just prior to the 2013 election, Barnett was nominated Better Premier with a 21-point lead on 52 percent, with an approval rating of 51 percent and a disapproval rating of 36 percent. Since then, Labor leader Mark McGowan has consistently led Barnett as Better Premier by several percent, with Barnett's approval rating consistently low, currently at 33 percent, with his disapproval rating consistently high, currently at 54 percent.[40][41][42][43]

On 11 March 2017, Barnett was swept from power in the largest defeat of a sitting government in Western Australia's history. The Coalition suffered a swing of 12.6 percent and lost 20 seats. Seven members of Barnett's cabinet, including Grylls, were defeated. The Coalition took a particularly severe beating in Perth. It went into the election holding 26 of the capital's 43 seats, but many Liberals in the outer suburbs sat on inflated margins. The Liberals suffered a 13.6 percent swing in Perth, and were cut down to just nine seats there, including Barnett's.[44][45][46][47][48] Accepting responsibility for one of the worst defeats of a sitting state or territory government since Federation, Barnett resigned as Liberal leader and returned to the backbench. He was succeeded as WA Liberal leader by his former Treasurer, Mike Nahan.

On 15 December 2017, Barnett announced his intention to retire from politics after Australia Day 2018. He resigned on 5 February 2018, triggering a by-election in his seat of Cottesloe.[49]

In December 2019, Barnett criticised Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton for stating that the values of the Communist Party of China are "inconsistent" with Australian values.[50]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Carpenter, Alan: New western suburbs college opened[permanent dead link], Government of Western Australia, 26 October 2001.
  2. ^ Cameron, Eoin: Behind the names on the ballot sheet[permanent dead link], Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 27 August 2008.
  3. ^ Who's Who in Australia 2007. North Melbourne: Crown Content Pty Ltd. 2007. p. 198. ISBN 978-1-74095-130-2. 0810-8226.
  4. ^ a b c Hon. Colin James Barnett MLA BEc (Hons), MEc, Parliament of Western Australia. Retrieved 1 February 2017.
  5. ^ "An audience with the emperor" Archived 26 October 2017 at the Wayback Machine, The Sydney Morning Herald, 3 February 2013. Retrieved 1 February 2017.
  6. ^ The Lawrence Government: Perspective by David Black - Part 3, Carmen Lawrence Collection, Curtin University Library. Retrieved 1 February 2017.
  7. ^ Barrass, Tony: Burke and the boom give Barnett a shot Archived 12 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine, The Australian, 7 August 2008.
  8. ^ Price, Matt (21 February 2001). "Court plots MP trade with Howard". The Australian. p. 6.
  9. ^ Southwell, Michael (22 February 2001). "News had Barnett choking on Weet-Bix". p. 7.
  10. ^ Shanahan, Dennis (23 February 2001). "Divided Libs sink Court's MP swap". The Australian. p. 1.
  11. ^ O'Donnell, Mick: WA super canal to cost more than $2 billion Archived 13 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine, The 7.30 Report (ABC), 3 February 2005.
  12. ^ Stanley, Warwick: How Colin Barnett has turned Liberal forturnes round Archived 8 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine, The Sunday Times, 4 September 2008.
  13. ^ Colin Barnett resigns as Opposition leader, AM (ABC Radio), 28 February 2005.
  14. ^ Barnett to quit politics, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 27 November 2007.
  15. ^ "Deidre Willmott". PerthNow. 20 October 2008. Archived from the original on 16 July 2018. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
  16. ^ Nationals hand WA election win to the Liberals, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 14 September 2008.
  17. ^ Angry Barnett lashes Rudd over GST cuts Archived 1 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine, 26 February 2010
  18. ^ O'Brien, Amanda. "COAG ended up like Labor meeting: Colin Barnett", The Australian, 22 April 2010.
  19. ^ van Onselen, Peter. "Barnett's prescription for keeping states' rights intact", The Australian, 21 April 2010.
  20. ^ Quinn, Russell: WA business happy with cabinet reshuffle Archived 28 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine, Perth Now, 14 December 2010.
  21. ^ Barrett, Jonathan: Buswell to be reinstated as WA treasurer Archived 16 January 2013 at, The Australian Financial Review, 28 June 2012.
  22. ^ David Weber (11 March 2013). "Counting resumes for WA election but won't change decisive Barnett victory". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 11 March 2013.
  23. ^ Green, Antony (7 February 2013). "2013 WA Election Preview". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on 20 April 2014. Retrieved 13 April 2014.
  24. ^ "Western Australia Liberals Will Recriminalise Homosexuality". Archived from the original on 22 September 2009. Retrieved 14 June 2010.
  25. ^ "Premier Colin Barnett to introduce tougher marijuana legislation | Perth Now". 11 October 2009. Archived from the original on 26 October 2009. Retrieved 11 July 2010.
  26. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 11 July 2009. Retrieved 23 November 2009.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  27. ^ "WA Liberals vow to crack down on cannabis | Perth Now". 11 August 2008. Archived from the original on 1 December 2008. Retrieved 14 June 2010.
  28. ^ "PM – WA Liberals want to reintroduce criminal sanctions for marijuana use". Archived from the original on 15 October 2008. Retrieved 14 June 2010.
  29. ^ "Police empowered for West's drug war". The Australian. 12 October 2009. Retrieved 11 July 2010.
  30. ^ "Hitler cited over stop and search laws – ABC Local – Australian Broadcasting Corporation". 11 November 2009. Archived from the original on 13 November 2012. Retrieved 14 June 2010.
  31. ^ [1][dead link]
  32. ^ "ABC News". 12 November 2009. Archived from the original on 15 April 2014. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
  33. ^ "Gonski education reform: Colin Barnett says WA won't sign on despite $920m incentive from PM". 12 June 2013. Archived from the original on 18 November 2013. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
  34. ^ Orr, Aleisha (27 December 2013). "Premier Colin Barnett defends shark killing as WA bait line locations revealed". WAtoday.
  35. ^ "Shark bait points revealed - Yahoo!7". Archived from the original on 29 December 2013. Retrieved 2013-12-28.
  36. ^ "The State Government announces where shark baited drum lines will be deployed". 27 December 2013.
  37. ^ "Subscribe to The Australian | Newspaper home delivery, website, iPad, iPhone & Android apps".
  38. ^ "WA Liberal leadership: Dean Nalder resigns, not ruling out leadership contention". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 17 September 2016. Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  39. ^ "WA Premier Colin Barnett survives as spill motion defeated". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 20 September 2016. Retrieved 20 September 2016.
  40. ^ Bowe, Author William (4 January 2016). "Newspoll: 53-47 to Labor in Western Australia". Archived from the original on 21 September 2018. Retrieved 25 May 2020. {{cite web}}: |first= has generic name (help)
  41. ^ "Untitled". 10 January 2016. Archived from the original on 10 January 2016.
  42. ^ "Election battle looms as WA Labor pulls ahead in latest poll". 3 January 2016.
  43. ^ "Poll result a 'wake-up call' for Barnett". PerthNow. 4 January 2016.
  44. ^ "Mark McGowan's Labor Party sweeps to power in WA". ABC News. 11 March 2017. Retrieved 31 March 2017.
  45. ^ Labor 55.5% 2PP vote and +12.8% 2PP swing sourced from Antony Green's temporary estimate within provided ABC link published 30 March 2017, which states "The two-party-preferred count is based on estimates for Baldivis, Moore and Roe. Actual two-party-preferred counts for these seats will be available at a later date. – Final 2017 WA Election Results plus a New Electoral Pendulum: Antony Green ABC 30 March 2017 Archived 21 May 2017 at the Wayback Machine
  46. ^ Antony Green (16 March 2017). "The Role of One-Vote One-Value Electoral Reforms in Labor's Record WA Victory". ABC News (Australia). Archived from the original on 16 March 2017. Retrieved 16 March 2017.
  47. ^ "WA Election 2017". ABC News. 11 March 2017. Archived from the original on 11 March 2017. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  48. ^ "WA Election: Seventh minister lost in WA Liberals rout". ABC News. 15 March 2017. Archived from the original on 15 March 2017. Retrieved 16 March 2017.
  49. ^ Cross, Daile; Daly, Jon (15 December 2017). "Former WA Premier Colin Barnett quits politics after 27 years". WAtoday. Archived from the original on 16 December 2017. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  50. ^ Borrello, Eliza (9 November 2019). "Australia's states are growing closer to China as the federal relationship remains strained". ABC News. Retrieved 10 November 2019.

External linksEdit

Parliament of Western Australia
Preceded by Member for Cottesloe
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Leader of the Liberal Party (WA Division)
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Leader of the Opposition of Western Australia
Succeeded by
Preceded by Premier of Western Australia
Succeeded by