Hamish Hastie spoke exclusively with Member for Darling Range Tony Simpson before the Liberal Party room meeting on Tuesday to find out what led up to his resignation as a minister.
Member for Darling Range Tony Simpson said his deteriorating relationship with Premier Colin Barnett and his ‘toxic’ office played a big role in his decision to step down as a cabinet minister on the weekend.
Mr Simpson sensationally resigned from his role as Local Government, Community Services, Youth, Seniors and Volunteering Minister on Saturday.
Transport Minister Dean Nalder followed by announcing his resignation from cabinet on Sunday.
Mr Simpson said the Premier and his office had become too hard to deal with and he had lost faith in the government.
“I’m not a huge player in the party, I’m pretty much just the baker from Byford,” he said.
“My ultimate story on Saturday was let’s bring this to a head and put it to rest once and for all.
“I feel like we’re doing everything possible to lose, we’re basically handing it on a plate (to Labor).
“I have lost faith in the government in terms of its leadership and also more importantly around his office.
“The Premier has a circle of friends around him and it’s almost to a point where it’s hard to get to the Premier and you’ll go in to talk to him and you’ll get pushed around.
“You’ll send briefing notes to the office on your portfolio and somehow something different comes out the other side.
“It’s like a game of Chinese whispers, it gets a little bit frustrating.
“In all honest opinion with my hand on my heart I can not sit on the cabinet table and take the pay cheque as a cabinet minister…if I can’t achieve what I wanted to achieve I think it’s the right thing to do.”
Mr Simpson said there had been several occasions where he had been frustrated with Mr Barnett since becoming a minister in March 2013 but one that stuck out was local government reform.
He said after the community polls had quashed amalgamation efforts in several councils in February 2015 he wanted to speak to Mr Barnett to discuss the next step.
“He said, ‘just update cabinet and we’ll have a chat afterwards’ however we never got the opportunity to have a chat but then on Tuesday morning he’s on radio saying, ‘I’m putting up the white flag’,” he said.
“I had some inklings we were possibly going to do something like that but I had no idea we were actually doing it until I heard it on the radio.”
He also criticised the Premier’s reluctance to reform the western suburbs.
“It felt like the Premier was quarantining his own western suburbs, which really frustrated me, he should’ve put more pressure on them and it would’ve showed more credibility in the sector,” he said.
“To have six local governments that don’t even make up 90,000 people it didn’t look good, it was ridiculous.”
He also criticised the State Government’s privatisation plans.
“Can you name one thing that we’ve privatised?” he said.
“Why would you table something in Parliament, the privatisation of Fremantle Ports, if you haven’t got support of your cousins in politics?”
Mr Simpson said he did not coordinate his resignation with Mr Nalder and while he did speak to his colleagues in the days leading up it no one, including his chief of staff, knew about it.
He said he was proud of the improved transparency he had brought into the local government sector and the work he did in the youth and seniors spaces.
A spill motion failed against Mr Barnett at Tuesday’s party room meeting.
On Wednesday Mr Simpson said he would respect the decision and would focus on winning his seat again.
“The party room has spoken and I respect the decision that the party room has made and I look forward to campaigning for the seat of Darling Range,” he said.
Barnett Hangs On
Premier Colin Barnett accepted some criticisms of him and his office after issues came to a head in the Liberal Party room meeting on Tuesday.
A spill motion was moved but failed 31 votes to 15.
Mr Barnett said the quick pace of politics could often leave some of his parliamentary colleagues off side.
Mr Barnett made the comments following a tumultuous weekend for his party.
Two MLAs, Tony Simpson and Dean Nalder, resigned from the cabinet citing problems with the Premier’s leadership.
Mr Barnett said the meeting allowed frank discussion and the party could now move onto winning the 2017 election.
“Everyone has agreed to stand behind the leadership as we go into that election campaign.
“I think a lot of people have got some issues that had been worrying for sometime out there in the arena,” he said.
“I’m not saying they are all resolved but we resolved to work together in a unified way to try and win the next election.”
He said he accepted some criticisms but sometimes politics was quick moving and decisions had to be made quickly.
“I guess one comment I’d make and I’d make this to the members of parliament, politics is demanding,” he said.
“Not just the politics of politics, but politics is a very vibrant, fast moving sometimes contentious role.
“I think it’s difficult for people outside of the government to understand how complex government is, how quickly things move, the demands of media of constituents, of different interest groups.
“I think because sometimes I like to get on with the job and deal with the issues quickly maybe people think I don’t listen enough.
“I accept that criticism.”
“I think members of parliament, in key issues that affect them particularly in their electorates, want to be involved in the final decision making and probably at an earlier stage.
“I’ll do my best to accommodate that but it is in an environment where everything moves quickly.”
Mr Barnett said the government would clearly outline its policies on issues like the Perth Freight Link and privatisation in coming weeks.
“They’re not simple issues, we’ll take our time to resolve them but I think the time is due for us to do that.”
Murdoch university politics senior lecturer Ian Cook said while Mr Barnett had won the short term challenge questions still remained in the long term.
“The longer term questions I guess are still around his leadership, Premier and Cabinet.
“He is going to have to be able to present a united and energetic team come March next year,” he said.
Member for Armadale Tony Buti said the comments made by Mr Simpson and Mr Nalder showed there were concerns with the direction the government was taking.
“The vote was 31 – 15 so basically that’s saying nearly a third of parliamentary liberals wanted a leadership change,” Dr Buti said.