The unlikely pollie with a winning hand
Premier Colin Barnett and wife Lyn at Cottesloe Dog Beach with dogs Keiko and Zanna. Picture: Lincoln Baker/The West Australian

He's danced with Gina Rinehart in the basement of an historic Shanghai hotel while a big crowd applauded.

Advance Australia Fair is our national anthem partly because of the work he did as a young statistician in Canberra.

He became deputy leader of the WA Liberal Party when his name was pulled from a hat and even now he dreams of a Kimberley water canal.

Colin Barnett has been a part of WA's political landscape for 23 years, yet the Premier still takes pundits and the public by surprise.

But he offered one observation of himself during an hour-long chat for this Australia Day edition of _The Weekend West _ that was far from astounding.

"I don't think I'm a natural politician in any sense," he mused. "I never thought I was. I don't run around and kiss babies, shake hands and remember everyone's name and send every constituent a birthday card."

Those in more marginal seats than Mr Barnett's beloved Cottesloe could only dream of such sentiment, but his words support a long-standing view about the man who wants your vote on March 9.

He's his own man and that will never change. "I can tell you a little anecdote from a couple of campaigns ago," he said. "I knocked on the door of someone I knew, but not well, and he said, 'Colin, I didn't vote for you or donate to your campaign for you to waste your time knocking on my door. I want you out there running the State'."

Often labelled a gruff and dismissive leader, Mr Barnett was at ease sitting around the meeting table of his new Hale House office across from Parliament House in West Perth.

Leaning back with hands on head, a Cheshire cat grin crept across his wide face when asked how a confirmed republican could name the iconic waterfront development after the Queen.

"It's not called Queen Elizabeth Quay, it is Elizabeth Quay," he riddled, before saying he's not against the monarchy. "The referendum was held and defeated," he said of the 1999 debate. "I don't think you have the debate every year. Another generation in 25 years can revisit the issue."

After graduating from university, Mr Barnett landed a job at the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 1974 and was part of the team that polled 60,000 Australians for their view on the best national anthem.

It goes without saying he is passionate about Australia Day.

"I like seeing people flying flags from cars, wrapping themselves in Australia towels or dressing up with Australian flags," he said.

The interview turns to his personality and whether the media has got him all wrong.

"I don't think you've got me all wrong, but I don't think you've necessarily got me right either," he said. "I think people may have stereotyped me as a typical Liberal premier and I don't think I am."

He knows he would never have been Premier if not for Troy Buswell's chair-sniffing and bra-snapping antics in 2008. "I remember it well," Mr Barnett said. "Troy rang and said, 'Colin, I'm going to step down'. I was saying, 'Don't, Troy, you can see this through, mate'. He said, 'No, I've made up my mind'. From that moment on there was a bit of inevitability about it. "

Then Labor premier Alan Carpenter called an election days later and Mr Barnett was suddenly in the race to run the State.

The odds are more in his favour this time around. His view of Labor's chances of success came when asked about WA Nationals leader and Regional Development Minister Brendon Grylls' decision to contest the Labor-held seat of Pilbara.

"I think he'll win the Pilbara," Mr Barnett said.

The last time he was asked that question, he said Mr Grylls should take a cold shower.

The West Australian

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