Pollies caught  in short reign cycle
Cheers for the years: Colin Barnett. Picture: Sharon Smith/The West Australian

When Penfolds bottled its 1959 Grange, Robert Menzies was 10 years into his record 16-year stint as prime minister and Sir David Brand was beginning his term as WA's longest-serving premier.

But over the past five years, longevity for PMs and premiers has become passe.

Barry O'Farrell, who quit as NSW premier this week after misleading a corruption probe over a $3000 bottle of Grange, became the 10th government leader since late 2008 not to take their party to the next election because they resigned or were dumped by their colleagues.

The most stunning coup remains the sudden strike against Kevin Rudd in June 2010, with Australians waking up to learn Julia Gillard had become the first female PM.

Mr Rudd got his revenge when he ousted Ms Gillard last year.

The gold standard for leadership turmoil remains the NSW Labor Party, which went though three premiers in 2½ years. But the Liberals have not been immune, with Ted Baillieu lasting just over two years as Victorian premier and Terry Mills 6½ months as NT chief minister.

By comparison, Colin Barnett has been a rock of stability since winning the 2008 State election.

Even so, the Barnett Government has not been immune to turnover in its upper ranks, with four different men serving as treasurer in 5½ years.

Veteran WA political observer Harry Phillips believes the rapid succession of treasurers has contributed in part to WA losing its prized AAA credit rating.

Though Mr Barnett had slid in the opinion polls, Dr Phillips said Christian Porter's departure for Federal politics and Troy Buswell's woes shored up the Premier's position.

"You need an obvious heir and if someone emerges I think we'll probably see Colin Barnett move on," he said.

Dr Phillips said one reason for instability was because the job as head of government had become all-consuming in the modern era, contrasting it to how as a child in the 1950s he often saw then-premier Bert Hawke playing tennis at lunchtime.

Regular opinion polling that focused on leaders' approval ratings also contributed to leadership churn. "The parties themselves start to look for alternatives," Dr Phillips said.

Australian National University political scientist John Warhurst agreed leaders faced unprecedented demands, including handling the 24/7 media cycle and political pressure to deliver new infrastructure, even though it was slow to build.

The West Australian

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