Jilted Liberal backbencher Rob Johnson has chosen the first day of the new Parliament to unleash a furious attack on Colin Barnett, declaring the Premier hates criticism, is too dictatorial and “above himself”.
Mr Johnson nominated himself for the position of Speaker of the Legislative Assembly earlier today, in defiance of the Premier who wanted Mt Lawley MP Michael Sutherland for the job.
Mr Johnson lost the secret ballot but won 26 of 59 votes to Mr Sutherland’s 33. Assuming Labor’s 21 MLAs backed Mr Johnson and the former police minister voted for himself, that result means four Liberal or National MLAs cast ballots in defiance of Mr Barnett in the very first vote of the new Parliament.
Outside Parliament, Mr Johnson launched a furious assault on the Liberal leadership, declaring his was worried about the level of State debt, said there was an “unelected government” of staffers in the Premier’s office pulling the strings and rounded on Mr Barnett for having too few women in his Cabinet.
Mr Johnson admitted canvassing votes for the Speakership, and said his belief last night was that he might have enough votes to win.
“More members said they were going to support me up until last night but I think some of them were got at by the heavies who are associated with this type of thing and they were put off,” he said.
Mr Johnson said his decision to run had nothing to do with Mr Sutherland but he wanted to give MLAs a choice.
It is understood he was heavily encouraged by Labor MLAs to put his name forward.
“I didn’t like the fact the Colin Barnett seemed to think he could dictate who would be Speaker,” Mr Johnson said.
“Constitutionally it’s the members of the Assembly who have the right to choose the Speaker, not the executive. Colin Barnett is not the Government, he is Colin Barnett.”
Mr Johnson said he had 20 years experience in Government and Opposition.
“As far as experience goes I was the best person suited for the job – there’s no question about that,” he said.
He then launched into withering critique of his own Government’s performance.
“Colin Barnett, he’s not been very friendly to me since he removed my ministries from me, he doesn’t like criticism – you saw that when he didn’t get his own way in Churchlands,” Mr Johnson said in a reference to a preselection battle for that seat where the Premier’s preferred candidate, restaurateur Kate Lamont, was rejected by local preselectors in favour of rookie MP Sean L’Estrange.
“And he didn’t like it when I said I felt betrayed,” Mr Johnson said, referring to his own comments after Mr Barnett dumped him as police minister. “Well, I was betrayed. There was an agreement, an understanding, and some journalists know that.”
Mr Johnson said he “absolutely” intended to remain in the Liberal party room.
“I’ve been a loyal Liberal for the last 20 years and my intention is to remain a loyal Liberal,” he said.
“I’m just being honest and I think no matter if you’re in the governing party or not you’ve got to be honest. If things are not being done properly, you’ve got to speak out. Otherwise you’ve got WA Inc all over again.
“I’m not a vindictive person, I never have been. I think I’m the victim to some extent in some of these things that have happened.
“I just believe that I need to tell the truth, I need to tell people what concerns me.
“I’ve been constrained up until now, but I’ve made a decision that if I’ve got something that concerns me and I think it’s a serious issue for the people of WA, I should say so – even if it’s against our own Premier, Colin Barnett, or our Government.
“I will be a very good watchdog.
“Can anything shut me up? Nothing should shut me up. I think I have the right to say anything I think is relevant or important.”
“I’ve had 20 years experience in and out of government and I believe that too many people in Parliament keep quiet because they're frightened, or they want to be a minister, or they get bullied.
“You’ve got basically an unelected government running this place at the moment. Those people close to Colin Barnett, the spin doctor, the chief of staff, various other people – they are the unelected government.
“He takes notice of them and then he tells Cabinet what to do. He is the government.”
Despite losing the vote for the Speakership, Mr Johnson said: “If nothing else it was worth it just to see Colin Barnett’s face in the chair when I nominated.
“It was pretty angry and not very happy but he’s not a very happy person a lot of the time, that’s the problem Colin has.
“I think he is (doing too much dictating). He’s a bit above himself these days. I think it will be very useful for me now (to be on the backbench) because I can keep a good watch on him and the Government to keep them honest.
Mr Johnson said Mr Barnett had “insulted the women of WA” by selecting a Cabinet with “a token two women out of 17 Cabinet Ministers”.
“You’ve got a token one woman for each House. Not good enough, Premier,” he said.
“I am really concerned about the State debt. It’s $18 billion now and it’s going to go up to $25 billion. With the election promises we’re looking at nearer $30 billion.
“It will take decades, decades to pay that sort of debt back and I’m not happy with that.
“We’ve got Joe Hockey complaining about the Federal Labor Government running up their debt of $140-odd billion, and yet we’re running up a debt of up to $25-$30 billion.
“My kids, my grandchildren, your kids will be paying that back for decades.
“Even if we had an extra surplus of $1 billion a year it would take 25 years to pay that off – but we’re increasing debt.”
Mr Barnett has declined to comment.