From byelection triumph to leadership on life support


But how quickly fortunes turn on a dime.

Before the win in Darling Range, Dr Nahan’s leadership had been hanging by a thread.

The conventional wisdom had been that he was holding the opposition leader’s job on a kind of casual basis, in which his colleagues would reassess his performance at arbitrary future dates, such “the next federal election” or “Easter” or “after the Darling Range byelection”.

But the truth is not one of Dr Nahan’s rivals want his job – yet.

The win in Darling Range was significant; it secured the opposition leader’s position and for the first time he had stripped some political paint off the McGowan Government.

But six weeks later Dr Nahan has an almost insurmountable political problem after he revealed he is in a dispute with the US Internal Revenue Service over how much tax he owes the US government.

Dr Nahan – who was WA’s Treasurer for at least part of the dispute’s duration – called the attempt by the US to tax income made on his Australian superannuation a “tax grab”.

That might be fair enough – there are about 200,000 US citizens in Australia in the same boat – but it’s also a bit rich for Western Australians to stomach after they watched their own taxes, fees and charges disappear into Dr Nahan’s state coffers alongside a record debt and a sea of red ink.

Since he became opposition leader, everyone from Labor strategists to his internal rivals have drawn the conclusion Dr Nahan is unelectable.

But Australian political history is littered with unelectable leaders who find themselves elected.

The last rites have been said over political corpses as diverse as a young and washed-up Robert Menzies, Lazarus-with-a-triple-bypass John Howard and Paul Keating, who won the “unwinnable” 1993 election.

Not to mention Colin Barnett who was days away from retirement before becoming one of WA’s longest serving Premiers.

Mark McGowan himself was not taken seriously at first by his factional elders. But after years of proving himself they gave him the hard job of opposition leader and now he is a formidable political operator.

We’ve known all along Mike Nahan’s leadership has been far from perfect, but now it’s on life support.

He told the ABC yesterday that he had been “white-anted” by some in his party room, but backed away from his comments after an already planned meeting of Liberal MPs in Joondalup.

“I got an iron-clad uniform commitment, committed to me as the leader and committed to us as a team,” he said of his colleagues after the meeting.

Again it seems none of Dr Nahan’s rivals want to take his job.

Perhaps they are too enamoured by the fantasy scenario in which they steal his job only months out from a state election and ride the honeymoon effect and their innate greatness all the way into government.

But first, someone has to do the hard, unpopular work of opposition.

And when it comes time for hard, unpopular work, Dr Nahan’s colleagues are far too thin on the ground. Not only was the Liberal party room reduced to a rump at the last election, it’s as though some of the survivors are waiting for high office to drop into their laps.

But none of this helps Dr Nahan as he heads into his party room this afternoon.

Opposition leaders shouldn’t expect gratitude from their colleagues for all their hard work.

He still has questions to answer about his fight with the IRS and the strategy behind its public revelation.

There’s no doubt his colleagues are frustrated.

As parliament looms, they would rather be talking about prison riots than their leader’s personal tax affairs.



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