Joe Spagnolo: Libby Mettam cannot afford any more stuff-ups

Joe SpagnoloThe West Australian
WA Liberal leader Libby Mettam has had a week she would rather forget.
Camera IconWA Liberal leader Libby Mettam has had a week she would rather forget. Credit: Justin Benson-Cooper/The West Australian

Libby, Libby, Libby. What. Were. You. Thinking?

God, you are making it hard for people to believe you are the real deal.

On a weekend when the Liberals were expected to bask in the glory of rolling out State and Federal election candidates endorsed by State Council (Tom White in Curtin and Sandra Brewer in Cottesloe, for example) the attention is instead focused on Libby Mettam — and whether she will make it to the end of the year as leader of the WA Liberal Party.

The now infamous Steve Thomas-Brian Burke debacle has played right into the hands of Liberals (and members of the public) who were already dubious as to whether Mettam has what it takes to take on Roger Cook and his deputy Rita Saffioti in next year’s election.

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Sceptical Liberals told me at the end of last year they believed Mettam would be found out in 2024: that she’d show she doesn’t have what it takes to be party leader.

The events of this week reinforced that view.

Mettam is not mortally wounded by the events of this week.

But there is now little room for error from here on in.

In other words, she cannot afford any more stuff-ups.

Just in case you haven’t followed the political story of this week, Mettam’s deputy, Steve Thomas, finally coughed up the truth regarding his dealings with Brian Burke.

Thomas revealed that he had, in fact, spoken several times to Burke about issues surrounding the Collie coal industry.

Prior to that confession, Mettam had painted her Liberal MPs as being as pure as the driven snow, saying they had no contact with Burke, whereas Laborites still did.

Thomas’ admission made Mettam look absolutely stupid.

There are only 10 Liberals in the WA Parliament, including Mettam.

You would think she would have had the political smarts to ring her nine MPs to ask them whether they had any contact with Burke before proclaiming that only naughty Laborites spoke to the bogeyman.

Thomas’ punishment was to lose the deputy leader gig as well as the prestige of being leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council.

Mettam reckons his demotion is a sign of her strong leadership.

What else would she say, right?

Basil Zempilas’ chances of becoming leader of the WA Liberal Party before the 2025 State election just increased dramatically.

The circumstances surrounding the demise of Thomas also now present other significant problems for Mettam and the Libs.

It was well known that Mettam and Thomas weren’t exactly besties, even though Thomas threw his support behind Mettam when she overthrew David Honey as leader.

But Thomas was valuable.

He has a brain and was doing a good job as shadow treasurer.

Thomas was working on a number of pre-election policies for the Liberals — a new shopping hours policy, and payroll and stamp duty reforms.

Who does that work now?

The next State budget is just nine weeks away.

Mettam’s deputy is now an Upper House Liberal MP by the name of Steve Martin (no, not the American comedian and actor).

Her shadow treasurer is now Neil Thomson, also an Upper House MP.

No disrespect to either Martin or Thomson, but they are shadowing Rita Saffioti, who holds the treasury and deputy leader positions for the Labor Government and who is a seasoned and experienced performer.

But among this Liberal upheaval, there have been two clear winners.

Powerbroker Peter Collier, the No.2 Clan member, now finds himself back as leader of the Opposition in the Upper House (this is not a misprint).

And Basil Zempilas’ chances of becoming leader of the WA Liberal Party before the 2025 State election just increased dramatically.

Basil, the Liberal candidate for Churchlands, is a generous type.

Informed sources tell me he has let it be known behind the scenes that if the Libs are in a pickle and they need him to lead them to the next election, then he is willing to do so.

A fine gesture, indeed.

I am sure Libby appreciates Basil’s kindness.

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