Regional Development Ministry at risk for Nationals

If Brendon Grylls failed to retain the Regional Development and Lands portfolio, it would be viewed as a “backward step”, political analysts say.

Mr Grylls and his Nationals Party are locked in negotiations with the Liberal Party as mystery surrounds the makeup of the next Government as late as Friday March 15.

Having campaigned as the only party guaranteeing the future of the billion dollar Royalties for Regions program, analysts say it would be an embarrassing loss for the Nationals if they were removed from the portfolio controlling the program.

Also at stake are the party’s $700m in election promises largely funded through Royalties for Regions.

Dr Ian Cook, a senior lecturer in politics with Murdoch University, said the Nationals would have mixed feelings following the election.

“While they picked up more seats, it would be seen as a backward step if they lose Regional Development,” Mr Cook said.

Mr Cook said the only comparable ministry giving the Nationals access to the State’s purse strings would be Treasury, but that the Liberals would retain that for themselves.

William Howe, a political blogger with independent media site Crikey, said he could only speculate on how the new cabinet would look, but that he expected the Liberals to play nice at first.

“[Regional Development and Lands] and Agriculture are the two portfolios that [the Nationals] care about and they’ve got them now and it would be provocative to take it away from them,” Mr Howe said.

“My suspicion is that Barnett would treat the Nationals pretty generously at first, but over time there will be other cabinet reshuffles.

“I think he will be under pressure from his own party at each reshuffle to say you’ve given them too much you don’t need to be this generous to the Nationals.

Mr Howe said this would include pressuring Premier Barnett to take the Regional Development Ministry off the Nationals.

Despite this, Mr Howe said Mr Grylls remained in a strong position because whereas Liberal members ride the highs and lows of the central Liberal Government in Perth, National members can present themselves as “pretty much independents”.

“If George Levissianos got in, then Labor would have been able to spend the next four years pointing to a Perth-centric Barnett Government not interested in the Pilbara,” Mr Howe said.

“But history shows these country rural independents – as the Nationals could paint themselves to be – are pretty much impossible to get rid of.

Mr Howe said this was partly the thinking in the North West seat where the Greens, probably in consultation with Labor, gave preferences to the Liberals ahead of the Nationals.

“It was not only because they wanted revenge on Vince Catania, but also the feeling in the Labor Party was that if the Nationals win these seats, they’re there for life,” Mr Howe said

“If the Liberals win they might be able to take them out in 2017.”

“So I think Brendon Grylls is going to be pretty much impossible to get rid of from here.”

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