Bill Johnston-worth returning to Cannington?

Bountiful Bill?

Update: apparently uttered as part of 6PR’s election night commentary “… McGowan not a fan of Bill [Johnston] or Kate [Doust]”…? 

I personally find Bill Johnston, the architect of the failed campaign by the former (Carpenter) WA Labor govt to win a third term in 2008, one of the most unpleasant, self-pitying, argumentative politicians around.

Apparently I’m not alone – comments about the way Johnston behaves were reserved for the last column of former State Political Editor of The West Australian, Robert Taylor, on his retirement:-

“After Dr Gallop won his second term in 2005 and I replaced Pennells as State political editor, I received a call from Labor’s State secretary Bill Johnston, inviting me for a coffee in Northbridge, close to the party’s offices, but first I went to Government House to watch the new Cabinet sworn in.

It was a beautiful late summer’s day, and having caught a taxi into Perth from the newspaper’s Osborne Park offices, I decided to walk over the line to meet Mr Johnston.

The ALP secretary wasted no time getting stuck into both the newspaper and me for our election coverage, the nub of his complaint but by no means the whole of it being that we had not done enough to dismantle Mr Barnett’s Kimberley to Perth canal proposal.

After 20 minutes I thought I’d had enough but it had started to rain and I had the choice of sitting still for more of the tirade or getting soaked. I chose the rain.

It was the first of many tense discussions with Mr Johnston, a man veteran ABC journalist Peter Kennedy describes as “the most difficult ALP secretary since Joe Chamberlain (1949-74)”, and we have to take his word for it because, let’s face it, only PK could say.”

Nonetheless, as WA Labor crashed out, Johnston’s bacon was saved by getting voted in as the inaugural MP for Cannington.  But what’s he done since then?

Opposition or not, Johnston’s done little that’s helpful for Canning and its hard to see what the City will get out of him if he becomes a Minister in a McGowan government.

WA Labor did bugger all for Canning whilst it was under administration, and faced being “ceased” as a local government

Johnston told me he’d had a few “behind the chair” conversations with fmr Minister for Local Govt, Tony Simpson, about City of Canning after its council was suspended.  Then, nothing.  The community was left to languish for years.

Here are some of the excuses Johnston gave me for WA Labor leaving Canning on its own:

“The party won’t give up limited parliamentary Q time for an issue affecting only two of its MPs [Ben Wyatt, Johnston]”

“Libs appointed [fmr Commissioner Linton Reynolds to Canning], a member of the Labor Party, knowing we wouldn’t attack that”

Despite these realities, Johnston’s electioneering today insists “[I spoke out] against the Liberal Party’s plans to amalgamate… City of Canning”.

Johnston claims he has a “great relationship with local government”

When was that? When I first met the man he told me the “executives at Canning are phht!” – crap, in other words.  Most of them were still there until two months ago!

Now he’s interfering in attempts to meet Canning’s infill target by pledging to block new development in its ‘burbs for what some are calling “a few measly votes”.

Johnston has promised to block a plan by the Housing Authority to build a small medium-density estate in Ferndale – and his reasons are ludicrous:-

“….not a suitable site for a large number of housing units because Ferndale did not have a train line

“..[to] retain this site as open space is part of [WA Labor’s] plan to create more liveable suburbs….
recogniz[ing] that providing enough open space helps ensure…. active and healthy lifestyles”

The reality? The affordable housing development amounts to 13 single and five grouped dwellings, Ferndale has been assessed as having an abundance of open space, and bus route 508 (connecting  with both Bullcreek and Cannington Train Stations) services the area directly every half hour.

Yes, I can believe Johnston did this for “a few measly votes”.  He only holds the seat of Cannington by 2%.

The City of Canning has since referred to actions to interfer in this planning as a “reputational risk” to itself.

Moving forward – is Johnston promising anything that will boost Canning’s flagging Strategic Centre status?

Seems nothing forthcoming to replace Canning’s collapsed funding bid to develop its CBD or links to Jandakot Airport.

Johnston served it up to the Barnett Govt for its failure to provide new transport options for Cannington, but all he seems to be offering is the grade separation of Wharf Street road/rail intersection… which The West Australian reported was on the PTA’s “to do” list anyway.

And is there much point in “prioritising” the grade separation if there isn’t going to be an increase in train movements on the failing Armadale rail line, because no matter what WA Labor says about MetroNet it won’t be extending the Thornlie Spur to Cockburn on the Mandurah rail line any time soon.

It’s not politically advantageous to do so… all in all WA Labor seems to take Canning for granted.

OK…. what if WA Labor gets in and Johnston becomes Energy Minister?

YOU be the judge as to whether there’s much to look forward to on the electricity front:

  • Despite Rod Sims, head of Australian Competition and Consumer Commission stating
    electricity bills would be lower after the part sale of Western Power” last week, Johnston continues the mantra “Everyone knows privatisation leads to job losses, higher prices and poorer services”.
  • Will solar owners get a higher price now under Renewable Energy Buyback Scheme (REBS)? Johnston’s Facebook answer to that Q is “I agree…REBS is very low, but Western Australia is broke”.
  • What about residential customers moving to full retail contestability (choice as to who you buy your electricity from)? This was to occur 1 July 2019 but the failure of parliament to progress electricity reform bills in 2016 has experts saying this probably won’t occur now until 2021-22.
  • Wasn’t there a plan to put solar panels on public housing? Well its in the party’s “draft platform“…doesn’t seem to be going anywhere… and Labor seems to expect these lowest of all income tenants to pay for it themselves….

Finally, what of the mysterious disappearance of WA Labor’s plan to ensure 50% of our electricity is sourced from renewables by 2030?  I’ll leave expression of concerns relating to that to Peter Kennedy, the political commentator who gave us the heads up on how difficult Bill Johnston can be:-

One of the sleeper issues in the election campaign is the strategy for renewable energy over the next four years.  There has been surprisingly little debate on the issue, which affects householders and business alike.

Labor’s position remains a mystery. What is known is the party was toying with a 50% target by 2030, but then swiftly dropped that plan [when veteran Collie-Preston MP, Mick Murray…gave ultimatum that if Labor went for a 50% target, with the consequent damage on the coal mining industry in Collie, it could start looking for a new candidate for Collie-Preston].

Labor must achieve a swing of 2.9% to retain [his seat].  Only Mr Murray could achieve it.

The Labor hierarchy backed off, with surprisingly little criticism, including from the Greens.

The sensitive issue here is that while clean energy has a nice ring to it… in the end someone has to pay.

Fed Labor leader Bill Shorten is keen on 50% renewable power by 2030, if just to keep the Greens at bay.  Should Labor win govt on Saturday, will that become policy in WA too? Voters deserve to know.

Personal conversations/communication between Bill Johnston and Author
Bill Johnston photograph
Extract from mail-out to Ferndale residents from Bill Johnston’s electorate office, Nov 2016

3 thoughts on “Bill Johnston-worth returning to Cannington?

  1. Serpentine Jarrahdale Shire Council has a lot in common with Canning Council. The corruption in our council is beyond belief and these grubs have been protected for too many years. A forensic audit and a thorough inquiry into this council was stopped with the aid of the previous Local Govt Minister Tony Simpson. His lies caught up with him and karma just dealt him a touch of punishment, he was booted out of the seat for Darling Range. There is jail time for people in our council and the sooner the better. It appears that 22.45 million dollars has strayed into the atmosphere never to be found again and our council is seeking 38 million dollars from the State and Federal Govt!!!!


    1. Sounds bloody awful. What happens now, under a McGowan govt? Its big talk to say he’ll get rid of City of Perth council, but that’s over flights, tickets, gratuities, etc – not real issues. They’re saying David Templeman may not get in as Minister for Local Govt, but I hope whoever does actually acts like a Minister who can see there are probs with councils everywhere here and proceeds with legislation that ensures the Auditor General goes through them all thoroughly. Something, anything, just make councils forcibly, thoroughly more accountable because they oil out of so much, and those supposedly comparison websites? Please! Unfortunately inquiries don’t help. With the return of a council to Canning, the secrecy and lack of real accountability, problems with councillors not attending important meetings and being unaccountable themselves… all back in spades.


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