Bitter taste remains for ousted Hillarys member Rob Johnson


Independent candidate Rob Johnson (standing) waged a fierce but ultimately fruitless battle against Liberal Peter Katsambanis.  Picture: Martin Kennealey        d465796
Independent candidate Rob Johnson (standing) waged a fierce but ultimately fruitless battle against Liberal Peter Katsambanis. Picture: Martin Kennealey        d465796

BY the end of his 24 years in Parliament, ousted Hillarys MLA Rob Johnson was an antagonist to the government and a politician who held a deep dislike for his former boss Colin Barnett.

The independent, who angrily resigned from the Liberal Party last year, maintained a loyal following of supporters but did not seem a man at ease.

However, he says he’s “in a good frame of mind” despite losing his seat in a spiteful battle to Liberal member Peter Katsambanis, another ex-peer Mr Johnson does not admire.

Observers regularly described the competition between the two as bitter, which Mr Johnson considered a fair assessment.

The feud culminated in Mr Katsambanis, on the night of his election win, leaving a 2.49am voice message for Mr Johnson saying, “enjoy the rest of your life”.

Mr Katsambanis claimed he did so because Mr Johnson had not phoned him to concede defeat.

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The call, which Mr Johnson sent to all of his media contacts, did nothing to ease an already tense relationship.

“I would never have done that to him if I had won,” Mr Johnson claimed.

“I decided to send that to all news outlets because I was so disgusted.

“I have nothing but contempt for the man.”

His negative views on the former Premier were well documented, particularly after Mr Barnett sacked him as Emergency Services Minister in 2011 and Police Minister in 2012.

Mr Barnett also denied Mr Johnson the Speaker’s job.

But he rejects the notion his disdain for Mr Barnett was purely because the Liberal leader demoted him.

“I have no respect for him whatsoever, I never really have done,” he said.

“But I tried to work with him for four years as the minister for police.”

As Emergency Services Minister, critics scrutinised Mr Johnson for what they deemed was his lack of response in the wake of the hills bushfires in 2011.

He was stripped of the portfolio later that year when a Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) burn in Margaret River went out of control and destroyed dozens of houses.

Mr Johnson defended himself then and, six years later, still does not concede he could have better managed the ministerial role.

He maintains the DEC fire was not his responsibility given his portfolio only covered what was then the Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA).

“That criticism was unjustified… FESA didn’t start the fires in Margaret River, that was started by the Department of Environment and that was under Bill Marmion’s control,” he said.

While his time in cabinet increased his profile beyond local borders, he prided himself on his commitment to the Hillarys electorate.

His fondest memories of the past two decades have been those moments where he helped local residents.

“I have always put my community before the party and I think that’s what upset some people,” he said.

He and ex-Health Minister John Day were behind only Mr Barnett (27 years), as the longest-serving members of Parliament.

In retirement, he plans to continue his voluntary work as Radio Lollipop chairman.

While disappointed with his loss, Mr Johnson was pleased results lessened the influence of Globalheart Church members in Perth’s north.

Mr Johnson was a vocal critic of the power he perceived the church had in politics through Globalheart associates Albert Jacob, who lost the seat of Burns Beach, and Jan Norberger, who lost the seat of Joondalup.

“People do not like to have religious sects involved in politics,” he said.

He put his defeat partly down to the unexpected dominance of Labor.

The battle for Hillarys was widely tipped to be a race between Mr Johnson and Mr Katsambanis, but Labor candidate Teresa Ritchie polled strongly to outdo Mr Johnson.

Mr Katsambanis often criticised Mr Johnson for doing a “dirty deal” with Labor.

Among suggestions, was that Labor could have offered Mr Johnson the Speaker’s job had he retained his seat and supported them on certain issues such as Safe Schools.

Mr Johnson said he would “never support” Safe Schools.