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Process of persuading Carmen Lawrence to enter Federal politics

ELLEN FANNING: Well, today marks quite a change of pace for Western Australia's Opposition Leader, Carmen Lawrence. She's returning to work after her summer holidays and she's decided to leave Perth for Canberra. After months of speculation, there's every indication this morning that Dr Lawrence will take over John Dawkins' seat of Fremantle in the Federal Parliament. Carmen Lawrence has been reluctant about the move. She's been wooed by no less than the Prime Minister since she lost the West Australian election to Richard Court, almost a year ago to the day.

This afternoon, that speculation will officially end and, as Katie Cronin reports, the process of luring Carmen to Canberra will be over.

KATIE CRONIN: The Federal ALP has been trying to get Dr Lawrence to Canberra for quite some time. Her popularity, intelligence and her reputation for integrity have not gone unnoticed. Wendy Fatin, for example, the former Member for Brand, once offered to quit her seat in favour of Dr Lawrence if she wanted it. Last December, the Prime Minister singled out Carmen Lawrence and Joan Kirner in a speech calling for much greater female representation in Parliament.

PAUL KEATING: At present we are losing a vast pool of talent and wisdom, and in all of that of course we're losing leadership, and we need look no further than Joan Kirner and Carmen Lawrence for proof of that. We need Joan and Carmen and many more like them in the national parliament.

KATIE CRONIN: Carmen Lawrence said herself, in this interview with ABC television, that the offers also came in after she lost the State election to Richard Court.

CARMEN LAWRENCE: Well, I was asked to consider it immediately after the State election and I said no. I'm committed to Western Australia; I'm committed to the Labor Party in Western Australia, and that's the way it stands.

KATIE CRONIN: And so it was for many months. Journalists would ask Dr Lawrence whether she would succumb and go to Canberra, and she would answer that she wanted to stay in Perth and win back government for the Labor Party. But when John Dawkins suddenly announced he wanted to leave politics, the clamour for Carmen grew even louder. She was the ALP's first choice to replace him, and in the words of one party official: 'There was no plan B.' But still Dr Lawrence said no. Then a week or two ago, the denials stopped. Instead of saying no, she started saying: no comment. Her advisers and other party officials were doing the same. By the weekend, it had become the worst-kept secret in the country. Carmen Lawrence will go to her Caucus colleagues this afternoon and tell them she's decided to leave.

The reasons for her change of heart will come afterwards. A media conference has already been arranged. But it appears to be a bitter-sweet combination of success and failure -success in that she knows she's the Federal Government's number one choice to replace John Dawkins as the Member for Fremantle, and she's likely to get a ministry in record time. Other whispers are that she's a shoo-in for Cabinet and maybe even the Deputy Leadership in a year or two. But the decision to leave Perth is also tinged with failure. Dr Lawrence may now believe that she's actually got little chance of winning the next State election. Richard Court, after a rocky start, has proved to be a very popular Premier, especially for his handling of the Mabo issue and the disastrous WA Inc saga is still in the papers every day as the legal system mops up the mess.

Premier Court is being tipped to hold on for at least two terms and Dr Lawrence may have decided she hasn't the patience to sit in Opposition that long.

ELLEN FANNING: Katie Cronin with that report.