14/11/2006 - 21:00

Ahead of the game

14/11/2006 - 21:00


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Here at WA Business News, we like to think of ourselves as the thinking person’s media.

Ahead of the game

Here at WA Business News, we like to think of ourselves as the thinking person’s media.

We take great pride in trying to present news and views ahead of the issues, so that our readers have information to hand when issues arise.

Sometimes it’s a bit of just-in-time management, such as when our State Scene columnist, Joe Poprzeczny, responded to the outcry over Colin Barnett’s mid-election campaign pledge to build a canal from the Kimberley.

Joe pointed out that there was more than adequate water in the Yarragadee mound underneath the South West.

After the election, The West Australian newspaper appeared to discover Yarragadee existed, trumpeting it across its front page with the headline ‘Now the truth emerges’; close to a month after Joe’s article.

Well, as we pick through the debris of the scandal created by Brian Burke and Norm Marlborough, I find another opportunity to congratulate Joe on being ahead of the times – not by a mere three weeks this time; more like four and half years.

On May 30 2002, our State Scene column focused on the need for laws to force lobbyists to be registered and record their activities.

At the time, Geoff Gallop’s government had already suffered at the hands of Mr Burke’s intrigues, so it was timely offering from State Scene.

At least one parliamentarian has also thought as much.

In 2003, Independent MLA Dr Elizabeth Constable introduced a private members bill to create a Lobbying Disclosure and Accountability Act. That bill lapsed this year, withering on the vine due to a lack of interest from most of Dr Constable’s fellow politicians.

Perhaps all had too much to lose? Politicians may be looking to a lucrative post-parliamentary future, while current lobbyists either enjoy their life unbounded by rules and that lesser evil, red tape.

The truth is, however, a register doesn’t necessarily expose the unethical or corrupt.

If there had been a register, the depth of the Marlborough-Burke secret relationship may not have been discovered until now, though perhaps the legality of their activities clearly would have been clearer.

The fact is, people will always hide things. The register of political donations is there for the same purpose but, oddly enough, Mr Marlborough forgot to fill that out properly.

There is a big question mark whether a lobbyist register will be any better. A knee-jerk solution could create more problems than it solves.

Good luck to the government if it can now belatedly come up with something that is workable. It may be the first in Australia but, let’s hope the government also looks to modern technology to make this truly transparent. Putting such a register online, keeping it very simple, and making sure it has to be kept up to date would be a good start.

They could also fix up the political donations register so it meets the same standards, rather than finding the information is so old when it becomes public as to render it nearly useless.


Premier opportunity

Continuing on the Burke-Marlborough theme, we’ve also done another bit of self-congratulation by reminiscing elsewhere on this page about our cover story earlier this year when the former small business minister was appointed (WA Business News, February 9).

As a journalist, and writer, I am always reticent to say a picture is worth a thousand words, but this is one case where it’s true.

Premier Alan Carpenter is a bystander at the press conference to announce Mr Marlborough’s appointment but, standing behind his new cabinet appointee, he looks far from convinced it was a good decision.

Our article at the time raised the spectre of Mr Burke, pointing to the additional clout he had with another factional ally in cabinet. Little did we know how much of an ally he had – one who appears to have been at his beck and call, at least that is the impression of the phone call transcripts I have accessed.

While Mr Marlborough’s appointment was clearly a mistake, maybe it’s not the end of the world for Mr Carpenter. Perhaps it was the mistake he had to make.

As difficult as it has been, it allows the premier to play hard ball as leader and ensure his cabinet is beholden to no-one else’s leadership than his own.

Of course, that will depend on how well he presents this, and whether or not more damaging phone calls to ministers are aired.


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