11/06/2008 - 22:00

Big names gone but not forgotten

11/06/2008 - 22:00


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More than a dozen people have been removed from WA Business News' Most Influential lists during the past 12 months, and only in some cases by choice.

More than a dozen people have been removed from WA Business News' Most Influential lists during the past 12 months, and only in some cases by choice.

Former health supremo Neale Fong has experienced arguably the biggest fall, after becoming ensnared in a Corruption and Crime Commission inquiry linked to former lobbyist Brian Burke.

Dr Fong was Australia's most highly paid public servant, with a brief to shake-up the state's health system.

His links to Health Minister Jim McGinty, the ambitious reform agenda, his high salary (by public sector standards) and the continuation of other roles, including being chairman of the WA Football Commission, made him a big target.

In the end, a series of undisclosed email exchanges with Mr Burke was enough to force Dr Fong's exit from the health role.

He has continued with his WAFC role, recently chaired the float of a small exploration company, and attracted further controversy this month when the Director of Public Prosecutions decided to not prosecute him over the CCC findings.

In the 2007 Most Influential feature, Mr Burke was written off as yesterday's man.

That was a premature call, because over the past year he has generated more headlines and controversy than just about any other person in the state.

However, it is hard to see Mr Burke regaining significant influence.

He is unable to practise as a lobbyist after Premier Alan Carpenter decided that he, along with his business partner Julian Grill and former Liberal Noel Crichton-Browne, could not be included on the register of lobbyists.

Nor is Mr Burke likely to regain influence in the Labor Party, given Mr Carpenter's continuing campaign to freeze him out.

Paul Omodei has suffered a big fall. Twelve months ago he was opposition leader in WA but is now facing the prospect of exiting parliament at the next state election, after losing internal Liberal Party support.

The change of power in Canberra meant that Howard government ministers from Western Australia instantly fell down the pecking order.

Julie Bishop, Chris Ellison and David Johnston went from powerful, highly paid ministerial posts to the shadow ministry - still significant, especially for Ms Bishop, who has become deputy opposition leader, but a far cry from their previous roles.

Ms Bishop's social partner, Peter Nattrass, has dropped off the list after retiring from his elected role as lord mayor of the City of Perth.

Another influential person who retired this year was Alcoa of Australia chief executive Wayne Osborn.

Two people fighting to retain their influence are Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union state secretary Kevin Reynolds and his offsider Joe McDonald.

Union member Darren Kavanagh is standing against the militant Mr Reynolds in the election for state secretary, while Mr McDonald also faces a contest to retain his position as assistant secretary.

Mr Reynolds has in the past been a major factional dealmaker in the Labor Party, often working in tandem with Mr Burke, and his leadership of the financially powerful construction union has not previously been seriously threatened.

Despite lots of bluster from Messrs Reynolds and McDonald, the CFMEU's workplace influence has been eroded by the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which was established in response to the union's extreme militancy.

The demise of Mr Burke, and controversy over the role of Mr Reynolds' wife, former Labor MP Shelley Archer, has also weakened Mr Reynolds' political influence.

Also during the past year, some of the state's most influential people have opted for career changes that have reduced their influence, at least in the short term.

John Langoulant and Tim Shanahan headed WA's two major industry groups this time last year, but in the interim have opted for new roles.

Mr Langoulant left the Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA to become chief executive of Kerry Stokes' private company Australian Capital Equity.

While Mr Langoulant may continue as an occasional commentator on public policy issues, his status as the voice of business - and, in the eyes of many, de facto opposition leader in WA - will not continue.

Mr Shanahan has moved from the Chamber of Minerals and Energy to the University of WA, to help lift its profile in the resources sector.

Like Mr Langoulant, his departure from the chamber has taken away the profile and influence that went with his old job.

Two of the major behind-the-scenes players in the Carpenter government - the premier's chief of staff Rita Saffioti, and Labor's state secretary Bill Johnston - have opted to stand for parliament at the next state election.

They are likely to become ministers at some time in the next few years, and possibly during the next term of government if Labor retains power, but in the interim will have to focus on winning their seats and serving an apprenticeship in state parliament.

Curtin University's Greg Craven, who was one of the state's most eminent commentators on public policy, has moved interstate.


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