13/03/2007 - 22:00

Bitter taste stays long after the last drink

13/03/2007 - 22:00


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Astute readers will have noted my absence during the past few weeks.

Astute readers will have noted my absence during the past few weeks.

Away on business, I have had the occasion to really enjoy our online services, notably the news we carry on our web page each day, the best of which is emailed to subscribers at around 4pm.

It was through this medium that I watched the unfolding drama of the Corruption and Crime Commission hearings, which brought a few more ministerial careers to a shuddering halt and put the federal opposition leader Kevin Rudd under pressure.

I have to say, I have been surprised and astounded at just how far the tentacles of Brian Burke and Julian Grill have reached in various aspects of government.

Perhaps they were as good at creating smoke screens for their activities – except to the CCC – as they appear to have been at getting people to do their bidding.

I recall meeting the pair of them only once.

Some years ago, I was part of a finance journalists’ club, which would meet for dinner and pay for some leading business light to sing for their supper. It was a great way to hear the story behind the stories, usually long since forgotten by the rest of the world.

I don’t recall how we ended up with Mr Burke and Mr Grill as our guests one evening, though I do remember thinking it was a good decision prior to the evening, being intrigued by this pair who were already gaining notoriety and press for their lobbying efforts.

I was thoroughly disappointed by the whole affair and can recall two major themes from the evening.

Firstly, they appeared to lay claim to far more political victories than anyone had previously given them credit for.

Secondly, and to me most disappointingly, Mr Burke seemed to express little contrition for the years of WA Inc, explaining it all away as the follies of youth due to his rather immature arrival in the premiership at age 34.

This was the most disappointing revelation. Here was a man whose powers had been restored after a fall from grace. I expected someone who’d learned a lesson and been rehabilitated. Instead, my perception was of someone who felt he’d done nothing really wrong at all.

As the evening wore on I turned my attentions to the beverages available, glad to have seen the reality of these gentlemen – for whom politics was just business, a far cry from whatever inklings of community service might have led them to parliament many decades before.

After that I received two invitations to attend dinners Mr Burke was planning to hold, one of which may have been the fateful evening he was apparently arranging for Mr Rudd.

I noted with distaste that those email invitations were forwarded to several leading Western Australian journalists and I wondered why those names were being bandied about so prominently and whether they’d appreciate it. I certainly didn’t.

I declined such invitations and deleted the emails, thinking nothing more of it.

While I had no idea of the extent of Mr Burke’s business dealings, I had learned long ago that I did not have the skills to outwit the Machiavellian types you occasionally meet in life.

The best thing to do is to avoid them, when you recognise them for what they are.


Better coverage a national priority

The Burke-Grill fiasco has the ability to damage Western Australia’s reputation, little more than a decade since this pair and their business mates first made this state a pariah.

If business starts to feel that there is somehow a sovereign risk with regard to decisions – that they may not be fair, equitable or made in best possible time – then some of the balance to our high-cost environment will shift to the negative.

I am hopeful that the CCC’s spectacular hearings, despite being labelled a circus by some in its spotlight, have nipped this in the bud, rather than exposing much more ingrained corruption, such as the NSW police royal commission.

I note that some in the national media have revelled in the latest round of scandals and suggested that the state’s media, especially The West Australian newspaper, was at the very least asleep at the wheel during this recent period.

While I have no wish to defend The West, and the record shows that WA Inc and many smaller scandals have been reported first by national media, I don’t see that as the case in this instance.

If the national press really feels WA is poorly represented by local media, I’d invite them to more fully resource their branch offices here and help them keep our politicians under scrutiny all the time.

For a state that represents 10 per cent of the population, one third of the landmass and 25 per cent of the exports of Australia, the so-called national media has a very small presence here.

The Australian newspaper has a small team of around nine or 10 journalists who, from what I understand, are constantly stretched to cover everything its east coast editors want.

The Australian Financial Review has just two reporters.


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