Climbing the political ladder

SCHOOLS where cricket and footie are played generally have a first and a second 11 and 18.

WA’s present parliamentary arrangements have something similar – a first 14 and a second half dozen.

The former is the 14-strong Gallop -led cabinet.

Less well known is the latter, called parliamentary secretaries (PS), of which the Gallop Government has two more than the Court-Cowan conservatives had.

Three PS are lower house members.

Mark McGowan: PS to the Premier as Minister for Public Sector Management, Federal Affairs, Science, Citizenship and Multicultural Interests.

Francis Logan: PS for Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, Midwest, Wheatbelt and Great Southern; and Environment and Heritage.

Norm Marlborough: PS for Consumer, Employment Protection and Training.

And three are from the upper house.

Graham Giffard: PS for Planning and Infrastructure and Education, Recreation, Indigenous Affairs.

Ljiljanna Ravlich: PS for Community Development, Women’s Interests, Seniors, Youth, Disability Services, Culture, Arts and Health.

Ken Travers: PS for State Development, Tourism Small Business.

Upper house members – Travers, Ravlich and Giffard – represent lower house ministers Clive Brown, Sheila McHale and Alannah Mac-Tiernan, respectively, with lower house member Logan doubling by representing upper house minister Kim Chance and Environment Minister Dr Edwards.

Ms Ravlich and Mr Giffard also double-up by representing Education, Recreation and Indigenous Affairs Minister Alan Carpenter, and Health Minister Bob Kuchera, respectively.

The remaining two are essentially assistant lower house ministers – McGowan for Dr Gallop and Marlborough for John Kobelke.

Mr McGowan missed a ministerial spot because of Dr Gallop’s popular election pledge to trim cabinet from 17 to 14 members.

Mr Marlborough, with his Pilbara and Perth union background, is well suited to ensure Labor’s union ties remain well oiled.

The first four thus serve the important purpose of being cross-chamber representatives.

Mr McGowan certainly lightens Dr Gallop’s workload, who, unlike his predecessor Richard Court, who was treasurer, has shifted that load to his deputy, Eric Ripper. So for the first time in decades a premier isn’t directly administering State finances.

Some, especially Liberals, claim Dr Gallop has made life too easy for himself. But I’m of the view that premiers shouldn’t be overburdened with countless minute details.

They should oversee ministerial performances, quiz ministers occasionally, and generally leave things for cabinet to decide on.

Remember, the main reason the Court-Cowan conservatives fell was because Mr Court failed to tackle the mortgage brokers’ scandal that was so badly mishandled by Doug Shave.

If he hadn’t been so tied down he may have been better placed to make the correct judgement of sidelining Mr Shave, thereby neutralising that electoral liability.

Ministers earn an extra 80 percent on top of their base MP salary of $103,300 annually, so draw $183,300 – a strong incentive for backbenchers to play Labor’s bizarre factional games very carefully.

That’s nearly a third of a million dollars over the lifetime of a parliament.

Being a PS is nowhere near as remunerative. On top of their $103,300 they receive $1822 extra annually for what’s called an office allowance, so $7288 over four years.

So why is there such a scramble to be in the second six?

First and foremost it’s a rung up the ladder, getting within reach of a ministry and all that power and prestige, and the extra 80 per cent loading.

Secondly it’s a training ground, since PSs answer Opposition questions in the chamber their minister doesn’t sit in, thereby gaining more good experience.

Thirdly, PSs attend swish functions on behalf of their minister.

This means learning more about how to deal with people involved in lobbying for complex causes and listening to complaints beyond those normally encountered in their electorates. So, more handy experience.

Being a PS can also mean extra interstate travel, something most MPs welcome.

And finally, PSs sit in on certain high-level meetings with senior public servants, policy advisers, and perhaps even lobbyists and pressure group representatives. Again, more worthwhile experience.

All in all the $1822 – just $35 or so per week for six of them – is insignificant when set against the training they receive in the hope of eventually becoming ministers.

For that reason alone voters are getting their money’s worth from the little-known second half dozen, despite some voters complaining they don’t see enough of ministers.

That complaint is most often expressed in relation to Mr Brown, whose duties are bigger than his title – State development, tourism and small business – suggests.

His duties cover most of what senior Court Government ministers Hendy Cowan (commerce and trade, small business) held, half the duties of current Liberal upper house leader Norman Moore (mining and tourism), plus resources development that was held by current Liberal leader, Colin Barnett.

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