09/05/2006 - 22:00

Fong furore not the full fit

09/05/2006 - 22:00


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Political activity, more than other human endeavour, so often confirms the old adage about truth being stranger than fiction.

Political activity, more than other human endeavour, so often confirms the old adage about truth being stranger than fiction.

This became evident as April 2006 unfolded for long-time Labor overlord, Jim McGinty, who fancies himself as a farsighted, in-tune and cluey political and administrative architect.

For years he’ll remember last April because of the media focus upon his health department’s supremo, Dr Neale Fong.

There’s no need to recap the various highlights of the Fong affair, except to say that by May Day few taxpayers didn’t know that Dr Fong is Australia’s highest paid public servant.

Now, without setting out to take the shine off that ongoing press coverage it needs to be said that much of what those reports carried was known about a year ago.

State Scene recalls a media release in mid-2005 and several reports stemming from it that highlighted many of the details.

Claiming this shouldn’t, however, be seen as opposing the recycling of news. Far from it.

Journalists regularly file stories that, for reasons best known to their editors, are carried on page 20 or deeper inside a newspaper, and a year or so later either their newspaper or another runs largely the same story up front.

There’s nothing unusual about this.

Circumstances can change with new related issues surfacing, so old stories suddenly take on relevance.

That said, what, in dollars terms, are we talking about in relation to Dr Fong?

First and foremost, he’s costing taxpayers about $650,000 annually as salary and various associated top-ups, since that’s what Health Minister Jim McGinty negotiated or offered him.

Establishing Dr Fong’s work premises near the Subiaco home of the WA Football Commission, where he’s chairman, added a further $400,000-plus with ongoing annual rent a bit over $100,000, whereas his predecessors, Mike Daube and Alan Bansemer, found the Health Department’s East Perth premises quite satisfactory.

All this suggests Dr Fong’s five-year term will cost taxpayers about $4 million, or about $800,000 annually.

Not surprisingly, many saw this as on the far-too-high side, even though Mr McGinty thought otherwise.

All that’s water under the bridge and the Carpenter government must grin and bear it, with many of its press advisers undoubtedly seeing the Fong media blitz as further evidence of the press gunning for the government.

But the Fong affair isn’t the only time Mr McGinty has been overly lavish with hard-earned taxpayers’ dollars.

A far better example of his heady approach to spending other people’s money came with the outcome of his ongoing quest for so-called one-vote-one-value legislation.

Here are a few basic figures that help reveal his proclivity for spending big rather than being parsimonious with the taxpayers’ dollars he’s been entrusted with.

WA’s population currently stands at two million, and the state has 91 members of parliament.

Queensland has four million people, and has 89 MPs, two fewer than WA, which has half Queensland’s population.

Now, State Scene focuses on Queensland because Mr McGinty borrowed several key elements in his so-called one-vote-one-value legislation from that Labor-controlled state, so presumably noticed the disparity between people and MP numbers.

Fast forward to WA’s forthcoming February 2009 election, when we’ll have candidates contesting 95 seats – four more than now – because Mr McGinty’s legislation boosted politician numbers by that number.

This feather bedding means WA will no longer have just two MPs more than Queensland, despite WA having half its population, but six more.

The reports on Dr Fong highlighted an outlay of about four million tax dollars over five years, or $800,000 annually.

But what about the cost of the four additional MPs from 2009?

Inexplicably, on that, the sometimes-vigilant media is silent.

So here are some more rough calculations.

State Scene estimates very conservatively that each state MP costs taxpayers at least $450,000 annually, or $1.8 million over the four-year life of a parliament.

This guesstimate is arrived at by adding annual salary to a range of on-costs; electoral allowances, office, vehicle, secretary, researcher, superannuation top-ups, interstate and overseas trips.

Multiply the $1.8 million by the four new MPs and that’s $7.2 million over four years.

It’s worth noting that if the cost of the two extra politicians WA already has over Queensland is added, the additional $7.2 million becomes about $11 million over sunny Queensland.

Did it ever, perhaps, occur to Mr McGinty that he could have slashed MP numbers in both the state parliamentary chambers?

Yes, State Scene knows, ask a silly question and …

WA could easily be administered with 49 legislative assembly members, where there needs to be an uneven number, and 30 legislative councillors.

In other words 79 MPs – 10 fewer than Queensland, which has double WA’s population – is more than enough. That would mean savings after February 2009 on 12 MPs at a conservative $450,000 annually or a huge $21.6 million until the 2013 election alone.

If four million banana benders survive with 89 MPs, surely half that number of sandgropers could do likewise with 79.

But rather than make such savings, Mr McGinty – Labor’s pre-eminent administrative architect – opted for four extra MPs after the 2009 elections.

Whoever said the days of jobs for party boys and girls ended with WA Inc?

Yet the media highlights none of this big McGinty-style spending but instead targets Dr Fong, despite the fact that the additional and unnecessary parliamentary numbers are set to cost markedly more.

Interestingly, the Liberal opposition huffed and it puffed about Dr Fong’s pay deal, but uttered not a whisper on the cost of the forthcoming four new MPs.

The Paul Omodei-led Liberals remain like church mice on the latter, which is far more extravagant that Dr Fong’s cost to taxpayers.

Moreover the new MP exercise is far worse that the Fong affair in another way. The reason is that, sometime in 2010, Dr Fong will either leave his position and retire or seek work elsewhere, or will re-negotiate his package if he stays on as health supremo.

If the former, the government of the day can negotiate a package with his successor that’s more in line with what other state health supremos are paid.

If the latter, a future health minister could similarly bring Dr Fong’s remuneration package into line with other states.

Either way, that package lasts only five years, and in 2010 will be able to be corrected. But that’s not so with the forthcoming four extra and un-needed McGinty MPs.

Quite the contrary, since WA taxpayers have been permanently encumbered with them by Mr McGinty.

Unless there’s a major shake-up on politician numbers sometime during the 21st century, WA is forever and a day stuck with the ongoing $7.2 million bill, and rising, for those extra MPs.

Clearly it’s time for wide ranging parliamentary reform, meaning fewer MPs.

Unfortunately no party will bite that bullet, because they’d see that as threatening themselves and their MP mates.

“What? Slash MP numbers? You’re kidding – that could mean some of our mates being without a cushy number,” they’d be thinking.

Precisely. Surely 79 MPs – 10 fewer than Queensland – is enough for two million West Aussies.

Anyone doubting this just look at Queensland; 89 for four million people, to WA’s 91 plus four more McGinty ones already in the pipeline, for half that number.

Truth, most certainly, is stranger than fiction. Isn’t it Mr McGinty?


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