24/04/2007 - 22:00

Gallop pulls the wrong rein

24/04/2007 - 22:00

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State Scene was stunned to read former premier Geoff Gallop slamming Western Australia’s business community from his ivory tower in Sydney for what he called its failure to criticise lobbyists Brian Burke, Julian Grill and Noel Crichton-Browne.

Gallop pulls the wrong rein

State Scene was stunned to read former premier Geoff Gallop slamming Western Australia’s business community from his ivory tower in Sydney for what he called its failure to criticise lobbyists Brian Burke, Julian Grill and Noel Crichton-Browne.

“I’m still waiting for someone in the business community to stand up and condemn the way these people have been operating, but instead they’re blaming the government,” said Dr Gallop, now a professor at Sydney University’s graduate school of government.

“That’s just a cop-out, that’s totally unacceptable.

“I find it absolutely outrageous.”

What this means is that Dr Gallop is now contending his successor, Premier Alan Carpenter – who lifted the ineffectual Gallop ministerial ban on Messrs Burke and Grill – shouldn’t be criticised, whereas something as vague as “the business community” must cop all the blame.

And Dr Gallop finds it “absolutely outrageous” that someone, who is never named, in the so-called business community hasn’t been out there jumping up and down condemning Messrs Burke, Grill and Crichton-Browne.

Those lines constitute one of Dr Gallop’s biggest ever cop-outs.

So outrageous are they that State Scene briefly recalled aspects of Dr Gallop’s less-than-ordinary political record.

The first thing that must be said of it is that he never actually won – in the full sense of that word – government in February 2001.

What in fact happened was that victory was handed to him because predecessor, Richard Court, for reasons best known to him, wouldn’t replace his cabinet’s biggest bungler, Doug Shave, over his inept handling of the mortgage brokers’ scandal.

More than anything, that failure to confront the mortgage brokers’ issue angered voters, who watched retirees being conned by a slick bunch of crooked fast-money men.

Four years later, at the February 2005 election, with unbounded prosperity and big tax revenues flooding into State Treasury, Dr Gallop again faced voters, only just scraping home with about 1,000 votes to spare in Labor’s four closest seats.

And he did this while confronting less-than-impressive Liberal leader, Colin Barnett, who had so dismally failed to offer inspiring leadership and imaginative policies.

Then came Mr Barnett’s desperate introduction of the outrageous $14-billion-plus Kimberley canal he insisted would cost $2 billion, a flawed position he compounded by botching his budget costing announcement two nights before election day.

Had such silly and preventable bungles been absent, it’s most unlikely there would ever have been a second Gallop government.

Nor does Dr Gallop get off the hook over the growth of clandestine lobbying by the three individuals he now wants the business community to condemn.

This column, in May 2002, warned of the need to regulate WA’s emerging lobbying sector.

What was Dr Gallop’s response?

Nothing. He just sat on his hands.

Secondly, he much later instituted a weak and silly ban on Messrs Burke and Grill, whereas what was needed was what State Scene recommended – introduction of lobbyist registration, with all practitioners required to disclose details of their activities in stringent six monthly tell-all returns.

That’s the practice in the US, so Dr Gallop ignored tried-and-tested advice.

He further compounded this omission by ignoring Independent Liberal MP, Liz Constable, who actually took State Scene’s May 2002 advice by drawing up a lobbying regulating bill in mid-2003.

But what happened to her bill?

Exactly the same as with State Scene’s May 2002 advice. Nothing. Dr Gallop continued sitting firmly on his hands.

Surely he doesn’t need reminding that he was premier during 2002 and 2003.

So who’s the culprit?

Who, first and foremost, was responsible for the need to embark on costly monitoring and investigating undertaken by the Corruption and Crime Commission?

Yes, Dr Gallop, you, because you failed to properly regulate lobbying as you were urged to do.

To now go about saying something called “the business community” is somehow responsible for all that’s happened is tantamount to blaming onlookers of a brawl at an AFL match that should have been curbed by the umpires.

Not good enough Dr Gallop. Not good enough by a long shot.

But that’s only the beginning.

For reasons best known to Dr Gallop, his Department of Premier and Cabinet exploded with boffins, assessment units, research teams, ad hoc investigating committees and other bureaucratic millstones that only delayed and hindered prompt decision-making.

So bad were things that even his side began complaining about this silly penchant for assessing, reviewing, reconsidering, researching and reassessing.

Is it any wonder that a tiny handful of businessmen began picking up telephones and calling Messrs Grill and Burke?

State Scene happens to know from a well-placed insider that Mr Grill, when he left parliament, never planned to be a lobbyist. He had quite different intentions.

However, within a year of Dr Gallop taking over from Mr Court, frustrations began mounting and Mr Grill’s telephone was running hot with calls from businessmen.

And, because he’s always been close to Mr Burke, the inevitable happened – they teamed up as the workload grew to increasingly unmanageable levels.

So let’s ask the obvious question.

Whose fault was that? Surely not solely Messrs Burke’s and Grill’s? And it’s stretching things somewhat to heap all the blame on to the business community.

The Gallop-created, process-driven  bottlenecks and administrative dead-ends – and remember these were growing features of WA’s five Gallop years – must also be put into the mix before we come to any final judgment on ‘Lobbygate’.

That said, let’s not overlook the fact that Mr Carpenter has now instituted a lobbyists’ register.

But it’s now April 2007 – five years after this column first urged that it be done and four years after Dr Constable actually drew up legislation to administer lobbying.

Neither Mr Burke nor Mr Grill is responsible for such blatant foot dragging.

Of course, both gentlemen preferred to operate in an environment where their work couldn’t be monitored by a regulating governmental agency. Who wouldn’t prefer that?

But when predictable problems subsequently emerged because the Gallop government hadn’t regulated this sector via registration and oversight, who should be first to accept the blame?

All index fingers must point at Dr Gallop. And rightly so.

Unfortunately Dr Gallop doesn’t subscribe to President Harry S Truman’s folksy and earthy outlook, expressed in that great one liner – “The buck stops here”.

Instead, Dr Gallop scrambles about blaming others.

But we must at least be grateful that he’s taken to heart President Truman’s other great one liner, “If you can’t stand the heat, you better get out of the kitchen”, since Dr Gallop voluntarily opted to vacate WA’s political kitchen.

Let’s hope his work at Sydney University is of a higher calibre than his performance as premier.

And let’s hope he conveys to his graduate students that buck-passing is unacceptable in government, even if resorting to it is much easier and satisfying.

Let’s also hope he teaches his students how to identify problems promptly and to take quick corrective steps at early stages and not get bogged down in peripheral bureaucratic activities that hinder enterprise and economic progress. Unfortunately Dr Gallop’s record in regard to such matters isn’t a good one.

Perhaps that explains why he’s turned to huffing and puffing about the WA business community’s failure to do things in reaction to his own failure to prevent the emergence of grave problems that were quite predictable years ago.

State Scene is far from confident that he’s learned any lessons from his political past.

Despite all his experience and exposure – University of WA and Oxford University graduate, Lawrence Labor government minister and premier – he’s shown himself to be incapable of sheeting home much of the responsibility for Lobbygate to where it belongs; his front door, not on something called the “the business community.”

That, to use Dr Gallop’s own words, it is “a cop-out, that’s totally unacceptable.”

State Scene finds his latest foray into WA politics from far-away Sydney, to again resort to his high moralising tone, “absolutely outrageous”.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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