Government faces accountability test

NEARLY one year ago the Labor Party stormed to power in WA after campaigning on a platform that included a commitment to open and accountable government.

Business groups are largely happy with the openness of the Gallop Government’s first year, but feel the real test of Labor’s consultative resolve will come this year.

They believe Labor has been more accountable than the Court Government was in its final year.

Probably the highlight, from a consultative point of view, was the Freight Planning Congress held in October. Most groups involved lauded its inclusive approach.

However, there were cases where the comment period was less than desirable.

Groups were given about two weeks to comment on changes to the Minimum Conditions of Employment Act.

Concerned CBD stakeholders were given just two weeks to put in a submission on the proposed route of the Rockingham to Perth railway line, expected to run under the city.

And some business groups believe they will be given just 10 days to consult on the 250-page Bill that is expected to radically change WA’s industrial relations laws.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Lyndon Rowe said the Government’s approach to consultation had been mixed.

“To be fair we’ve had little trouble getting access to most ministers,” he said.

“The area of consultation that has been missing has been in industrial relations change. We don’t accept the Government has a mandate for its IR changes.”

Property Council of Australia WA branch executive director Joe Lenzo said consultation had been adequate in some areas.

“But in most cases the Government goes ahead with what it thinks, no matter what consultation it received,” he said.

“The ministers are becoming less open and accessible. They tend now to give briefings to industry groups through their business roundtable setup. You have to pay to be a member of the roundtable and then pay to go to the events.”

Mr Lenzo said he had become frustrated with the Government’s preference for consultative committees.

“The groups and stakeholders for these things can be quite mixed and so they never get a consensus. You get to all sorts of compromises and end up with minority reports,” he said.

Mr Lenzo believed the Court Government’s lack of inclusiveness in its final year had proved its downfall.

Combined Small Business Associations of WA president Oliver Moon believes the Gallop Government has been more responsive to small business.

“They came in with the promise to do things for small business. If it hadn’t been for the Small Business Development Corporation, small business wouldn’t have made any inroads into the Court Government,” Mr Moon said.

“The signs given off by Labor have been encouraging, but it does vary from minister to minister.”

WA Small Business and Enterprise Association executive director Philip Achurch said there had been cases where the Government had offered unrealistically short periods for public comment.

“I think Labor has been genuine about consultation but only time will tell,” he said.

“But it’s not just the consultation process that matters, it’s what the Government takes on board from that consultation.

“If it turns out the Government is just treating the consultation as a game, then there will be trouble.”

Mr Achurch said the Court Government had started off being very open but became very non-inclusive towards the end of its term.

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