Former senator Andrew Murray’s appointment is more than just good politics.
AS the state government nears the halfway mark of this term, a lot more focus is being placed on the policies that earned it power in the first place.
The Royalties for Regions scheme, which won the Nationals the balance of power, has given the party’s leader billions to spend outside metropolitan Perth.
While this is a politically strong position to be in, the state opposition and other opponents will also recognise such a slush fund also provides the potential for poor management.
Which is why the appointment to a new advisory post of former senator Andrew Murray may be an inspired move.
Last week, Nationals WA leader and Minister for Regional Development Brondon Grylls announced the appointment of Mr Murray as chair of the Western Australian Regional Development Trust, a body created to advise the state government on issues relating to the Royalties for Regions Fund.
His colleagues on the trust will be Australian Rural Woman of the Year Sue Middleton, Pilbara Development Commission chairman Tim Shanahan, and Department of Regional Development and Lands director-general Paul Rosair.
Mr Grylls said the trust would provide high-level advice and recommendations to him regarding the allocation of money under the Royalties for Regions Fund and between the subsidiary accounts of the fund.
The trust will not just be a point of referral for the minister but may also identify and examine areas for focus on its own initiative.
Mr Murray spent 12 years in the federal Senate representing WA as a Democrat, the party that gave itself the job of keeping the bastards honest.
He stepped away from parliament two years ago as one of most respected figures in federal politics, recognised for his sense of fair play, adherence to principles and the intellectual rigour he brought to the role.
While Mr Murray told WA Business News he was still getting across the details of his new role, he said he had a long track record of looking out for the interests of regional people, especially the Pilbara where the cost of housing has been a significant issue, most notably for state government employees whose salaries mean they can’t compete with resources employees for accommodation.
“For years I have been propagating many of the policies that are now being enacted,” he said.
Mr Murray said the business mentality was incompatible with the social infrastructure needed in the state’s north-west.
“Business took the risk to develop the resources but it was essentially an exploitive activity,” he said.
“They were not thinking in a community sense.
“That is the government’s job of course, not theirs.
“What the Barnett government and Royalties for Regions has done is to say ‘we want to have a socially sustainable enduring community up there’.
“It is not just invest in economic infrastructure, but also social infrastructure. They have taken that view also for other regions.”
The commitment of the state government is huge. In the Pilbara alone it will be spending almost $1 billion over six years. This kind of splurge comes with risks, which is why the state has not only established the trust Mr Murray will chair but also announced the establishment of a new Pilbara Cities office to be headed by Port Hedland chief executive Chris Adams.
In taking on his first high-profile role since leaving parliament, Mr Murray said he had kept himself busy in the interim engaged in various roles suited to his experience, such as preparing submissions and occasional speeches, mostly on an unpaid basis.
“I don’t have high financial needs, I am an old-fashioned believer in public service,” he said.
“I turn down a lot of stuff. A lot of people ask you to do things you don’t want to do.’’
Mr Murray makes the point that he has specifically ruled out the paid lobbying activity many ex-politicians engage in after their parliamentary days are over.
Prior to entering the Senate, Mr Murray had a commercial background.
“I decided not to go back into business,” he said.
“I have done enough risky things. I also felt I had developed the reputation and skills which could see me help in public service somewhere.”
The former senator has also enjoyed being a grandfather and spending time with his family, admitting that his business and political career meant his own two children did not get as much of his time as he would have liked.
And then there are those things about politics he’s happy to get away from.
“I genuinely miss the policy and some of the personalities but politics has its ugly side and I don’t miss that,” he said.
“And 40 to 50 flights a year is really wearing.”