13/03/2007 - 22:00

Inquiry could demand a heavy toll

13/03/2007 - 22:00

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The Corruption and Crime Commission inquiry has already claimed a pride of fallen scalps but the real implications lie ahead for lobbyists, ministers, bureaucrats and business.

Inquiry could demand a heavy toll

More than a dozen people have been sacked, resigned or lost their business as a direct result of the Corruption and Crime Commission inquiry, and the CCC has not even completed its work.

Those caught in the fallout include four government ministers, three ministerial advisers and the lobbyists at the centre of the inquiry, former premier Brian Burke and former minister Julian Grill.

Others who could become ensnared in the fallout include Department of Industry & Resources deputy director general Gary Stokes, who was found to have worked with Messrs Burke and Grill and supplied documents to them. He has taken leave while matters that came out of the commission hearings are investigated.

The inquiry has also cast a cloud over the future of several prominent figures in local government, including City of Cockburn mayor Stephen Lee.

In the private sector there has been a focus on companies that engaged Messrs Burke and Grill, including Fortescue Metals Group, Kimberley Diamonds, Precious Metals Australia and property developers Australand and Urban Pacific.

To date, the only notable move has been the resignation of Australand general manager Chris Lewis.

Australand was found to have provided election funding for Mr Lee, who was a supporter of its Port Coogee residential development.

Precious Metals has been in the firing line after former resources minister John Bowler was forced to resign over his handling of a parliamentary report into the closure of its Windimurra vanadium mine.

However, PMA managing director Roderick Smith insists the company has nothing to worry about.

“PMA has not been accused of any wrongdoing and has not been asked to appear at the CCC,” Mr Smith said.

“There is nothing in the CCC transcripts that concern us or our lawyers.”

The lasting impact of the CCC inquiry is likely to be in reform of the lobbying industry, the bureaucracy and possibly even the Labor Party.

Business groups hope it will also provide added impetus for reform of policy and decision making in the state government.

Political lobbyists in WA will soon be subject to a public register and code of conduct (see next page), while public servants and ministerial staffers may have to comply with new codes being developed by the Office of the Public Sector Standards Commissioner (see page 14).

Premier Alan Carpenter and Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan believe reform of the Labor Party has become more urgent after the CCC shed light on Mr Burke’s web of influence.

“We want an organisation where people like Brian Burke cannot build these sorts of power bases,” Ms MacTiernan said last week.

She wants to reduce the “culture of patronage” and concentration of power in the party, make pre-selections merit-based and party structures more democratic.

“We need to get rid of the show and tell vote,” she said in reference to the voting system that hands power to faction leaders.

The challenge for reformers is that union delegates hold half the positions on Labor’s state executive and state conference, with just seven unions accounting for 90 per cent of the union vote.

Labor’s state secretary, Bill Johnston, does not believe there is a groundswell of support for changing the party’s decision-making structures.

“I don’t detect any mood for change,” he said, though he acknowledged the party needed to constantly review its rules and reform and renew itself.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA chief executive John Langoulant believes there is scope for reform of government but “the principle issue is the quality of people going into parliament and into positions of authority”.

In light of this, he wants state cabinet restricted to about 14 ministers.

He also believes cabinet needs to tighten its decision-making processes, to be more robust and confidential.

Mr Langoulant said the project approval process continues to need improving, despite several reviews in recent years.

“The environmental labyrinth is just exhausting,” he said. “It is long in time, uneven in process and unpredictable in outcome.”

Hawker Britton director Megan Anwyl believes complex decision making is one of the main reasons why private companies seek help from political lobbyists.

“I don’t believe that government is hard to talk to but the complexities of dealing with it are increasing,” Ms Anwyl said.

Halden Burns director John Halden is more blunt in his assessment, describing project approvals as a quagmire.

“The rules are always changing and it is very difficult to understand,” he said.

PMA’s Mr Smith makes it very clear why he engaged lobbyists.

“Our business is building mines; the workings of government remain a mystery to me,” he said.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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