08/03/2005 - 21:00

Joe Poprzeczny: State Scene - Gang of three distributes the spoils

08/03/2005 - 21:00

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The English had Richard the Lion Heart, the Macedonians Alexander the Great, the Poles Boleslaw the Bold and even a Boleslaw the Brave.

The English had Richard the Lion Heart, the Macedonians Alexander the Great, the Poles Boleslaw the Bold and even a Boleslaw the Brave.

But Western Australia only has ‘Geoff the Nearly All-Powerful’.

“My government has a vision for Western Australia” – these words are carried on Dr Gallop’s official website.

And one doesn’t need to be too imaginative to visualise him uttering “I have a vision”, in the vein of Dr Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream”.

Premiers are generally never more powerful than when they’re finalising cabinets, since that’s when parliament’s most prestigious big-paying jobs are being dished out.

Moreover, Dr Gallop was better off this time round since he’d unilaterally inflated the number of ministerial posts from 14 to 17.

But just as after the 2001 election he’s had to share his power of patronage because his second government isn’t headed solely by him, but rather by a troika, with its other two members being master strategist Jim McGinty of Labor’s left, and new right powerbroker Michelle Roberts.

And the troika rewarded close pals of the troika’s members and their factional buddies while at the same time punishing those out-of-favour with them and/or their respective factions.

After the troika’s 17 ministers were announced Dr Gallop publicly claimed that he had talent aplenty across the backbench so woe betide any minister who doesn’t perform or they’ll end up back there.

This, of course, is absolute huff, puff and bluff.

Does Dr Gallop seriously expect anyone to believe that if Mrs Roberts continues not performing she’ll become a backbencher?

Hardly.

She’s one of the troika so would need to oversee more than another half a dozen or more prisoners escaping in broad daylight from the State’s Supreme Court penitentiary before she’s demoted.

Mrs Roberts, Mr McGinty, and Dr Gallop – because he’d won a difficult election – are each firmly ensconced.

And the same applies to the remaining 14 ministers who have been negotiated into their positions from within the respective factions.

Membership of the second, like the first, Gallop ministry, has absolutely nothing to do with individual talent.

Cabinet posts are about factional alignments and therefore intra-factional deals.

Allocation of the plum posts is all about wheeling and dealing and it’s time Dr Gallop stopped treating Western Australia’s 1.3 million voters like mushrooms by propagating fantasies – something Labor politicians are especially adept at – that elevation to the ministry is about talent, vision and skills.

Over and above that there’s a quite understandable regional distribution of duties.

For instance, Kim Chance, who hails from a Doodlakine farming background many years ago, remains minister for agriculture, forestry, Mid-West and the Wheatbelt. A thoroughly sensible allocation, with some provisos.

Similarly with Goldfields MLA John Bowler, who is minister for local government and regional development, land information, Goldfields-Esperance and Great Southern.

Why Mr Bowler had Great Southern added to his responsibilities – something Mr Chance should oversee as agriculture minister – is anyone’s guess.

The other proviso regarding Mr Chance is his failure to retain the fisheries portfolio.

What the state needs is a single minister overseeing primary industries – less fracturing of responsibilities.

Hopefully this will be corrected in an early reshuffle.

There are other similar cockeyed allocations.

Dr Gallop has given himself responsibility for water resources since he’s recently been chairing a water resources committee and the fact that outgoing Liberal leader Colin Barnett briefly wrong-footed Labor with that Kimberley-to-Perth canal and the public’s initial response to it. This should go to Alan Carpenter as minister for state development and energy.

Compounding this, Dr Gallop has John Kobelke – minister for consumer and employment protection, Indigenous affairs – assisting him in water resources.

One could continue highlighting such quirky decisions.

For instance, Mark McGowan is the minister for tourism, racing and gaming, while sport and recreation, which also have a strong tourism bent, were handed across to Bob Kucera.

It’s thus difficult not to conclude that Dr Gallop’s second ministry isn’t a three-humped camel, the creation of a committee of three – the Gallop-McGinty-Roberts troika – which primarily had its eyes on factional sharing and ambitions rather than something resembling a rational and economical allocation of decision-making duties.

Also not to be ignored is the troika’s harsh decision to exclude anyone aligned to what’s now called the ‘old right’. This term refers to the faction associated with former premier and now successful lobbyist Brian Burke, and Dr Gallop’s old buddy, federal Labor leader Kim Beazley, who incidentally helped save WA Labor’s neck in the lead up to the election.

The old right fractured some years back and is now a shell of its former self, with a sizeable piece spinning off to form the ‘new right’ that Mrs Roberts heads.

Now, this is interesting, not least because it was the old right that Dr Gallop used to get a leg-up into WA Labor politics after returning from the Old Dart.

That entry came after he’d been a member of the University of WA’s Liberal Club and later as a Trotskyite, of all things. What a confused young man young Geoff must have been while studying in England.

It’s easy to blame the absence of any old rightists upon Mr Burke’s continued dabbling in Labor affairs or on his old rightist ally Senator Mark Bishop, who last year overturned Labor’s factional apple carts by highlighting the widespread inflation of union affiliation numbers.

But that overlooks the issue of showing appreciation, which Dr Gallop as a member of the troika most definitely hasn’t done.

Unless of course he can show that he was persistently outvoted two-to-one when the troika was allocating portfolios.

If that’s the reason the old right is so conspicuous by its absence then he could perhaps be forgiven.

But if he has thrown in the towel on this, as all say is so, then it shows a distinct lack of gratitude, and proves once again Niccolo Machiavelli’s warning that politics isn’t where one should expect to find virtue.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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