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Joe Poprzeczny: State Scene - Quango numbers all Labor

WHILE State Scene rarely bothers analysing parliamentary answers there’s always the chance of an exception arising, and it comes following a question asked of Premier Geoff Gallop by Liberal MLA Rob Johnson about an issue highlighted in this column last month.

Mr Johnson inquired about the increasing number of Labor buddies being parachuted into nicely paying jobs on government boards and committees (GBC), collectively called quangos.

Specifically, he wanted Dr Gallop to table: “The name, position and rate of pay of the recipients of the 20 quango appointments referred to in the [State Scene] article, as broken down, to include two former Labor Federal members of parliament, five former State Labor ministers, two former State Labor MPs, one former Federal Labor candidate, a former Greens MP, five unionists, one spouse of a former State Labor minister, the spouses of two current Labor MPs, and one former interstate Labor minister.”

Dr Gallop replied: “I will see whether I can get that information for the member,”  to which Mr Johnson interjected: “Just give the commitment”.

“As I said, I will seek to get the information for the member,” the premier responded.

Mr Johnson again interjected: “Just say that you will do it.”

Dr Gallop retorted: “I will make every effort to get the information for the member.”

As things transpired the quango documentation was tabled, and it makes interesting reading, disclosing, in most cases, what Labor’s favoured appointees receive as sitting fees.

Generally they’re not large sums, around $8,000 annually, so nice top-ups to handsome parliamentary pensions that these defeated and retired Labor MPs are already receiving.

It also showed State Scene’s initial estimate of loyalist appointments had understated matters.

Dr Gallop continued: “I find this question quite amusing because the assumption behind it is that if people have had anything to do with the Labor Party or the trade union movement, they do not qualify for any of these positions.

“The Labor Party has a different attitude to this.

“The Labor side of politics also says that people who are associated with the Liberal Party or the Liberal Government are not disqualified from these positions either.

 “We are delighted with the excellent work that is being done on behalf of the people of WA by former Liberal leader Barry MacKinnon.

“We were pleased to reappoint him to that position.

“We are delighted at the work being done by Mr Ian Laurance, a former deputy leader of the Liberal Party in this House and chairman of the Midland Redevelopment Authority, and we have reappointed him. We have absolutely no bias in this situation.”

So Dr Gallop claims even-handedness in quango appointments because two token Liberals exist.

Before assessing the documentation it’s worth recalling what State Scene contended, which wasn’t that being a Labor loyalist disqualifies someone from appointment to quangos.

In May 2001 Dr Gallop launched a review of quango memberships because he believed the selection process was severely flawed.

A press report (The West Australian, May 5 2001) announcing that review claimed it was launched “amid suspicion that GBCs are stacked with members linked to the Liberal Party”.

Clearly, and properly, the aim was to ensure favouring of party loyalists for such jobs ceased.

If not that, then it was aimed solely at ensuring Liberal loyalists were successfully purged.

The press report carried photographs of six Liberal appointees and disclosed their remuneration.

It would be surprising if those figures plus names of several others identified in that article weren’t supplied to the journalist by a Gallop Government spin doctor to help enhance the announcement of the inquiry titled State Government Aiming for Greater Diversity on Boards and Advisory Committees.

The inquiry’s report, completed in August 2001, made several excellent recommendations and observations.

For instance, it highlighted disquiet about those submitting their names to serve on quangos but who’d failed to receive due consideration.

“There is widespread concern, however, that this list is being ignored,” the report claims.

Dr Gallop’s tabled documentation shows that, since February 2001, as well as reappointing two Liberal MPs he so promptly named in parliament, there have been: one former Greens MP; three former Federal Labor MPs; one former Federal Labor candidates; one former State Labor candidate; five former State Labor MPs; five former State Labor ministers; and the spouse of a sitting Labor MP and a former Labor minister and that of a former interstate Labor minister.

Some hold more than one quango position. In one case it’s four, bringing in well over $40,000 annually. So much for diversity.

There also are several former high-profile unionists plus three senior public servants from an earlier Labor era, two of them now consultants, the third, a Curtin University academic, long well known to Dr Gallop, who receives $22,300 as a quango chairman.

One of the consultants, working on environmental affairs, chairs a quango specialising in environmental matters, giving him a jump on other such consultants. Unfortunately, his payment isn’t disclosed.

The second consultant holds four quango posts, receiving a handsome $63,800. Is this another example of the new style diversity in action?

So, after not even three years of Labor, closer to 30 loyalists and two token Liberals are quickly identified.

Yet Dr Gallop told parliament: “We have absolutely no bias in this situation”.

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