11/07/2014 - 05:33

Labor building bridges

11/07/2014 - 05:33


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WA Labor’s road to reform got off to a good start at last week’s annual conference, but the momentum must be maintained.

Labor building bridges
ON BOARD WITH BUSINESS: Mark McGowan’s address to Labor’s state conference sent a clear signal to business that he’s keen to build bridges.

The Western Australian Labor Party's annual conference has acknowledged the organisation's parlous state and made three significant steps to arrest the slide; failure to act would have been disastrous.Even then, the party still has a way to go to show that its composition and goals truly reflect that section of the electorate it must win over to again succeed.

First, in a significant departure from previous leaders' addresses at such conferences, Mark McGowan sent a clear signal to business that he's keen to build bridges.

Labor in recent times has been preoccupied with appealing to its heartland – battlers on low incomes and welfare. Not that they should be taken for granted of course, but to succeed Labor must also reach out to the middle ground.

And that's what Mr McGowan did with his promise to "slash wasteful and unnecessary red tape that stifles business, jobs and investment".

He's not the first leader to promise such action, but he also borrowed from an Economic Regulation Authority recommendation, promising in government to establish a lead reform agency for regulation.

"The agency could be based in either the Department of Premier and Cabinet or the Department of Finance," he said. "But whatever its final location, it will set targets for reform and make sure every part of government is meeting key performance indicators.

"I want these targets, and each agency's performance, published so the business community can see our commitment to reforming regulation and help stoke an innovative business environment."

Mr McGowan also committed to an office of information and communications technology as part of the 'war' on regulation and inefficiency.

The second significant step was the election of Willagee MP and former SAS major, Peter Tinley, as state president after a comfortable win over Maritime Union official Adrian Evans in the first membership postal ballot for the job.

Being directly elected by members gives the incumbent greater clout, if he wants to use it. And Mr Tinley is keen to revitalise the branches.

That is likely to get some impetus thanks to the third decision, giving members a bigger say in the elections for key posts.

These include not just the state president but also a 50 per cent weighting – along with the caucus – in the election of the parliamentary leader. And members would get a direct 50 per say in selecting candidates for the Legislative Assembly.

But the proportion for Legislative Council pre-selections will be only 25 per cent for branch members.

Endorsement for winnable upper house seats has become an exclusive preserve for those within the party's 'purple circle'.

Although Labor holds only 11 of the 36 upper house seats, the endorsement model looks like staying that way. And that applies to its senate candidates as well.

However the dominant left faction drew the line in the push for change, with Simon Mead being re-elected state secretary.

The strong union presence will remain, however, with a union choir was on hand to sing Solidarity Forever immediately after Mr McGowan's speech.

Short memories

THE disclosure that the director-general of the Department of Racing Gaming and Liquor travelled to Macau to gather information about gambling, courtesy of Crown, shows just how short the corporate memory in government has become.

The fact that Racing and Gaming Minister Terry Waldron defended the trip as 'entirely appropriate' simply compounds a serious error of judgment.

It's 50 years since senior coalition ministers across the country – including WA premier Sir David Brand and minister Sir Charles Court – bought shares in the Comalco bauxite company.

All then expressed surprise at the public backlash that the relationship between business and government – especially when the ministers were required to make key decisions affecting the company – was far too cosy.

This helped set new guidelines, but by the 1980s it was on again. Members of premier Brian Burke's family, for example, flew to Fiji for a holiday courtesy of Griffin Mining's Ric Stowe's private jet. Mr Stowe was a vice-patron of Labor's John Curtin Foundation.

The $30 million-plus WA Inc Royal Commission was supposed to set the benchmark for future government-business relations. Apparently its influence has worn off.

If the senior bureaucrat concerned this time, Barry Sergeant, needed to visit Macau, the government should have paid. Mr Sergeant's advice to his minister must be seen to be truly independent.

James Packer's Crown is extremely influential, with first-class political connections on both sides of politics.

Mr Packer scored a massive win when the Barnett government decided to build the $1 billion-plus sports stadium at Burswood. It was a stunning comeback by Crown, as the company had been slow to lodge a submission to the original Langoulant taskforce, which assessed the competing stadium sites.

The perception that government and business operate at arm's length is essential. Mr Sergeant's Macau trip weakens that perception.


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