14/03/2006 - 21:00

Labor short on achievements

14/03/2006 - 21:00

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Let’s be frank about the performance of the second Gallop Government in its first year, 2005; it was lacklustre.

Labor short on achievements

Let’s be frank about the performance of the second Gallop Government in its first year, 2005; it was lacklustre.

During the February 2005 election, former Murdoch University academic turned Labor politician, Geoff Gallop, was only just returned.

Much fuss was made by some Labor loyalists about this victory, with some already coming to regard him as an emerged saviour.

The fact is, however, he only just beat the Colin Barnett-led coalition by about 1,500 votes across the four closest seats.

Thus, Labor got off to a dreadful second start.

Then came, well, more of the same. That is, a continuation of the less-than-impressive high taxing big spending preceding four years.

In the government’s 10th month – December 2005 – Dr Gallop flew to England and, according to one of State Scene’s best informants, was bright and chirpy with family and friends until his last week in the Old Dart, where he’d twice been a left-wing tertiary student.

In that turning point week, as the thought of having to confront those 16 Labor cabinet room faces every week drew closer, his demeanour began to dramatically change.

Then to Heathrow and on to Perth International Airport; home sweet home.

A few days later, however, he decided he could bear it no more and so resigned because of deep depression.

During Dr Gallop’s absence, a sharp-eyed Liberal informant alerted a journalist to the growth in size of the premier’s department to more than 700 officers, many of them drawing hefty pay packets.

The beauty of feeding the media with hard numbers is that no amount of spin by ministerial media officers can get around them.

They’re either right or wrong. And in this case the Liberal informant was right on target, since he’d been leaked them from within.

And remember, before this shrewd Liberal backroom manoeuvre there had been the Bob Kucera affair. And, while Dr Gallop was enjoying his stay near the Thames the equally embarrassing Tim Ungar affair hit the press, again via a media tip-off.

Labor’s only morale booster over this period of media battering was opposition leader Matt Birney’s embarrassing encounter with a parlia-mentary privileges committee because he’d secretly slipped in amending details to his financial statement.

That, in several hundred words, was 2005 for Gallop-led Labor.

That said, Labor deserves at least one pat on the back.

And it is that the transition from Gallop-to-Carpenter was smooth and with minimal disruption.

Cabinet was slightly re-adjusted, and apart from the unwelcomed focus on former premier Brian Burke’s influence over Labor via lobbying, little else can be criticised.

Mr Carpenter seemed immediately at ease with the media and quickly moved to trim numbers within the bloated department he’d inherited.

But it should be added that this cutback wasn’t so much that as a transference of officers to other departments. In other words, not a shedding of but a reshuffling of public sector deck chairs.

And apparently the same happened within that increasingly powerful – some say megalomaniacal – Department of the Environment, now, thankfully, headed by Mark McGowan, a minister who many have great hopes for in coming years.

For a fortnight or so things seemed to be moving towards a more rational approach to governance.

And then the next whammy, the so-called ‘Godfather affair’ involving the man Mr Carpenter described as the “rising star in cabinet”, Police and Justice Minister John D’Orazio.

Now, without getting into touchy areas that can attract a lawyer’s letter, it must be said this was potentially an extremely damaging turn of events.

The reason was that much had already been documented in hearings conducted by the Corruption and Crimes Commission (CCC) about goings-on at the Bayswater Council, which formed a substantial slice of Mr D’Orazio’s power base.

Let’s not forget that Australian political history is more than adequately peppered with cases of strife arising for politicians who had engineered their rise to power via local government.

Which brings us to the other, but little-noticed, development during that last Gallop year, the CCC.

Let’s not forget that this agency’s budget was markedly boosted in 2002 by Attorney-General Jim McGinty, and since then its officers and undercover agents have spent much of their time snooping on and investigating Labor loyalists.

Among those so far snared is McGinty appointee to the second top spot within the CCC, Ms Moira Rayner, who is now before the courts.

And there’s former Labor MP Graham Burkett, with his problems arising from his days as a Labor ministerial staffer and Cambridge councillor.

Then there’s Mr D’Orazio’s campaign manager and former Stirling Council mayor Adam Spagnolo and his son, Emilio, and the boomeranging of this case into Mr D’Orazio’s backyard.

One can’t help concluding that the Kucera and Ungar affairs plus these CCC investigations also contributed to Dr Gallop’s less-than-positive state of mind. If not, they could hardly have improved his predisposition.

Dr Gallop, it must be recalled, launched his political career in mid-1986, soon after the second Burke government had moved into top corporatist wheeling-and-dealing gear.

Between then and early 1990 he was a backbencher, but one who saw, via Labor’s caucus room debates and discussions, the unfolding of that costly Labor debacle dubbed WA Inc.

From February 1990 until the emergence of the first Court government in February 1993 he held several portfolios, including fuel and energy and was minister assisting the treasurer.

Not widely realised is the fact that Labor’s 2001 election manifesto contained an excellent array of policies on governance and accountability.

There’s little doubt these were a personal imprint of Dr Gallop’s, even though most were never fully implemented, which is hardly his fault since so much primitive factional and other wheeling and dealing goes on before anything worthwhile can be done by a Labor government.

Dr Gallop sought to put WA Inc far behind Labor, even to the extent of banning ministers from officially dealing with former MPs and lobbyists Brian Burke and Julian Grill.

State Scene suspects that in this regard he never succeeded, and he probably knew this.

Over and above all that came several other problems: ongoing cost blow-outs, with more to come on the premature Perth-to-Mandurah railway; difficulties in centralising departmental procurement; a ballooning public sector, including within the premier’s department; too many consultants hired by government; and Labor’s never-ending factionalism and big spending proclivity.

Policy and administrative gridlock was setting in.

Dr Gallop, like several older and experienced Liberal MPs, knew that all this was being bankrolled by Labor’s high taxing approach, with revenues further boosted by growing orders for Pilbara ore and liquefied natural gas, destined especially for East Asia, and the state’s resultant housing and property boom.

There was nothing about 2005, and the previous four years for that matter, that can truly be put down to imaginative and wise governance by Dr Gallop’s two cabinets.

Labor won in 2001 primarily because of the Court government’s mismanage-ment of the mortgage brokers’ affair and Labor’s decision to go all the way with the Greens costly anti-logging policy.

In light of his government’s performance it’s quite amazing that Dr Gallop persevered for five years, when he so much wanted untainted and rational, not haphazard and ad hoc, governance.

But what makes things far gloomier is that, with Mr Carpenter at the helm for little more than a month, it’s becoming difficult to believe things are set to pan out differently.

Let’s hope that the ‘Godfather affair’ is the last such Labor debacle, otherwise voters will repeat in February 2009 what they did in February 2001.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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