Alannah MacTiernan is no stranger to controversy.
Alannah MacTiernan is no stranger to controversy.
As planning and infrastructure minister, she has taken on property developers, taxi drivers, boat users, construction giant Leighton, the state’s monopoly daily newspaper and her political party’s traditional support base – the unions.
But, the minister and mother of two says confrontation is part and parcel of her job.
There’s no doubting Ms MacTiernan’s passion for what she does, but it is that same passion that often draws criticism from some sections of the business community, who think she’s too hands on, takes on too much and struggles to delegate.
But, on the whole, business leaders contacted by WA Business News have given Ms MacTiernan a tick of approval, with several industry sources somewhat surprised that she has managed to handle the huge workload that her portfolio provides.
“In the early days a lot of people thought the ministry was too big for her but the business community that I deal with say she is one of the better performing ministers in WA,” according to a senior member of the WA property industry.
Alongside Eric Ripper, Jim McGinty and Kim Chance, Ms MacTiernan is the only minister to retain her portfolio since Labor came to power in 2001, escaping the Alinta share scandal controversy that claimed Bob Kucera’s scalp and overcoming scores of criticism over the Perth-to-Mandurah railway.
Ms MacTiernan took on a new ‘super portfolio’ when then Gallop government combined transport and planning.
“It is an enormous workload but it gives you greater opportunity to actually achieve things because it is much easier to bring together key agencies to achieve an outcome,” Ms MacTiernan told WA Business News.
The hours are long and the stress levels are high.
“It’s pretty much all consuming,” she said.
Ms MacTiernan has been in the public eye since 1988, when she was elected to the Perth City Council.
She has built her political career while raising her daughter, now 25 and her son, who is 31.
“I have to bribe them not to write the ‘mummy dearest book’ about how they ate frozen lasagne just about every night,” she jokes. “Of course, that is just a lie.”
Ms MacTiernan said raising children and building a career had been a challenge; men will, she said, more often than not, have a much easier ride to the top.
Her husband is industrial relations lawyer, Derek Schapper.
“It is easier if you have someone who is prepared to play the support role, and that tends to fall on women,” she said. “It’s more difficult if you don’t have someone playing that role, particularly if you have children, so you need a supportive family.
“There are far more Jeanette Howards than there are Denis Thatchers.”
Ms MacTiernan said women in politics suffered more personal attacks in the media.
Many will remember the publicity that her fake Chanel bag created.
“The media often treat women quite differently to men and there seems to be more personal interest in women. Men are the default setting and women are something different,” she said.
“After a while you become semi-immune to it.”
But being a woman in politics has its advantages.
“There are times when it makes it easier because there are not many women in politics and people want a bit of balance,” she said.
Ms MacTiernan gets up most mornings at 6am and likes to go to the gym before the newshounds start calling at 7.30am.
She often works to 9pm at night and, if parliament is sitting, doesn’t knock off until 11pm.
And she doesn’t take breaks throughout the day; but neither does she seek any congratulations for her effort.
“I don’t want to present myself as a martyr. I do this because at the end of the day I see that you can achieve things,” Ms MacTiernan said.
“My job is hard and there are a lot of people who couldn’t do it, but there are a lot of jobs that other people do that I couldn’t do.”
Ms MacTiernan said the development of the $1.6 billion Perth-to-Mandurah railway had obviously been a key achievement in her career, but she is keen to point out that there have been plenty of other projects in which she has been involved that make WA a better place to live.
They include development works in Geraldton, including the deepening of the port and redeveloping the foreshore by removing the freight railway line, regulating boat licences, and angering the taxi industry by issuing a buy-back for private taxi plates in an attempt to boost driver numbers.
She also cites the ‘network city’ policy as a key achievement, with its aim of developing existing key suburban areas to stimulate business growth and ease the community’s dependence on cars.
But her network city plan has its sceptics, with some property industry sources telling WA Business News that development plans were being undermined by local governments, which were knocking back proposals.
Ms MacTiernan disagrees.
“We have to do a lot more but I wouldn’t say it was coming unstuck,” she said. “I would say most local government support it but we have to do a lot more to drive the implementation.
“We have had a series of meetings to drive this through. We have had forums within the senior management to come up with a comprehensive plan for how we go more deeply into the implantation.”
Ms MacTiernan is particularly proud of the rejuvenation of the City of Armadale.
“We built vital pieces of infrastructure that had been on the books for years but never happened, like the extension of the Tonkin Highway,” she said.
“We developed Champion Lakes, built a new railway station right at the heart of the town centre and restructured the streets around it.
“It has paid off because we have new developments happening there. There is general confidence in the area and shops are opening up and more businesses are choosing to set up in Armadale.”
Ms MacTiernan has been described by some in business as a strong, gusty performer.
“A lot of people would not be able to stand the constant pressure and you have to have an ability to see beyond immediate criticism,” she said. “You always have to be listening to the critics and constantly review what you do. It might not always be the right path that you are on and you have to be prepared to deviate.
“It’s not about fixing on a course of action and never listening to criticism. But it’s working out what is sensible, legitimate criticism and what is petty politics.
“Very often people can’t quite see what this vision is and you have to go in and compete for money on these projects.
“Everything is a struggle and you have to dare to struggle and dare to win. That’s just the nature of the task.”