11/06/2009 - 00:00

Plaudits as early achievers make their mark

11/06/2009 - 00:00


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THE who's who of politics behind the parliamentarians features those who act as gatekeepers to their ministers, implement policy or are appointed to shape the direction of important government agencies or corporations.

Plaudits as early achievers make their mark

THE who's who of politics behind the parliamentarians features those who act as gatekeepers to their ministers, implement policy or are appointed to shape the direction of important government agencies or corporations.

This creates an eclectic mix of political soldiers and talented functionaries - some whose fate is very much term-of-government, while others learn to bend with the wind and get things done no matter which party is in power.

To begin with it might be worth looking at those in the bureaucracy who wield influence. For this year's edition of our Most Influential list, WA Business News has decided to be cautious in whom it names.

The government is new and the bureaucracy's shape is only just becoming apparent after a restructuring of several major departments.

Also, the key Liberal ministers are seen as hands on, so these early days of government mean bureaucrats have less opportunity to implement policy that comes with an election mandate.

Take, for example, the approvals process. This was a major election issue for business and a key piece of policy for Premier Colin Barnett.

The bureaucrats involved could easily be taken for granted, especially as they have been inherited to a certain degree from the Labor regime.

However, discussions with political observers and major industry figures reveal this is not the case with Eric Lumsden, director-general of the Department of Planning and Infrastructure, who is overseeing a review of the planning process.

Industry believes Mr Lumsden is a good operator who has the ear of the politicians. The appointment of Garry Prattley, who has a considerable planning pedigree, to the WA Planning Commission is also viewed as significant in this area.

Similarly, Environmental Protection Authority chairman Paul Vogel is seen as the right man for the job by industry when it comes to reining in the length of time taken to assess new projects.

Mr Vogel has received backing for his plan to overhaul the Environmental Impact Assessment process.

With Mr Barnett overseeing a ministerial committee on the subject and several ministers making this a priority, changes in the approval process may well be an early and significant achievement by the new government at a time when investors need to see some of the risk taken out of the decision-making process.

Department of Premier and Cabinet director-general Peter Conran is seen by many as a political adviser. Mr Conran is a thoroughbred Liberal with significant credentials from the government of John Howard.

Only six months into the job he is viewed as a big asset for the government.

Working closely with him is Deidre Willmott, who is chief of staff to Mr Barnett and also attends cabinet.

Ms Willmott's level of influence is questioned but, on balance, most believe her access to the premier makes her an effective operator.

"When Deidre says something will get done, it gets done," said one observer.

Debate about Ms Willmott's influence appears to be more about the politics of her arrival as chief of staff, having given up pre-selection for the state seat of Cottesloe so Mr Barnett could revive his leadership hopes.

There are some who don't believe Ms Willmott will remain for long doing a job she has previously done.

Troy Buswell's chief of staff, David Wawn, is regarded as having a talent for organisation, but as a relative newcomer to the state, some question his level of influence over his minister, who is seen as a prodigous worker.

Mr Buswell has delivered a relatively well-received budget in difficult times. This is no mean feat and requires discipline from the treasurer and his staff.

Mines and Petroleum Minister Norman Moore's chief of staff, Trevor Whittington, also gets attention.

Mr Whittington is regarded as a no-nonsense implementer of Mr Moore's no-nonsense policies. In a government that scraped into power by a whisker and then struggled to get its administration in order, those who have got things moving get significant credit outside straight political circles.


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