30/01/2008 - 22:00

Playing politics

30/01/2008 - 22:00


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Mr McGinty went out on a limb when he recruited Dr Fong to head up the state’s ambitious health reform plans, following the Reid Review

Mr McGinty went out on a limb when he recruited Dr Fong to head up the state’s ambitious health reform plans, following the Reid Review.

Dr Fong was offered an unusually large salary package for a public servant, worth more than $600,000 currently, and this immediately brought howls of outrage from small-minded critics.

The reality is that health is a multi-billion dollar business employing thousands of people and the government should be able to recruit top quality people from the private sector if that’s where it can find the best talent.

The government also has to be accountable for performance, just like the board of directors of any private sector company.

Mr McGinty and Premier Alan Carpenter have both stated that they do not intend to offer a comparable salary package to lure Dr Fong’s replacement.

That greatly restricts the field of potential candidates and is likely to mean that health policy remains captive of the medical interest groups – the same groups that have been upset by changes pursued by Dr Fong.

Mr Carpenter’s rationale for not offering a high salary package in future was that Dr Fong’s salary equated to hanging a very large target around his neck.

The reality is that Dr Fong came under sustained attack for at least four reasons.

Only one was his salary package.

To put that in context, WA Business News’ 2007 CEO salary survey found more than 70 chief executives in WA who earned more than $600,000 last financial year.

This included about 25 chief executives whose base salary – excluding annual bonuses and share options – was more than $600,000.

Second was Dr Fong’s decision to retain his high profile role as chairman of the WA Football Commission, which led to claims that he faced conflicts of interest over funding and could not focus on the health job.

Many capable people hold down more than one demanding role and Dr Fong clearly thrived on his multiple roles.

Third was that Dr Fong did not miraculously fix problems in the health sector. But in what fast-growing jurisdiction have problems of similar magnitude been solved?

Fourth, and perhaps most important, was that Dr Fong was attacked as a way of getting at Mr McGinty, who sits alongside Mr Carpenter as the most powerful person in the state government.

As attorney-general, Mr McGinty set up the Corruption & Crime Commission, which has proceeded to inquire into the business activities of his factional rival in the Labor Party, Mr Burke.

That is the sub-text that sits behind a lot of the political controversy in WA over the past 18 months, if not longer, and Dr Fong’s departure will not change that dynamic.


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