03/06/2010 - 00:00

Premier banks on solid team

03/06/2010 - 00:00

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OPPOSITION revelations that Premier Colin Barnett’s chief-of-staff Brian Pontifex is one of Western Australia’s best-paid bureaucrats or advisers may have only underscored the value of one the most influential new players in the Liberal state government.

Premier banks on solid team

OPPOSITION revelations that Premier Colin Barnett’s chief-of-staff Brian Pontifex is one of Western Australia’s best-paid bureaucrats or advisers may have only underscored the value of one the most influential new players in the Liberal state government.

Just a few months into the role, bureaucratic insiders and those close to the government are already claiming the former oil executive and lawyer has proved his value in what is seen as a vital position.

Mr Pontifex came on board earlier this year after Deidre Willmott quit the position to become state director of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, to be held in Perth next year. She has since moved to a position in government relations with Fortescue Metals Group.

At the time, the loss of Ms Willmott was viewed as a blow to the government.

Perhaps the lure of lucrative private sector jobs is behind the fact that Mr Pontifex is on a good wicket – a $345,000-a-year package.

And, with the widened role of the premier’s office since the departure from cabinet of Troy Buswell, Mr Pontifex might well be working hard for the extra dollars, thought to be $100,000 more than his predecessor.

He worked with Woodside before joining Mr Barnett’s office but has real government experience with the former federal justice and customs minister, Chris Ellison, as a ministerial adviser and then chief of staff until 2004.

Before Woodside, Mr Pontifex worked in Paris as legal consultant to the OECD Anti-Corruption Division.

Observers of the inner workings of the state machine believe that advisers and bureaucrats who have congregated in the Department of Premier of Cabinet have proved their worth in a government with an increasingly presidential style.

WA Business News has been told repeatedly how critical the recruitment of experienced government staffer Peter Conran as department director-general early in the Barnett government was.

In fact, many believe that the first term of the last Liberal premier, Richard Court, was severely undermined by poor staffing decisions when the party won office. Even with four-year terms, the first six months is seen as critical to establishing a track record before a defeated opposition finds its feet, the legislative agenda becomes bogged down and the next election looms.

With the premier wanting a different style of government to his predecessors, Mr Conran has built a significant policy capacity within the department, along the lines of the structure of former prime minister John Howard’s office.

Mr Conran’s previous roles in Mr Howard’s office included secretary to cabinet and head of the cabinet policy unit.

His deputy is former WA Treasury official, David Smith.

 

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