19/06/2007 - 22:00

Premier’s team guides state policy

19/06/2007 - 22:00

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The state government employs thousands of public servants, yet real influence on public policy in Western Australia rests just with a handful of key advisers working in ministerial offices.

Premier’s team guides state policy

The state government employs thousands of public servants, yet real influence on public policy in Western Australia rests just with a handful of key advisers working in ministerial offices.

The government’s most influential advisers are led by three people who work in the premier’s office, and none is more important than the premier’s 35-year-old chief of staff, Rita Saffioti.

A former treasury economist, Ms Saffioti has been a political adviser for the past decade.

Renowned for her work ethic, she started working for Geoff Gallop when he was opposition leader and stayed with him during his term as premier, initially as principal economic adviser and later as strategic management adviser.

When Mr Carpenter succeeded Dr Gallop as premier in January 2006, Ms Saffioti was promoted to her current role as chief of staff.

Another top adviser in the premier’s office is communications director Kieran Murphy.

Like Ms Saffioti, he started working for Dr Gallop in opposition and stayed with him as premier, initially as principal media adviser and later in a strategic advisory role.

The premier’s principal media adviser, Guy Houston, is considered an integral member of the inner circle.

The two men are old friends, having worked together at the ABC in the 1980s and 1990s before Mr Carpenter’s move into politics.

The premier has access to a team of policy advisers in the department of premier and cabinet, led by chief policy adviser David Hatt.

The talk is that Mr Carpenter has endeavoured to take advice from a wider circle of advisers, including Mr Hatt, but still relies primarily on his inner circle.

Ms Saffioti’s influence in the premier’s office has parallels in other ministerial offices, where the chiefs of staff hold a critical role as gatekeeper and in some cases as policy adviser.

Notably, most of the senior ministers in the state government have had the same chief of staff since Labor won power in 2001.

This includes Mike Megaw in Eric Ripper’s office, Danny Cloghan in Jim McGinty’s office, and Rob Giles in Alannah MacTiernan’s office.

Mark McGowan recruited Eric Ripper’s former media adviser, Darren Foster, as his chief of staff.

In the bureaucracy, the two people who stand apart from the pack are Health Department director general Neale Fong and under-treasurer Tim Marney.

Dr Fong was hand-picked to lead the government’s ambitious health reform plans, while Mr Marney seems to have an ever-expanding role, with his department recently taking charge of the disastrous shared services project.

Another notable adviser is former Argyle Diamonds managing director Brendan Hammond, who was recruited to head of the Office of Development Approvals Co-ordination.

The role of lobbyists in policy making has become a little clearer following the recent Corruption and Crime Commission inquiry and the establishment of a register of lobbyists.

The CCC inquiry has effectively put an end to the lobbying business of former premier Brian Burke and his business partner Julian Grill.

Their demise has done nothing to dent the growth of the lobbying industry, however.

The register lists 68 lobbying firms in WA and reveals that five specialist firms, mostly run by former Labor party and ministerial staffers, dominate the industry, judging by the number and calibre of clients listed.

The main players include local firm Halden Burns and national firms CPR Communications, Hawker Britton and Enhance Corporate, whose Perth director Peter Clough also runs his own lobbying firm, Clough Consulting Services.

The exception to the Labor pattern is Paul Everingham & Associates, which was set up by former Liberal party state director and Chevron Australia adviser, Paul Everingham.

The register is limited to specialist lobbyists who act for third parties.

Hence, it excludes lobbyists who work for powerful industry associations, such as Chamber of Minerals & Energy chief Tim Shanahan, Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief John Langoulant, and Australian Hotels Association WA director Bradley Woods.

Former state development minister Clive Brown, who chairs the Geraldton Iron Ore Alliance, is another influential person who does not have to be on the register.

The logic is that the alliance is a member organisation, just like the CME and the CCI, and that Mr Brown simply represents his members when he lobbies government.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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