21/05/2009 - 00:00

Price paid for political connections

21/05/2009 - 00:00


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Access to state government ministers seems reserved for a special few.

Price paid for political connections

LABOR'S disastrous choice of Fremantle Mayor, Peter Tagliaferri, to contest its once-safe seat of Fremantle raises several questions that shouldn't be ignored.

The first is that WA taxpayers, through the Western Australian Electoral Commission, shouldn't have to bear the $100,000 cost of the contest of the by-election. Instead, sitting member Jim McGinty should personally be liable, since he's willfully reneged on the implicit contract with those who elected him, even if narrowly, last September.

All the signs are that he's simply bored with being a politician, a very weak excuse for resigning after just eight months. Why did he contest Fremantle in September 2008?

And if Fremantle's grapevine is buzzing correctly, Mr McGinty has had Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard line him up a semi-judicial post.

Both he and Ms Gillard are from Labor's leftist side and, as all know, brothers and sisters inside that fraternity, if nothing else, look after each other - even when that means reaching across the Nullarbor into Western Australia.

Moreover, Mr McGinty scampers off with a superannuation nest egg in the order of $2 million, so could easily afford to cover the cost of the by-election he has caused.

Although he has precious little to show by way of wise legislation and effective administration over his 20 or so years in parliament, he'll no doubt feel relaxed in his new career knowing he helped deliver the knock-out blow against his nearly life-long ideological and factional rival, Brian Burke.

That's no small feat when it's remembered that Mr Burke is only challenged in the political acumen stakes by the late hard-line leftist, FE 'Joe' Chamberlain, who headed WA Labor during its tumultuous split of the 1950s.

Mr McGinty, an ideological follower of Mr Chamberlain - who destroyed the career of Mr Burke's father, Thomas - paved the way for something similar for Burke the younger by beefing up the powers and eavesdropping capabilities of the Corruption and Crime Commission.

Surely that's crossed Mr McGinty's mind.

Another outcome of the McGinty resignation was the breaking of ranks by several long-time Laborites who vehemently objected to the selection of Mr Tagliaferri behind closed doors.

Although State Scene isn't aware of any formal links Mr Tagliaferri may have had with any political party before belatedly joining the ALP last month, some Laborites held strong views over his perceived political and ideological commitments.

"Tagliaferri is masquerading as a Labor man with Labor principles," was perhaps the standout objection.

In other words there are still some in the local political realm who believe there remains something resembling a unique Labor commitment and identity in the opening decade of the 21st century.

Perhaps they need reminding that it was Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, not that alleged arch-conservative, Malcolm Fraser, who privatised large segments of Australia's public sector.

Where were these 'true Laborites' then?

Hankering after a distant past is not a good starting point for insightful political debate.

Of far greater interest, however, was the criticism that Mr Tagliaferri last year, as mayor of Fremantle, subscribed to the Liberal Party's business fundraising vehicle, the 500 Club.

Mr Tagliaferri does not deny this was the case. Of far greater interest was his explanation for making that move.

He's reported saying he, "joined the 500 Club late last year after complaining that he could not get access to Barnett Government ministers."

Now, that's really serious stuff because it goes to the very nub of whether Western Australians are receiving just and hands-on administration, for which they pay a high price.

And if not, why not?

Put otherwise, why should someone representing a major entity such as crucially important Fremantle Council need to join a conservative financial and political intermediary so as to be able to speak to conservative ministers?

Ministers are not only paid handsome salaries, they also receive sizeable top-ups and plenty of other welcomed benefits, including large numbers of staff, chauffeurs, overseas trips, and the like.

Moreover, thanks to Mr McGinty, their parties now receive from taxpayers what's called public funding, meaning the parties' election propaganda is paid for by non-party members, including State Scene and, yes, you.

What else do they want? They already have the easy life.

And Mr Tagliaferri has let the pussy out of the sack.

They appear to like a situation where you feel you must join a conservative fundraising entity, for a price, of course, and if you do that you'll find you get easier access to conservative ministers.

This, if correct, as Mr Tagliaferri suggests, means conservative ministers are firstly not doing the job they're very well paid to do - listen to people like mayors, among others -but secondly they've devised a tricky Banana Republic-style way of further boosting party coffers.

Whichever, it's quite outrageous.

Firstly, anyone refusing to do their ministerial job as expected, but who then puts a secret price tag on doing it, seemingly under sufferance, should be removed.

State Scene highlights this ugly trend because the office of one of those conservative ministers, while still an opposition MP, contacted me for the telephone number of someone whose ideas I'd highlighted in this column.

A few weeks later I spoke to the ideas person - whose ideas, if implemented, would save WA taxpayers tens of millions of dollars annually - and asked if the anxious politician had contacted him.

Not only was the answer yes, that MP, now a Barnett government minister, subsequently met the ideas man at least a dozen times, and maintained contact during last September's election campaign for assistance.

I was told the MP said to my contact at their first meeting: "I didn't get into parliament to get a job - I got into parliament to do a job."

Heady words, indeed, ones that certainly encouraged State Scene since it looked as if we, at long last, had a straight shooting no-nonsense individual in parliament.

But here's the kicker.

Several months after September's election I asked my contact if he'd met the new minister who, as a backbencher, wanted "to do" not "get" a job and how things were getting along with implementing the ideas.

"I've telephoned his office several times, and he just won't return calls," the contact told State Scene.

For reasons unknown, this minister, who now comfortably sits in a big office that probably overlooks the Swan River, with chauffeur at beck and call, won't even explain his costly inaction.

Little wonder that when one looks through the government's so-called lobbyists' register, so many lobbyists are former politicians or ministerial staffers.

It looks like the reality of WA politics is that ministers meet only under sufferance, otherwise they prefer listening to voters' cases through well-paid party favoured lobbyists.

What a way to run a state.


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