Scientists have a say

11/06/2008 - 22:00

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Outside of government and business, there is a wide array of people in science, media, the law and other professions who are highly influential in Western Australia.

Scientists have a say

Outside of government and business, there is a wide array of people in science, media, the law and other professions who are highly influential in Western Australia.

While the influence of these people comes partly from their decision making authority, it also comes form their ability to lead public opinion.

The latter group includes renowned scientist, child health researcher and former Australian of the Year, Professor Fiona Stanley.

Her public influence is reflected in her selection for a range of federal and state government advisory committees, most recently the Social Inclusion Board established by the Rudd government.

University of WA researcher Professor Barry Marshall is another high-profile scientist, courtesy of the attention he attracted as a Nobel Prize winner.

Two scientists who can sway state government policy are Lions Eye Institute director Ian Constable, who is also a member of the Premier's Science and Innovation Council, and chief scientist Lyn Beazley.

Professor's Constable's eminent position was highlighted this month when he was named the inaugural winner of the Sir Charles Court Inspiring Leadership Award at the 2008 Western Australian Citizen of the Year Awards.

In the world of arts and culture, one of the most influential women in WA is Janet Holmes a Court.

She has used her family wealth, her public profile and political connections over nearly two decades to provide support for the arts and other philanthropic activities.

In the media, The West Australian's editor, Paul Armstrong, plays a significant role in setting the political agenda in WA.

Not content with reporting the news, Mr Armstrong brings an activist campaigning approach to his role.

He is also regularly accused of being sensationalist and biased, to the point where Premier Alan Carpenter and Attorney-General Jim McGinty have been scathing in their criticism.

Seven Network chairman Kerry Stokes tried to use disaffection with The West to oust the incumbent directors of West Australian Newspapers Holdings this year.

His well-funded campaign stirred enormous community interest, but even a person with Mr Stokes' financial and political clout was unable to win the victory he sought.

Local councils have limited financial resources and decision-making authority, nonetheless, City of Perth Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi and her Fremantle counterpart Peter Tagliaferri have important roles.

Ms Scaffidi, in particular, is trying hard to have a constructive relationship with the state government to facilitate more development in the city.

A handful of senior legal practitioners in WA are in positions of enormous influence.

The Corruption and Crime Commission, headed by Len Roberts-Smith, has become one of the most important institutions in the state.

It has extraordinary surveillance and investigation powers, and its reports have brought many careers, in government administration, politics and lobbying, to an end.

The CCC's latest 'scalp' was Health Department boss Neale Fong.

The Parliamentary Inspector of the CCC, Malcolm McCusker, is equally influential.

He has produced a series of strongly worded reports bringing into question the judgement of the CCC, in the process challenging its credibility.

Director of Public Prosecutions Robert Cock is a third legal professional with influence that is independent of government.

Mr Cock's decision last week to not prosecute Dr Fong over the CCC's adverse findings illustrated the power that rests in his hands.

A fourth highly influential legal professional is Chief Justice Wayne Martin.

He is pursuing reform of the court system, and as a result may have the most lasting impact.

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