16/09/2003 - 22:00

State Scene - Joe Poprzeczny: Good jobs at mates’ rates

16/09/2003 - 22:00

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MOST of us have been told, or have subsequently worked out, that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

MOST of us have been told, or have subsequently worked out, that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Where better than WA’s party political scene to clearly demonstrate this?

Last week State Scene logged on to browse some ministerial press statements and parliamentary questions to gauge precisely how Geoff Gallop’s Government had performed in appointing buddies and pals to government boards, tribunals and committees (GBTCs), or quangos, as they’re also known.

Back in the lavish 1980s, during the Burke Labor years, such appointments became a burning issue amid claims of quango and other jobs for the boys, girls and the sisterhood.

After an hour of web browsing State Scene found more than 20 quango appointments, and each made telling reading.

The recipients break down as follows: two former Labor Federal MPs; five former State Labor ministers, two former State Labor MPs; one former Federal Labor candidate; a former Greens MP; five unionists; one spouse of a former State Labor minister, one spouse of a currently sitting Labor MP; one former interstate Labor minister; and a handful of what look like ideological sympathisers.

State Scene has subsequently learned of the appointment of the spouse of another State Labor MP as executive director of a significant little quango, to the tune of about $120,000 plus car and ‘all the fruit’.

In other words, things haven’t changed an iota in 20 years.

But there’s an added sting this time.

One of the Gallop Government’s unionist appointees, in November 1998, publicly slammed the Court Government’s quango appointment practices.

This now former unionist, who was recently appointed chairman of a significant government agency and to head an inquiry, was reported claiming way back then that Premier Court “needed to assure the public that the positions were filled according to merit, not political kinship”.

“The Premier has brought this all on himself,” the former unionist, now quango chairman, claimed (The West Australian, November 23 1998).

Famous last words.

Clearly GBTCs remain resting pads for party and ideological pals and allies who reap nice sitting fees and other ‘fruit’.

If anyone dared suggest to a Gallop Government minister that their appointments of the boys, girls, sisters and spouses was a re-run of the 1980s they’d become upset and, in all likelihood, respond with a suggestion to have a look at what the Libs and Nats did.

In other words a pot calling the kettle black or, if it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for us, defence.

However, that response no longer washes.

And the reason is that four months after the Gallop Government grasped the reins of power in May 2001 it ordered a review of membership of GBTCs.

Premier Gallop initiated this review because he’d concluded the selection or appointments process to WA’s nearly 900 GBTCs was severely flawed.

A press report announcing his review claimed it was convened “amid suspicions that GBTCs are stacked with members linked to the Liberal Party” (The West Australian, May 5 2001).

To drive this point home that report named several former Liberal heavyweights, listing their remuneration or sitting fees, which ranged from $75,000 for the head of an important agency to $100/hour for one regulatory agency.

Whether those named and the amounts paid were given to the press by a Gallop Government spin doctor isn’t known.

The published list included names of a former Liberal leader, former Liberal Party president and vice-president, and a friend of a Liberal minister.

But let’s return to May 2001, to the review Dr Gallop ordered, which was headed by Wanneroo Labor MLA Dianne Guise.

Her report, submitted in August 2001, carried the idealistic-sounding title State Government Aiming for Greater Diversity on Boards and Advisory Committees.

The thing that must be said is that it was a thorough piece of work, a revealing, thoughtful, well-reasoned and well-researched document that made several excellent recommendations, and so is well worth reading.

Among other things it showed women were markedly under-represented in GBTC appointments, as were those of non-mainstream ethnic groups.

The Guise Report recommended that registration of interest to become a GBTC member be streamlined.

“In recent years there has been concern that membership on Western Australian GBTCs has not been truly representative of the diversity of the WA community,” her report says.

“In light of this concern, the Premier asked me to conduct a review of the membership of Government Boards and Committees.

“As the primary source of information of people from the general community interested in serving on GBTCs, the Interested Persons’ Register should be afforded a large priority when vacancies occur on GBTCs.

“There is widespread concern however, that this list is being ignored.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests that the register in its various forms has never been utilised with great success as a source of candidates for vacancies on GBTCs.”

Two years after the Guise Report was submitted you’d be hard pressed convincing anyone that greater diversity in appointments had been achieved, since it’s so easy to find top GBTC posts being manned by ‘true believers’.

All this prompts one to wonder what’s happening across the public service, especially at the upper echelons.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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