15/04/2003 - 22:00

State Scene - Maybe Orwell was right

15/04/2003 - 22:00


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“BRIAN Burke will now become a very tragic figure.”

“BRIAN Burke will now become a very tragic figure.”

They’re the words of my long-time friend, the late Associate Professor of politics, Patrick O’Brien, who in the 1980s led the extra-parliamentary campaign against the Burke Government’s costly business dealings.

Paddy uttered them to me shortly after Brian Burke was so severely judged by the Lawrence Government-initiated WA Inc Royal Commission, which wound up investigations in 1992.

Mr Burke had fallen from the great heights of being a Godfather-like State Labor leader, seemingly successful premier, Australian ambassador to Eire and the Holy See, and was even touted as a future Labor Prime Minister.

Soon after, he was jailed.

Paddy was years ahead of most WA journalists and all academics in perspicaciously and promptly assessing what the early Burke years were essentially about.

So much so that he’s now recognised – grudgingly by some – as the one who coined that snappy catch phrase, WA Inc, which so aptly described the Benito Mussolini corporatist-style economy Mr Burke sought for WA.

But Paddy was also compassionate.

He came to feel a degree of sympathy for Mr Burke once the WA Inc dust had settled.

So how would he have reacted to last week’s amazing Gallop Cabinet decision to blackball Mr Burke and former minister Julian Grill from contacting any minister and/or their staffers as professional lobbyists?

Both men have been singled out for governmental ostracism. They’ve been blacklisted.

I’m sure Paddy would condemn this without hesitation.

How can a government that claims commitment to social justice justify singling out two individuals in a society of nearly two million people for such blackballing?

Cabinet has made both non-persons, something George Orwell highlighted in his brilliant book, Nineteen Eighty-Four, in the treatment of his fictional character Winston Smith.

Neither Brian Burke nor Julian Grill has committed a crime by working as a lobbyist.

Neither, to my knowledge, has been uncivil towards any Gallop Government minister or ministerial staffer.

Neither has sought anything more than what any democratic government is expected to do – listen to a case put by citizens on particular issues.

Yet both are to be treated as public pariahs, outcasts, and in the process have become WA’s first Winston Smiths.

It’s difficult to believe a WA government headed by someone who has not one, but two, Masters degrees – a doctorate and a bachelors degree – could tread this Orwellian path.

Is this just another bad West Aussie dream?

WA public policy, through this 1984-style Gallop Cabinet directive, has sunk to a newand unprecedented low.

Because it has embarked upon such a path it’s important to restate some basic tenets about lobbying.

Firstly, there’s nothing inherently wrong, immoral or undesirable about lobbying of governments in a democracy.

Secondly, it’s an age-old practice, as pointed out in State Scene last May, when quoting from a pathfinding essay by Canberra academic, Professor Clem Lloyd.

“The Old and New Testaments are studded with instances of pressure groups, lobbyists, profess-ional advocates, and the petitioning of potentates,” Lloyd writes.

“The courts of European monarchs such as Henry VIII and Louis XIV were designed at least partly to receive the petitioning, importunity and beseeching of the government.”

Modern democracies should similarly be open to approaches from electors or their agents, so, paid lobbyists.

Failure to abide by such tenets means a government is treading a dangerous path.

Problems only arise with professional lobbying when it’s unregulated, as in WA at present.

Under such circumstances it’s a clandestine activity, since electors cannot know of the actual or possible origins of particular policy initiatives undertaken by government.

To remove this clandestine aspect, all a government needs do is create an environment in which voters can become informed about lobbyist approaches.

As stated by State Scene last May this is easily done by legislating for lobbyists to firstly be registered, and secondly to report all of their lobbying activities over six monthly periods to a designated office.

And MPs or public officials being lobbied also should submit such returns.

It’s precisely this that’s legislated for by most American

State legislatures and Congress.

Can you imagine an American president or a State governor instructing their respective cabinets to cease dealings with a predecessor president or State governor?

Yet that’s precisely what is happening in WA.

The reason Dr Gallop’s Cabinet has opted for an Orwellian approach of blackballing Messrs Burke and Grill is because it won’t countenance a level playing field that impacts equally on all lobbyists, one requiring them to be registered and to periodically report on their activities.

The sooner that’s done the sooner Messrs Burke and Grill will cease being Orwellian non-persons.

Dr Gallop must immediately re-instate both to civil society and do what he knows should be done – legislative regulation of lobbying so it is brought out into the light.


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