08/07/2003 - 22:00

State Scene - New cabinet gets cosy

08/07/2003 - 22:00


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NOW the second Gallop cabinet has bedded-in it’s worth considering more closely the reshuffle and some outcomes.

NOW the second Gallop cabinet has bedded-in it’s worth considering more closely the reshuffle and some outcomes.

The first observation is that ministerial realignments are predictable, since they’ve become traditional when governments reach mid-term.

Precisely why they’re done isn’t easy to fathom.

There’s no reason why cabinets shouldn’t remain unchanged throughout parliamentary terms, thereby increasing the odds of having greater ministerial expertise in oversight and wiser policy implementation.

Probably the best explanation for change is that MPs and ministers whisper to premiers, each other and factional chiefs, about ministerial colleagues’ alleged shortcomings, and eventually that whispering is accommodated.

Another is that reshuffles make premiers feel they’re, well, premiering.

It also reminds ministers and backbenchers who’s boss.

Unlike Liberal premiers, Labor’s can’t decide cabinet membership.

Labor MPs attain ministerial rank via factional wheeling and dealing in smoke-filled rooms, and good old-fashioned backstabbing.

But Labor premiers can have a say on who sits in what deckchair, and the reason generally given for ministerial reshuffles is that they’re done for the greater good of the ship of State, otherwise they’ll all go down like the Titanic at the forthcoming election.

In other words, party polling highlights sensitive issues and ministers are gauged against findings that are sometimes embarrassing.

Liberal Premiers have carte blanche when choosing cabinets, with the proviso that during the conservative Court-Cowan years a secret written contract existed under which the Nationals received a specified number of ministries.

That meant the Nats negotiated themselves into acquiring proportionately more ministries than warranted by their statewide vote and the number of seats won. Realpolitik, the Germans dubbed this.

Furthermore, there’s no way Liberal MPs could become agriculture or transport ministers, because the Nats saw them as theirs.

But back to Dr Gallop’s latest deckchair rearrangements.

Firstly, hardly stressed was that although staying with a 14-member ministry – three fewer than the Court-Cowan years – Premier Gallop now has eight parliamentary secretaries – that is, assistant ministers.

Executive or ministerial work is, therefore, now undertaken by 22 MPs, with more than one assistant minister per two ministers.

Dr Gallop seems to be moving towards each minister having an assistant.

Although assistant ministers are significantly cheaper than ministers, they nevertheless qualify for additional benefits and gain prestige.

State Scene feels forced to predict that assistant ministerial financial benefits will soon be markedly boosted and there’ll be Labor cabinets of 28 in a parliament of 91 MPs, or nearly one-in-three, which is simply outrageous.

Why not simply scrap parliament and elect a 28-strong cabinet … 14 ministers and 14 assistants?

The Court-Cowan cabinet had between two and six assistants with his 17-strong ministry, so 19 to 23 conservative MPs, while Dr Gallop has now reached 22.

Does this suggest Dr Gallop’s promise to trim cabinet from 17 to 14 was a miscalculation, even if a vote winning one?

Boosting assistant ministerial numbers seems to suggest so.

Now for the more significant changes and retentions.

Firstly, moving Attorney-General Jim McGinty into health was clearly the most significant.

This isn’t entirely surprising since he and Police Minister Michelle Roberts – Labor’s Right factional chief – largely designed this reshuffle with Dr Gallop simply their front man.

Bob Kucera was evidently judged as not fully on top of things, meaning he’s in the company of Court-Cowan Government health ministers and most before.

No Government appears to know how to effectively administer this large, costly bureaucracy, and it’s time they did.

There’s enough brainpower in WA for implementation of real solutions to this big, important agency.

All one can presently suggest is that you keep your fingers crossed. Mr McGinty taps into that brainpower – hopefully by promptly reading several Peter Drucker books – rather than just issuing edicts as was the case during his Miscellaneous Workers’ Union and University of WA Student Guild days.

Removing Tom Stephens from areas involving adjudicating tenders and contracts was wise.

As for the remainder, they’re largely six of one, half a dozen of the other.

The most regrettable retention was Judy Edwards in the environment portfolio. We still await her first inevitably pro-green forest management plan.

The pertinent question here, however, was who would replace her.

The fact is that not since the Lawrence Government’s Bob Pearce has an outstanding minister headed environment.

Thankfully Clive Brown continues in State development, with duties streamlined so he can hopefully focus on big issues, including kick-starting a few major projects.

He’s clearly a good performer but unfortunately the ideological blinkers of too many of his party room colleagues, and Dr Gallop’s pandering to the Greens, is debilitating.

Just look at Dr Gallop’s sinking  of the $200 million or so North-West’s Rottnest Island-style job-creating Maud’s Landing resort simply because he was afraid of the Greens and a tiny group of wealthy southern eco-activists.

Predictably Kim Chance remains at the head of all primary industries.

Thankfully Deputy Premier Eric Ripper retains energy because of his commitment to introducing competitiveness across the electricity market, something the conservatives and their energy minister Colin Barnett refused to do despite the 1993 Carnegie Report recommending it.


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