The politics of imagination

IF Labor is removed in February 2005 it may be because Premier Gallop is leading what is emerging to be the most unimaginative government WA has had since the 1930s.

It has yet to surface with an original idea.

The only really novel one it took into the 2001 election – making WA a trail-blazing democratic State and society, with voters electing their governor – Dr Gallop promptly reneged on.

Otherwise it’s just plodding along.

Consider the $1.4 billion plan for the Mandurah-Perth-Joondalup railway along the freeway.

As State Scene pointed out earlier this month, the Canning and Swan River foreshores plan surfaced without a skerrick of far-sighted consideration about its impact upon Perth’s CBD.

Related aesthetic, tourism and quality-of-life considerations were simply ignored.

It’s as if an anti-car boffin hatched it with no-one consulted.

Last week I met Perth City councillor Bert Tudori, who will chair a special council committee to look into the long overdue sinking of the ugly Perth-Fremantle lines and the 13 valuable CBD hectares they stand upon.

One reason he’s taken on this added chore is that Planning Minister Alannah MacTiernan’s Mandurah-Perth-Joondalup proposal completely ignored enhancement of the CBD by sinking those lines.

Cr Tudori says that’s unacceptable and short-sighted.

He wants the lines between the Horseshoe Bridge and the freeway network (Fitzgerald Street) sunk and is assessing how this valuable, centrally situated 13ha could enhance Perth.

Unlike the Gallop Cabinet, Cr Tudori is imaginative as well as concerned.

One far-sighted idea Cr Tudori says should be actively canvassed is setting aside part of this land for a Guggenheim Museum.

Those unaware of what the name Guggenheim implies in cultural and intellectual circles worldwide should log on to the Guggenheim’s websites.

What you’ll find are details about one of the world’s great cultural, artistic and intellectual venues.

It was established in 1925 and now stands on Manhattan Island with its permanent home designed by the great American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

This magnificent institution is the outcome of the far-sighted American philanthropist, Senator Solomon Guggenheim. New York now has two Guggenheims, on 5th Avenue and Broadway. Las Vegas is the venue for a third.

But this great cultural institution has also gone international, having given birth to three more Guggenheims – in Berlin, Venice and Bilbao in Spain’s Basque country.

The new and old-world Guggenheims house some of the world’s great art treasures, including works by Chagall, Kandinsky, Picasso and Van Gogh.

Moreover, the Guggenheim Foundation offers artistic and other fellow-ships to “engage in research in any field of knowledge and creating in any of the arts”.

Two years ago a group of imaginative, civic-minded citizens in Geelong formed a Guggenheim group that aimed at emulating Berlin, Venice and Bilbao, in the process making their city the venue of the first Southern Hemisphere Guggenheim Museum.

To date, nothing has eventuated, which Cr Tudori says means Perth ought to explore launching a similar bid.

“WA and Perth are closer to South-East Asia by far,” Cr Tudori says.

“We’re emerging as a favoured temperate climatic venue for southern-bound Asian tourists, which means a Guggenheim would sit well at the heart of Perth.”

He says a Southern Hemisphere Guggenheim along the Berlin, Venice or Bilbao lines would not intrude upon the CBD or Northbridge.

“Guggenheim Bilbao has injected over a billion dollars into that city’s economy, so we could expect some-thing similar,” he says.

The interesting thing about Geelong’s efforts was that Victoria’s Steve Bracks-led Labor Government fell in behind them.

Mr Bracks met Guggenheim Museum’s chief Thomas Krens.

However, Geelong’s biggest problem from the outset was its inability to convince men like Mr Krens that it could attract enough people – a problem Perth, with its 1.4 million inhabitants and growing tourism sector, is less likely to encounter.

Furthermore, unlike Perth, Geelong is without an international airport.

What’s amazing is that the Gallop Government – ever eyeing-off gallup polls, and focusing upon election 2005 – doesn’t realise Western Australians appreciate imagination and boldness.

Caution is alright, but forever sitting on one’s hands is not.

One reason former Liberal Premier Sir Charles Court commanded such respect was that he – love or hate him – as head of a big State, always looked at the big picture.

Even fallen Labor hero, ex-Premier Brian Burke, had an imaginative streak, which tragic-ally became entangled with other less desirable characteristics.

Mr Burke wanted, sought and encouraged imaginative initiatives, such as the Perth Mint’s successful gold coinage minting operation. Let’s not allow his other failures and failings to overshadow this and other achievements.

But Gallop-led Labor is timid, seemingly set to ostracise big thoughts and bold moves.

It’s time cabinet’s two former Perth City councillors – Ms McTiernan and Police Minister Michelle Roberts – invited Cr Tudori to cabinet for a brainstorming session.

We could all benefit.

Who knows, it may even mean Labor being re-elected.

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