04/05/2004 - 22:00

The responsibilities of power

04/05/2004 - 22:00

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In WA Business News' annual feature on the State's most influential people, Mark Beyer explains why people such as Neil Hamilton, Tony Howarth, John Langoulant, Geoff Gallop and Jim McGinty are the real 'movers and shakers'.

The responsibilities of power

IT’S hard to look past the office of the premier when assessing the most influential people in Western Australia.

Hard, but not impossible.

Geoff Gallop wields enormous influence by virtue of his position as premier, but he does not dominate the current State Government in the manner that Sir Charles Court and Brian Burke dominated theirs.

That partly reflects his personal style.

It also reflects the fact Dr Gallop does not have a strong power base among the Labor Party factions.

This stands him in contrast to Attorney-General and Health Minister Jim McGinty, who heads the ‘left’ faction, and Police Minister and party president Michelle Roberts, who heads the ‘new right’ faction.

Another person wielding key influence in the Government is Eric Ripper, by virtue of his portfolios of treasury and energy.

In researching this series, WA Business News spoke to many people who emphasised the influence of Mr McGinty, Mrs Roberts and Mr Ripper in the State Government.

Opinions were divided over their ranking, but it was widely agreed that these people, along with Dr Gallop, are pivotal to the performance of the Government.

They have direct ministerial responsibility for some of the most sensitive issues facing the State – health reform, policing, energy, government spending and taxes.

Perhaps more importantly, they lead the Government in setting its overall direction and tone.

The 52-year-old Dr Gallop worked as an academic, at Murdoch and Oxford universities, before entering politics in 1986.

He became State leader of the Labor Party in 1996, succeeding Mr McGinty who had struggled to connect with the public during his three-year stint as opposition leader.

Dr Gallop was elected premier in February 2001 and, judging by recent opinion polls, faces a tight contest at the next State election, expected to be held in February next year.

Some of his critics believe he still views the world through the prism of academia, with a somewhat detached, ‘bookish’ approach to issues.

His interests are partly reflected in his choice of portfolios.

As well as being premier and minister for public sector management, he also has responsibility for science, citizenship and multi-cultural interests.

Mr McGinty was secretary of the Miscellaneous Workers’ Union before entering parliament in 1990.

He has driven arguably the boldest reform agenda of any minister in the current government.

As attorney-general and minister for electoral affairs, he has introduced very significant changes to the judicial system and the legal profession, including reforms to remove discrimination against gay and lesbian people and de facto couples.

Mr McGinty has also pushed hard (though without success) to overhaul the State electoral system in favour of a one-vote-one-value voting system.

In June last year his workload mushroomed when he was given the health portfolio, arguably the toughest job in government.

Since then, he has set in train a reform agenda that will lead to the biggest changes in WA’s health system in many years.

Mr McGinty’s ‘left’ faction is aligned with Mrs Roberts’ ‘new right’ faction, giving them majority control of the Labor Party.

Attempts by factional opponents to wrest control of the party have led to an unseemly series of allegations about vote rigging and branch stacking, the outcome of which is far from clear.

The factional battles have reportedly led to rising tension between Mrs Roberts and Dr Gallop (who, as ever, is seeking to stay in the independent middle ground) and the party’s State secretary Bill Johnston (who is linked with the ‘right’ faction).

Mrs Roberts was a teacher, public servant and Perth city councillor before being elected to parliament in 1994.

Like all spending ministers, she and Mr McGinty have to get their departmental budgets past Mr Ripper, who holds the all important treasury portfolio.

The business community has been critical of Mr Ripper for presiding over high spending and high-taxing budgets over the past three years.

This week’s State Budget gives Mr Ripper a rare opportunity, courtesy of strong economic growth boosting revenue collections and increased federal grants, to win back friends with both tax cuts and spending increases.

Earlier this year, budget preparations would have been the last thing on Mr Ripper’s mind as he battled to cope with the collapse of his ambitious energy reforms and February’s power crisis.

The latter event certainly would have dented Mr Ripper’s standing, yet he has survived and, barring another dramatic crisis, looks safe in his current job.

Other key players in the state government include Education Minister Alan Carpenter, who is seen as a solid performer and a potential future leader – in part because he is an independent and therefore acceptable to all factions.

Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan also holds a key portfolio, as does State Development Minister Clive Brown.

Ms MacTiernan is an energetic, hands-on minister who gets involved in detailed policy formulation, often to the frustration of those around her.

Her political legacy is bound to be the $1.3 billion Mandurah rail link, now under construction.

In 10 years’ time, when patronage of the Mandurah railway should be clear, we will all be able to finally decide if it was a piece of visionary planning or a white elephant that leaves the State further in debt.

Mr Brown is planning to retire at the next election, due in February, but is still hard at work as an energetic advocate for the resource sector and other project developers.

A black mark against his record will be the hyped development of the Burrup Peninsula, which has failed to live up to expectations.

Offsetting this is Mr Brown’s successful advocacy for ChevronTexaco’s $11 billion Gorgon oil and gas project, despite criticism by environmental groups.

Mr Brown has also strived to maximise the local spin-off benefits from the big resource projects.

Politicians outside the ministry worth watching include Mark McGowan, who is close to the premier and a likely minister should Labor win the next election, and John D’Orazio, one of the key numbers men in the party.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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