Political prisoner the start of saga
A MAN dubbed Western Australia’s political prisoner was emerging as a player in a major furore that would threaten the career of a Federal minister this week 10 years ago.
Former public servant Brian Easton was residing briefly at Casurina Prison after being jailed “at the discretion of the president of the Legislative Council”, for refusing to apologise for allegedly breaking parliamentary privilege.
His petition, which was tabled in WA Parliament in 1992 by then Labor MP John Halden, kicked off what became known as the Easton Affair and ultimately led to the Easton Royal Commission.
The petition made allegations, which later proved to be false, that then State Opposition Leader Richard Court had provided confidential information to Penny Easton in a case against her former husband.
Mrs Easton committed suicide in 1992 after the petition was tabled.
Former WA Premier Carmen Lawrence, who at the time was Federal Health Minister and being touted as a future Australian Prime Minister, later found herself embroiled in the controversy.
She was the head of the State Labor party when Mr Easton’s petition was tabled in Parliament, though she denied having any knowledge of the petition.
And while the spark of the Easton affair was starting to be fanned into flame, WA Liberal Government ministers were also fending off allegations of extravagance.
The Opposition claimed the Government had spent $19.5 million on areas such as self-promotion, refurbishments and “jobs for the boys and girls”.
The Government hit back with the argument that WA taxpayers were still paying $100 million in interest alone on the WA Inc debts incurred while Labor had been in power.
On the topic of WA Inc, the then head of the Australian Securities Commission in WA, Murray Allen, was arguing strongly for the conspiracy trials against Laurie Connell and Alan Bond to be heard by a judge alone.
He said the complexity of the cases could prove too much for a jury.
Also on the business of Government, the State Government Insurance Commission was having another tilt at selling its SGIO Atrium building.
The SGIC had tried a public tender process but that, while drawing interest from Asian investors and Australian investors, the price of $40 million was seen as too high.
This time it opted for a private treaty sale with an asking price of … $40 million.
The Business Council of Australia, meanwhile, was weighing into the business of Government debate suggesting the Commonwealth State Financial Relations system was in need of an overhaul.
The council said without change, the funding arrangements could cost Australia five places on the international rankings.
In the far north east of the State, the WA Government was finalising plans with its Northern Territory counterpart over new infrastructure for the Ord River irrigation scheme.
At the opposite end of the State, Warren Murphy had left the chemical and fertiliser arm of Wesfarmers to take the top job at its most recent acquisition the Bunnings timber group. He told reporters that the move to one of Australia’s most controversial industries, woodchipping in old growth forests, had been a revelation.
In the resources world, Australian base metals miner Western Metals reported a 20 per cent increase in throughput from its Cadjebut mill in the first five months of operating its Lennard Shelf base metals project in the Kimberley.
On the technology front, ZBB Technologies had bought the assets and intellectual property of zinc bromine battery technology under development at US company Johnston Controls.
Now called ZBB Energy, the company has recently launched a prospectus for an Australian Stock Exchange listing.
Also this week 10 years ago, in what could be construed as a good omen for likely Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley, Prime Minister John Howard was on the cusp of taking the Liberal leadership.
Mr Howard replaced Alexander Downer and went on to defeat then Prime Minister Paul Keating.