11/07/2006 - 22:00

Who really wields the power and how did they get it?

11/07/2006 - 22:00


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Politics has always been a subject we’ve tried to cover objectively, seeing the issues from a business point of view, which is often quite removed unless the subject affects the bottom line.

Politics has always been a subject we’ve tried to cover objectively, seeing the issues from a business point of view, which is often quite removed unless the subject affects the bottom line.

A couple of weeks back, we did one of our more politically orientated pieces, our Most Influential feature, which acknowledges that the decision making power in Western Australia exists with the state government.

Basically, if you want to undertake a major development or are trying to influence reform in an industry, the state is where the power lies, no matter how centralist the federal government may want to be.

Of course, we took a business perspective.

Naturally, not everyone agrees. Bob Maumill from 6PR took me to task on a few of our choices when we discussed the list on air.

Mr Maumill disputed several of our top 10 choices, especially the business leaders we placed there.

He believed that federal senators Ian Campbell and Chris Ellison, local power brokers in the Liberal Party, had significant clout. Mr Maumill mentioned the federal government’s IR legislation as an area they had influence on that was affecting WA. I’d beg to differ on this.

The IR legislation is something that business – big businesses, like those headed by the leaders we mentioned – has demanded for some time. My reading of this is that IR is something that John Howard has wanted to change for a long time, too.

Maybe the WA senators had a role in the detail, but driving forces of change? I’d have to see more convincing evidence than what I’ve been presented with.

Both the aforementioned senators got a good write up from us. We acknowledge their place, we just dropped them below the top of the ladder.

Another player Mr Maumill viewed as more important was property developer Nigel Satterley. Again, we gave Mr Satterley prominence without placing him in our top 10.

While he can no doubt get things done, he needs two things to achieve the success he has in property – government approval and a strong economy.

Again, the state government and big business deliver this.

Finally, Mr Maumill reckons the editor of The West Australian sits among the most influential of Perth.

We agree that Paul Armstrong has influence, though we disagree with the degree.

The newspaper has developed a more campaigning style under Mr Armstrong’s stewardship and he might even claim a few victories, such as the OBE back down and getting country of origin labelling for fruit and vegetables.

The big question is, how influential is the virtual monopoly newspaper? Many would argue that such tactics simply flame the fears of the readership rather than tackling a subject objectively.

In my view, by taking an extreme, hardline approach on some subjects, the newspaper has damaged its credibility among the very decision makers it needs to influence – even those who agree with some of its stances. It’s a case of short-term gain at the expense of the long-term positioning of the masthead.

Still, that’s my view, not my problem.

As part of that Most Influential survey, I asked our political columnist Joe Poprzeczny to devote his column to the state Liberal Party.

It was a tantalising viewpoint that examined who had power but also castigated the state opposition for the way it handled its internal affairs.

That column has attracted some criticism, namely a strongly worded letter from party president Danielle Blain. In turn, her view brought a response from former powerbroker Noel Crichton-Browne

It’s the kind of stuff that editors generally revel in. Though we at WA Business News don’t normally court controversy, in this case I have to say I welcome the debate.

From a personal point of view, I have no particular interest in the outcome except that I believe in robust democracy. And for that you need a strong opposition that a significant proportion of the voting public sees as a credible alternative government.

Mr Poprzeczny follows up all this debate this week with some gratuitous, and most likely unappreciated, advice.

The essence of the column is that the strength of a political party is in its ideas and whether these can ignite the public’s imagination.

He makes a good point. Of course, it’s difficult to achieve this in opposition but, in my view, it comes down to ideology.

All political parties must have a core ideology that they stand for. Those that chop and change to suit the political wind, or the needs of their benefactors, will struggle to find a chord with voters.

Governments can get away with this, as long as the opposition fails on this front. But once voters know and accept what an opposition stands for, there is the opportunity to exploit weaknesses in government.

Right now, it is difficult, in my view, to understand what the Liberal Party stands for in WA.

Even the WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry, normally a natural Liberal sympathiser, has taken the party to task this week over its failure to support deregulation of our antiquated liquor laws.

Maybe if the state Liberal Party accepted that free market economics, which have led to unprecedented growth around the world for the past two decades, can also work here, they might have a chance at winning an election.


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