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Wielding influence

THE ‘most influential’ list in last week’s WA Business News has attracted a few remarks, as we thought it would.

While talkback host Paul Murray begged to differ on our list of State politicians – he reckons Jim McGinty is more influential than Geoff Gallop – there is always something that crops up to prove that such lists are mere snapshots in time rather than an enduring legacy.

Take the debacle surrounding the Democrats, for instance.

Senator Andrew Murray is one that we considered for our list of WA’s influential Federal politicians. His name was proffered by a couple of our well-placed contacts, but rarely with much evidence as to why he should be included.

Of course, we were well aware of Mr Murray.

He is a very active politician and quite vocal on a number of issues. WA Business News has published some of the material provided by the senator when we considered it of interest to our readers.

However, it would be fair to say that his influence, as a caucus member of a minor party, didn’t get him on our list.

That was before his comments to the media on the furore surrounding his colleague Meg Lees, which registered so significantly on the Richter scale, at least on the seismic equipment used down at the Democrat headquarters.

Since then, Senator Murray has pushed the Democrats’ leadership into calling his bluff, seemingly putting Natasha Stott-Despoja into a corner.

While many watchers of politics have lauded his tactics, there also has been a view that it is wrong for members of the upper house to isolate themselves from their party (as Senator Murray has done) for the simple reason that it was the party platform that got them to the position in the first place.

But is a senator’s seat really that much different to those held by members of the lower house?

Sure, lower house represent-atives are elected on a much more tightly defined regional basis and they win their seat alone, rather than by joining a queue.

But lower house politicians still use party apparatus to win preselection and their seat, more so in some parties than others.

To argue the difference is a pretty marginal call, I reckon. Of course, casual vacancies in the Senate are filled by the party, but does that extend to party splits? If there’s a name on the voting card, there must be a reason, even if most people take the easy route and follow a party ticket.

No matter how the system works in reality, candidates are voted for as individuals and plenty of independents get there too, just as John Howard knows.

To ask a member of parliament to quit his or her seat because they have had a disagreement with their party leadership is ridiculous. This is a matter of conscience for the politician involved and the electorate, come polling day.

The only reason this argument is getting such an airing is because of the impact of one individual on a minor (and increasingly irrelevant) party, where a handful of Senators like to think they can dictate the future of legislation put forward by parties that really did get a lot of votes.

Meanwhile, I’d give Mr Murray a berth on our most influential list – at least for a few weeks until the whole fuss dies down, or the Democrats implode.

Cost-cutting sleeper

CLOSER to home is a Government cost-cutting exercise that has been a bit of a sleeper.

In fact it has been largely ignored since its announcement by Premier Gallop at a recent WA Business News breakfast. But the razor gang led by Michael Costello, formerly Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary, deputy managing director of the Australian Stock Exchange and chief-of-staff to former Federal Opposition leader Kim Beazley, has only until Christmas to find $50 million a year in savings.

This is not only about helping give Geoff Gallop’s Government the $1 billion war chest it wants to prime for an election, but also to end the life of a few Court Government policies that apparently have an unstoppable momentum once they get the bureaucracy behind them.

It is almost amazing that such a high-profile review would be needed by the Government to root out Liberal programs that have outlived the tenure of their sponsor.

You would think that the ideas of the former government would be closed off quickly.

Yet we’ve seen many things that were distasteful to those in Opposition be embraced by their one-time critics when they find themselves in government.

At least one maritime museum would fit into that category, as I recall.

But, on the other side of the ledger, at least a change of government does not result in wholesale purging of previous policy without regard for the process by which it was brought in.

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