Friday, December 21, 2012

It's time for political transparency in Local Government

As the Quick Brown Fox highlighted in yesterday’s freebie article, partisan politics is alive and well in Local Government – and Cottesloe Mayor Kevin Morgan and (according to Mr Morgan) Premier Colin Barnett, are both very aware of it.
While that might not come as a great surprise to many of us with a political background, Candidates in Local Government elections are not compelled to disclose political affiliations at any time – prior to, during, or even after their term as Councillors.
Don’t get us wrong, we see no problem with Local Government Councillors holding membership to political organisations. In fact we think Local Government could and probably should play a more active role in training future MP’s.
However, just as it’s important for voters to be aware if an elected representative is also a property developer who might personally benefit from a planning decision before Council, we believe the State vs Cottesloe et al (‘Councils for Democracy’) stoush demonstrates that it’s equally as important for political interests to be openly declared.
We guess that neither of the major parties will be keen to commit to a regulation that compels Local Government Candidates and Councillors to publicly declare their political affiliations for obvious reasons, but given 2013 will see both a State and Local Government general election, we thought the timing was right to raise the issue.
We will post the Liberal-National list on Monday and others as they come to our attention, but if you didn’t think Local Government was party political, here’s a list of members of the Labor Party who are both Candidates for the State election and current Councillors:

Local Govt Councillors who are also ALP State Election Candidates

Karen Steele
City of Bunbury ...

It's time for political transparency in Local Government

Cottesloe Mayor / "Independent" Candidate Morgan talks partisan Local Government

Cottesloe Mayor / "Independent" Candidate Morgan talks partisan Local Government

TGO readers know that we’re very supportive of Perth’s WTV (why not click the link and become a member?) community TV channel and we’re especially avid watchers of the programs “Undercurrent” and “Shadow Boxing”.
So it was of strong interest to us when Kevin Morgan, Cottesloe Mayor and so-called “Independant” candidate for the State electorate of the same name was interviewed by Tibor Meszaros on ”Shadow Boxing” this week.
As always, Mr Meszaros’ questions seemed to reflect a kind-of bewilderment with aspects of our political system, but regardless, he managed to extract some interesting comments from the self-declared independent, including this hypothesis of the motives behind some of Premier Colin Barnett’s past activities:
Tibor Meszaros: “What motivates Colin Barnett?”
Kevin Morgan: “Well, look, Colin Barnett was the architect of the splitting up of the old City of Perth. And…”
Tibor Meszaros: “When was that?”
Kevin Morgan: “Oh, that was in the early to mid 90’s and in the mid to late 80’s, Colin as the then worker for the business lobby group had put forward a proposal to split the city of Perth in order to ensure that the pro-Liberal candidates in the CBD were no longer outnumbered by their Labor Councillors in the suburbs. And he did this by basically making the CBD a Council in its own right as the City of Perth and his plan hived off the suburban parts of the old City of Perth into new Councils such as Victoria Park, Vincent, Cambridge etc.”
As well as apparently being very clear about the motives of the Premier, Mr Morgan – Local Government Mayor of seven years – seems to also flippantly acknowledge the presence of partisan politics in Local Government.
Let’s break this down:
  • Mr Morgan is the Mayor of Cottesloe, a Local Government Authority that has had a number of high profile disagreements with the current State Government
  • Mr Morgan, as Mayor of Cottesloe, has written to all Local Governments declaring the existence and promotion of a pseudo-lobby group known as “Councils for Democracy”
  • The Mayor has declared the Town of Cottesloe to be the Secretariat of “Councils for Democracy” – using rate-payer funded staff and resources
  • Mr Morgan is concurrently running as an “Independent” candidate for the March 2013 election, standing on a platform of “Giving voice to the interests of communities and to the health and well-being of their residents so as to temper the influence of election funding on public policy
  • Mr Morgan acknowledges that partisan politics play a significant role in the deliberations of Local Government
Hmm, the Fox thinks that Mr Morgan may soon learn the difficult lesson that unlike the local versions, State election campaigns get a lot more scrutiny from people who actively look for inconsistencies and potential conflicts in a Candidates’ public comments and activities, then happily join the dots for the voting public.
We will follow this post up with more information about party politics in Local Government over the coming days, post your thoughts, comments and feedback anonymously (or on the record) below.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

McGowan's stand risks losing Greens in Riverton

In perhaps what will become one of the key make-or-break decisions of the election campaign, Labor Leader Mark McGowan has promised a Labor Government would close the perpetually controversial Regional Waste Recovery Centre (RRRC) in Canning Vale.

The decision to jump in boots and all was undoubtedly taken to win the 70 or so votes the ALP needs in the electorate of Riverton to replace sitting Liberal member Mike Nahan with Hannah Beazley, the well-liked daughter of former Federal Labor Leader Hon Kim Beazley. And given the smelly recycling plant has been the subject of strong community outrage for years (since at least 2006 when Mr McGowan was the responsible Minister) there’s no doubt the unambiguous commitment will attract at least that many new primary votes.

Read the full text for free - sign up for a 100% free account and get the rest here: McGowan's stand risks losing Greens in Riverton

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Commissioner over-reaches (again)

I don’t know what it is about the title “Commissioner”, but it’s not only the Police Commissioner causing headaches for the Government by running his own agenda in the media.

Enter Michelle Scott, the Commissioner for Children and Young People (CCYP).

The QBF has some history with Ms Scott, who when I was Chief of Staff (CoS) to the new Minister for Mental Health, decided to ‘inform’ the Minister that she was about to embark on a witch hunt, oops, inquiry called “Inquiry into the inadequacies of Western Australia’s mental health facilities for Children and Young People.”
Now, the role of CoS isn’t defined anywhere, but I always considered it my job to protect the reputation and capacity of Government and the Minister by whom I was employed.

Needless to say, Ms Scott and I had a number of robust discussion about the nuances in the title of her inquiry and while the final report was called something a little less emotive, the Commissioner was fiercely protective of her “Independent” status and made no bones about the fact that my vigorous encouragement for her to think about the fact that the Government at that time hadn’t event been able to find an office for its nation-leading Mental Health Commission was neither appropriate or effective.

More at Commissioner over-reaches (again)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Q3 Public Sector expenses increase 4% despite "efficiency dividends"

This media statement published under the name of Treasurer Troy Buswell yesterday gave an overview of the September quarterly results.

The first half of the media statement is heavily focused on the lower revenue for the quarter and the corresponding $255 million reduction to the surplus over the same period last year. Predictably, among the explanations offered for these results were four mentions of changes to the Commonwealth GST distribution and two mentions of lower mining royalties.

Interestingly, the media team also decided to justify an upbeat view with this line that will surely draw a critical response from the CCI:

“Growth in payroll tax collections underlines ongoing strength of the economy“

Anyway, there’s also a cursory...

More at Q3 Public Sector expenses increase 4% despite "efficiency dividends"

AHA draws a line in the sand

The Australian Hotels Association (AHA) has published a media release pushing back against the ever increasing liability being left at the feet of bar staff.

Only a day after we called the Greens Senator Scott Ludlam to account for his irresponsible endorsement of violent vandalism in the guise of ‘demonstrations’, it struck us that this media release from the AHA was worthy of note.

The statement from CEO Bradley Woods congratulates a Federal Parliamentary Committee for its report into Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) but its not-so-subtle underlying message is...

More at AHA draws a line in the sand

AMA takes a gamble

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has published an unusually spirited political media statement saying in part;

“The state government must stand up to Crown Casino and prohibit smoking in high roller rooms”

While in this case the AMA’s message isn’t particularly surprising, saying so publicly using such strong terms is.
The AMA has a long tradition of being… how should we say it… diplomatic in its public advocacy efforts. But like many of its peers, the AMA appears to have become more willing to say it like it is on the record.

The QBF isn’t entirely sure...

More at AMA takes a gamble

Local Government's Cash4Containers campaign destined for landfill

The WA Local Government Association’s attempt to persuade the State Government to introduce a container deposit scheme via an online petition isn’t looking too good.

Over the past few weeks, TGO has noticed at least four Local Governments plus WALGA itself promoting this online campaign with formal media releases but sadly for them, as at 2am today, it had only managed to attract 60 “signatures”.

More at Local Government's Cash4Containers campaign destined for landfill

Senator Ludlam's abuse of Office

It seems yet again no one is going to publicly defend a legitimate business going about its business, so the QBF will have to do it again.

Appalling is the only word the Fox can find to describe the behaviour of Australian Greens’ Senator Ludlam in Federal Parliament yesterday for this motion and irresponsible postamble:

That the Senate-

(a) notes:
(i) demonstrations will be held in Adelaide, Perth and Darwin to mark the Toro Energy Limited annual general meeting on Wednesday, 28 November 2012,

More at... Senator Ludlam's abuse of Office

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Appropriate use of Ministerial resources?

Maybe it’s because I was lucky enough to attend (and debate) the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s “Accountable and ethical decision making” (AEDM) training course last year… or perhaps it’s just because I’m a jaded and cynical ex-staffer – either way, I saw this coming.

To help with context, here’s a line in Module 4 – Use of Public Resources of the AEDM training fact sheet under the heading of “What you can do in a leadership role” :

“Not use office time or resources for party political work...

Appropriate use of Ministerial resources?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Exclusive: Minister's "Hardship Tariff" policy mysteriously disappears

Here’s an interesting little message we received recently:

Dear Editor,
Thank you for your continued analysis of WA politics. We really like the way you tell the truth, which brings me to why I’m writing.
I am involved with an organisation [anonymised: ed.] that was contacted by a journalist at the West Australian several months ago asking for an official comment in response to a new policy that the Government was apparently going to announce within days. The journalist provided only the bare minimum of information but said the Minister for Energy was going to announce a new, reduced electricity tariff for low income households.
A formal, “on the record” response in support of the new policy was provided to the journalist within the time requested but the announcement never came...

More at: Exclusive: Minister's "Hardship Tariff" policy mysteriously disappears

Monday, November 12, 2012

"Exemption for Aboriginal enterprises" lazy and dangerous politics

For the record, TGO fully supports government spending on assisting minority groups, especially our long-suffering indigenous people. However, we’re growing very tired of lazy governments who give in to the temptation to just throw money at programs that inevitably become unproductive and inefficient cycles of fund-spend-fund-spend welfare.

It’s long been established that the best way to feed a man for longer than a day is not to simply give him a fish, but to teach him how to catch more.

So it was with great disappointment that we read... more at "Exemption for Aboriginal enterprises" lazy and dangerous politics

Friday, November 9, 2012

Toodyay sunsets are pleasant this time of year

I feel for Premier Barnett, I really do. He has always aspired to be the modern-day version of Sir Charles Court – leaving behind him a mountain of critical infrastructure delivered as a result of his visionary leadership and difficult decisions, perhaps even qualifying him for a Knighthood one day.

Remember the then Opposition Leader’s grand plan to bring water to Perth from the north via a canal? He certainly does. That visionary promise was widely seen as the reason the Liberal Party didn’t win the 2005 election – and the reason he had to step down as Leader back then. TGO readers probably know all this, so I won’t dwell too long, but after that deeply disappointing loss, Mr Barnett spent most of the next 4 years lurking...

More at: Toodyay sunsets are pleasant this time of year

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Buswell's bum bitten by buddy's bungling

Perhaps the biggest problem facing every politician now days is the sheer number of recording devices out there – it seems everyone has both a camera and an audio recorder in their pocket. For that reason, the QBF often feels conflicted when an elected official is recorded saying or doing something ordinarily human, but unbecoming of a so-called ‘leader’ on the taxpayer’s teat.

Having said that, the Fox feels no sympathy when an MP’s comment in Parliament comes back to bite them on the bum. They know they’re “on the record” when they speak in the Chamber and...

Read the rest at: Buswell's bum bitten by buddy's bungling

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Claims against Police in Rayney trial need urgent transparent inquiry

Irrespective of today’s outcome in the Lloyd Rayney murder trial, the Government must urgently initiate an independent, transparent inquiry into various claims of police bias and incompetence raised in evidence during the three and a half month court case.

While the QBF acknowledges that some of the claims made were merely an individual’s personal unqualified opinion, it is clearly in everyone’s interest to...

More at: Claims against Police in Rayney trial need urgent transparent inquiry

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Gas pipeline monkey's curly tale

I’ve said it before but it’s worth saying again: for whatever reason, Nationals Leader and Regional Development Minister Brendon Grylls is an uncommonly impatient politician. And his willingness to compromise process for outcome is why he and Premier Colin Barnett often come to blows.

A case in point is Monday’s post-Cabinet announcement that the Government will almost deliver on its election promise and probably build (but not this term) a Bunbury to Albany gas pipeline.

Back in August 2008 when Colin Barnett was the again new Leader of the Opposition and the Libs thought they had a chance of winning back Albany, it was a Liberal Party policy to spend $225 million on starting the project this term if elected. We know Albany stayed in Labor’s hands in 2008 but is now seen as “winnable” by both the Liberals and the Nationals in 2013. The lack of a formal coalition means both Parties are fielding a Candidate next year and consequently, the ability to tick off on a pipeline – any pipeline – before then is critical to both the Liberal and National “Vote for us because we deliver for Albany” message.

And that dynamic explains why one of the strongest champions of the pipeline in Government became Brendon Grylls.
Indeed, as Chief of Staff to the Energy Minister I recall a number of meetings and communications with Minister Grylls himself, urging me to...

Read the rest at Gas pipeline monkey's curly tale

Friday, October 19, 2012

Constable: “What is going on?”

Sometimes it would be better for the reputation of our Parliament if there was a little less time allocated to debate.

I know that sounds like I’m advocating for less accountability. I’m not.

Of course there should be enough time for everyone willing and able to contribute meaningfully to do so, but the fact is for various reasons, Members are often told to draw out (waste time) discussion. Sometimes this happens for very clever strategic reasons and other times it is as simple (and disappointing) as there not being enough business being ready to transact.

Beside the raw cost of operating an inefficient Parliament, the biggest problem of Members treading water is that after a little while, they tend to start arguing with themselves. Sounds odd, but when humans are asked to speak for 20 minutes on a particular topic ...

More at: Constable: “What is going on?”

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sex offender register to offer live GPS tracking* (coming soon)

*Fortunately, we aren’t quite there yet but given the trajectory the current Government is taking with its law and order policies, this headline almost certainly exists in our future.

You don’t believe me? Think about it.

Only two days after the launch of the slippery-slope public sex-offender register, the Minister for Corrective Services announced a Bill that would allow a Court to order GPS tracking of sex offenders. While this one has my full support (primarily because it will put the decision to monitor in the appropriate hands of the Judiciary), once it’s up and running...

Read the rest here: Sex offender register to offer live GPS tracking* (coming soon)

Government shoots for ALP plan and hits own foot

There was a fair bit of “Gotcha” being tossed around during question time in Parliament yesterday.

But sadly for the Government, the Dorothy Dix question designed to discredit Labor’s electricity tariff policy left the QBF wondering if the vitriolic response actually caused a bigger problem for the Government.

Here was the question Joe Francis, the Member for Jandakot asked his colleague Treasurer Troy Buswell:

"Like my colleagues on this side of the house, I am deeply concerned about...

Read the rest here: Government shoots for ALP plan and hits own foot

Friday, October 12, 2012

WALGA gets publicly political

The WA Local Government Association has a long and proud history of defending it’s members politically, but in the experience of the QBF, that defense has typically happened behind closed doors. As Chief of Staff to two Ministers, I was often involved in ‘robust’ discussions with WALGA about various Government policy issues – but again, like many sensible lobby groups, those issues were addressed away from the glare of the public.

Read more: WALGA gets publicly political

'Partner' pressures Gov't to overturn decision

For minority partners, the Nationals do punch above their weight.

After a couple of months of public debate and some open hostility, the Government (well, the Liberal part of it anyway) has decided to keep Tier 3 railway lines operating, much to the pleasure of the other part of the Government:

The rest at: 'Partner' pressures Gov't to overturn decision

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Premier's spin team delivers... in the short term at least

It looks like the Premier’s investment in spin doctors has paid off. Presumably the six or so “strategic communications” staff in his office had something to do with avoiding what could have easily been a very messy mixed message yesterday.

You see, while the Premier was being quoted in this Daniel Mercer article in the West Australian newspaper saying the Gillard Government “should drop” its planned renewable energy target, Ministers Grylls, Collier and Marmion published a media statement trumpeting the official opening of the Greenough River Solar Farm – without any mention of how the project might contribute toward WA’s part of the Commonwealth’s renewable target.

Read the rest at Premier's spin team delivers... in the short term at least

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Police Commissioner offers more policy advice

In yesterday’s article Top Cop shooting from the hip (again), I highlighted Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan’s apparent ability to do what many of his peers are forbidden from doing: publicly discussing issues of policy. Indeed, Mr O’Callaghan appears to be almost totally unencumbered when talking to his employers via the media across a number of portfolio areas.
This is of particular interest to the QBF because he distinctly recalls being told by the Premier’s right hand man in a weekly meeting of Chiefs of Staff that public servants talking publicly about government policy would not be tolerated. That warning shot was specific to a utility boss who had publicly answered some speculative questions, but the message to me and the other 16 Ministerial underlings...

Read the full article at Police Commissioner offers more policy advice

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Early end to Parliament?

I know, I know… out on a limb again. But humour me and see if you reckon my little theory is at least plausible.

Currently, the Legislative Assembly is scheduled to last sit on Thursday 15 November and the Council is due to rise for the last time in this session two weeks later on Thursday 29 November. In total, that means 4 more weeks (12 sitting days) of the Lower House and 5 weeks (15 sitting days) of the Upper House. The idea behind the LC sitting a week longer is that they will need that time to tidy up (pass) any Bills sent up from the LA before the March election.

But after seeing the Carpenter Government’s early election contributing to its downfall in 2008, why would Premier Barnett risk...

Continue reading - Early end to Parliament?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cabinet Conflicts of Interest

Here’s something to ponder…

If a Minister declares an interest in a Cabinet meeting and that declaration is subject to the “long-established principle” of Cabinet Confidentiality (i.e. secret for something like 25 years), what is the value of the disclosure?

This question struck me when I saw this recent question and answer in the Legislative Council:

Read more here: Cabinet Conflicts of Interest

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Yes, Commissioner (tails and their dogs)

I recall in Opposition, many members of the current Government held strong opinions of Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan – and they weren’t flattering.

Mind you, I don’t recall many people suggesting Mr O’Callaghan wasn’t competent. On the contrary, the problem we saw for the Minister of the day was the Commissioner’s superior ability – particularly in the field of public relations.

While back in 2006, the now-Premier was overtly supportive of the Commissioner, Mr Barnett did express his concerns about the chief of police’s propensity for publicity:

Keep reading at - Yes, Commissioner (tails and their dogs)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Premier’s poor management begins to bite

As Gareth Parker broke this morning in The West Australian newspaper, the Premier’s move to drop former Police Minister Rob Johnson from Cabinet has already come back to bite him. Mr Johnson has publicly explained that his decision to not back the Government’s CCC Amendment Bill was not related to the way he was treated by his Party’s Leader, but solely based on the details of the Bill.

And I believe him. While I’m guessing it feels pretty good...

Read the rest at

Premier’s poor management begins to bite

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Jeeves: my newspaper, pipe, slippers and that i-thingy please!

Disappointed is far too mild a word to describe how I felt when I read the weekly column from the “political editor” of Western Australia’s only Sunday newspaper (as it now reminds us on the front page) this week. For those who missed it, the author not only declared that he doesn’t own (or want) a so-called Smartphone, he also told us he doesn’t use Twitter, Facebook or other social media.

I don’t know what could have provoked such a “coming out”, but for the political editor of a newspaper that now distributes exclusive content via a paid iPad app, I worry that using such valuable column space to not write about politics might be the opposite of a good career move. It strikes me that with a bit of thought, he could have quite easily combined his outing as a Luddite with some actual politics. The way Western Australian politicians are using new media – and not – is the guts of a cracker column that face-to-face Joe could have penned.

Read the rest at Jeeves: my newspaper, pipe, slippers and that i-thingy please!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Staff payouts cover for poor management and weak leadership

There’s been some pretty big words thrown around since the Director General of the Department of Premier and Cabinet made public details of the payout of the former Government media adviser who sent a publicly available photo of Opposition Leader Mark McGowan’s home to journalists. The Opposition have used the word “corrupt” and the Premier said yesterday the payout in question was as a result of “high standards”.

Stripping the politics out of the issue, neither is correct.

Let’s first deal with the claim of corruption. Easy really - there wasn’t any. It looks smellier than it is because the Premier has refused to provide any detail of the payouts in Parliament over the past few months – and the smart-arse fooling around with subsequent Freedom of Information requests hasn’t helped. But that politicking aside, the DG offered all he could to someone who had been treated shoddily and somewhat ironically, the “generous” nature of the payouts actually confirms that fact.

There was no requirement for anyone to leave the State, nor was any part of the payment in exchange for staying quiet. Quite simply, the Government has been very lucky that the people involved have chosen to take that course of action for their own reasons, very lucky.
And that brings me to the Premier’s bizarre claim of the payouts being an example of the Government’s “high standards”

... read the rest at - Staff payouts cover for poor management and weak leadership

Friday, August 31, 2012

WA's new political portal launches:

WA's new political portal launches:

Western Australia’s new political portal, has launched today. provides a subscription-only web portal that includes the following regularly updated sections:

The Crude Oil (No opinion, no gossip: just raw information and summaries of what happened and what’s coming up in and around Western Australian Politics)
  • The Hill (Summaries and other information from Western Australian Parliament)
  • The Air (Political happenings on Western Australian radio and TV – including advanced notice of scheduled interviews of interest to GO readers)
  • The Alternatives (Official media statements and news from non-majority (Labor, Nationals, Greens) and Independent MP’s)
  • The Interwebs (The Interweb: News and interactions from various web sites and social media services relevant and interesting to GO readers (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook etc)
  • The Spin (Official media releases and posts from both the Executive and Administrative arms of the Western Australian Government – 150+ agencies and departments)
The Processed Stuff (Opinion, gossip and best guesses from us at The Good Oil and from our growing list of well-informed contributors!)
  • Reader’s Opinion (Opinion pieces and other articles written by our well-informed and often hilarious GO readers)
  • The Goss (Western Australian political gossip and opinion that GO readers have come to love)
  • The QBF (Opinion from the Quick Brown Fox himself)
  • Humour (A bit of light relief GO readers might find funny)
Subscribe now for exclusive access to all this valuable information.

Memberships are available on a Trial, Monthly and Annual basis. Click here for prices and more information. Advertising packages are also available.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Porter's Pearce pre-selection pomp

In advance of tomorrows Liberal pre-selection showdown for the Federal division of Pearce, Western Australia's former Attorney General/Treasurer Christian Porter has done what any well-funded, professional candidate for a poll should do - distributed his CV and references to those he wants to vote for him.

And the 47 page, glossy document speaks volumes about the man, the party and the emerging problem for us all in modern politics.

This article in today's West Australian newspaper says almost everything the pre selectors should know about the man - from the cutesy professionally staged photo of Mr Porter being embraced by his well-groomed wife to the pages of out-of-context single lines of "support" ripped from the pages of almost every newspaper in the land - it paints a picture of a somewhat narcissistic, yet accomplished young man who is on top of his idyllic life.

The message the document sends about the Liberal Party is unfortunate, to say the least, on a couple of fronts.

Firstly, the nauseating references from Fortescue Metals Group chairman and billionaire Andrew Forrest, Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief Sam Walsh and Oakajee Port and Rail chief John Langoulant just solidify the popularly held belief that the Liberal Party plays to the "big end of town" and often overlooks the value of small business and genuine local people. Being able to pick up the phone and solicit a reference from a senior executive of one of the world's largest companies is impressive, but what does Rio Tinto or Fortescue do for the people of Pearce? Where is the reference from a shop owner in Gingin or Steven Pollard, the Shire President of Northam?

The second, and much more problematic issue for the Party is the inclusion of references from several very high profile State Council members. If, and we all know it's a big if, the local preselectors choose to stand up and make a point about local candidates as they did in the recent state Churchlands seat, the only hope for Mr Porter is for the Liberal Party's State Council to overturn the decision. And that would cause a serious perception problem, if not a legal one for the Party. Given that these well regarded, high profile members of the Party's State Council have already effectively cast their vote in the most firm and public of ways, would this influence you as a local pre-selector? Would any loyal servant of the Party have the courage to preference someone other than Mr Porter knowing that their vote would not only be overturned, but also irritate senior Party officials?

At best, it's poor judgement of State Councillors to have provided a reference for Mr Porter at this point and at worst, it completely undermines the supposed sanctity of the local branch-led preselection "process" the Party relies on for credibility in the wider electorate.

The last, and most distressing point for us non-Liberal members is the problem Mr Porter's whole approach exemplifies - the tendency for modern political parties to preference celebratory and photoshopped finishing over real, raw, local people willing to jump in and scrap for their local issues.

Don't get me wrong, I believe Christian Porter is a very worthy candidate for any of our Parliaments - and I support his personal decision to follow his dreams.... But is he the right candidate for Pearce or did he only nominate for that electorate because of circumstance? It's obvious that it's the latter. He has no particular passion or connection with the area and the fact that he has chosen to sell himself to the people on the ground using glossy brochures, photoshopped staged photos and references from WA's most wealthy - and perhaps removed - elite, speaks volumes about what we, as a society are looking for in our future politicians.

I hope the preselectors of Pearce think hard before casting their vote tomorrow. Perhaps it's time to remind the tall poppies that they owe much of their place in the sun to the grassroots who let them through and supported them.

I wish Christian Porter well, but I really wish he had nominated for a seat that he was genuinely passionate about - even if it meant having to have a real fight for preselection. At least then we the voters could be confident that the Liberal Party candidates wanted to represent local people and not suspicious that they are just using us to get closer to a personal goal.

PS. This, like many documents, came to me anonymously - before anyone asks.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Reshuffle kerfuffle – Part 3: Murray Cowper

Other parts already published:

Other parts coming soon:

  • Michael Mischin
  • Liza Harvey / Rob Johnson
  • Staff fallout
  • Cost to the State
  • Other movements and their wider impact
“Murray Cowper! Murray for Murray! Murray #$%îng Cowper!! Seriously??”

Most phone calls I receive these days start with some sort of greeting (apart from the abusive ones that is LoL), but this is exactly how the well informed person on the other end of the phone began his conversation with me last Thursday.

And his disbelief is shared by many others in the Western Australian Liberal Party and beyond. I’ve had a number of confidential emails and phone calls from party members and even had a couple from Liberal MP’s who have been angered by the move.

Here’s a part of a comment that someone sent in response to Part 1 of this series. I did not republish it in full because I thought some of it was defamatory so I’ve removed those sections but not altered any of the words or context below:

“I struggled with the decision whether or not to comment on this post because what I am about to say will hurt the party I work for. But I decided at the end of the day, the truth needs to get out there at any cost.
I'll be frank and say the decision to axe Rob Johnson was a huge political mistake and may cost the Liberals the 2013 election. For numerous reasons, some obvious only to party insiders. But I'll make the following key points.
1. The Emperor, as he is now called by the party faithful, did not inform the Liberal party of his decision to dump Rob. Liberal Party HQ found out through the media. Yep, good ol' Colin holds the party in such high regard that we had to find out AFTER he had told the media pack of his plans to basically hand election victory to Labor. A further kick in the guts after the whole Kate Lamont shemozzle.
2. IF the Emperor had bothered to inform HQ of his decision to get rid of Johnson, we would have advised to do so would be political suicide, given that internal party polling clearly indicates that Johnson has wide community support and his tough law and order stance is keenly shared by the majority of the public. They know who he is, they know what he stands for and they like it. Any criticism shown to him by the media or Opposition doesn't stick, in fact, our polling showed that it actually increased his popularity. It is widely accepted that he largely contributed to our 2008 election victory and was streets ahead of Michelle Roberts and the Labor party in selling the law and order agenda ahead of next year's election. Colin has basically thrown that advantage out the window. With no thought. No consultation. No regard for party polling.
I'll make the point that politics did play a role in the decision to install Murray Cowper as a Minister.
Yes, the decision that had EVERYONE scratching their heads in utter disbelief and wondering if Cowper had undergone a brain transplant overnight. The truth is, Cowper threatened to go independent before the election if he wasn't given a Ministerial position. Whether he would have had the funds to do so will never be known because the Premier fell for his bluff and handed him a plum Ministerial job.
To all of the Labor hacks reading this, congratulations, you will probably be finding yourselves enjoying the luxury of Hale House come next March due to last week's incredibly foolish Cabinet reshuffle. “
Wow. We will talk some more about the appalling way Rob Johnson (and evidently the rest of the Party) was treated in another part of the series, but the bit about Murray Cowper speaks volumes.

As I reported in Murray for Murray-Welington? Maybe...  on 8 March, Minister Cowper (as he is now) was the only sitting Liberal Member to be challenged for pre-selection this time around. Without being particularly cruel to Mr Cowper, that challenge was seen by many as warranted.

To be fair, it’s clear to me that the big man also has a big heart. It’s clear that he is passionate about his politics. It’s clear that, as a former senior copper, he has had his fair share of real life experiences and understands some of society’s woes better than any of us. But sadly, it’s also clear that he doesn’t have the charisma or even subtlety required to appear competent during the cut and thrust of a Parliamentary question time, let alone the sometimes ruthless media pack that will await him in every day outside in the fern garden.

And any vision of a clumsy response from any Minister will decrease the public’s confidence in the whole Government – let’s not under-estimate that – Ministers are the only MP’s allowed to speak on behalf of “the Government” and therefore the public forms its opinion of the whole Government based on 7 second grabs of which ever Minister they see on the nightly news. Elevating Mr Cowper, especially to a portfolio like Corrective Services that sometimes requires a fast, eloquent response to reassure the public, is a big risk for this government.

With that in mind, the Premier’s decision to promote him ahead of so many others who have waited patiently on the back bench clearly wasn’t about proving he had lots of talent to choose from, because it kind-of suggests the opposite. So in the absence of another rationale for what many are seeing as an unwise promotion, it looks as though my reader’s suggestion stands – under Premier Barnett, the squeaky wheel does indeed get the oil!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Some thoughts on yesterday's "Local Jobs" rally

Regular QBF readers will know that I’ve been dealing with a fair bit on the personal front lately. However, since baby and mum are almost settled into a routine, I’m again spending most of my time trying to find and build a new career.

Yesterday I thought I’d try my hand at a bit of photojournalism.

Hence, I went along to the local jobs rally at Parliament House yesterday armed with my camera and iPad, hoping to tweet the proceedings and add a couple of supportive images. It turns out listening, tweeting and trying to upload high quality images from a proper camera (i.e. not a smartphone) is a bit more difficult for a newbie independent commentator than I had envisaged – so kudos to these who manage to do it day in, day out.

Anyhow, the best this newbie could do was listen, occasionally tweet and upload some photos 4 or 5 minutes after they were taken. Here’s one of my favourites:

What I saw was a good couple of thousand passionate people, the vast majority of whom were either wearing or carrying some sort of union branding, lobbying the government in a fairly basic but effective way – with their bodies.

While it was an impressive turnout and certainly made a point, I couldn’t help but thinking how the impact on Government would have been much greater if there wasn’t so much overt Union branding.

Of course, for the CFMEU, MUA and their peers, this was an important opportunity to demonstrate that they still have the ability to get thousands of people to down tools and interrupt traffic – I get that and understand that’s why they would have encouraged the promotion of their respective brands. But unfortunately for those who are genuinely concerned about the issue of local content/jobs, the 99% saturation of Union t-shirts and banners make it very, very easy for any Liberal Government to just dismiss the rally as their known enemies doing their usual rabble-rousing.

I’m not suggesting any change in tactics for the Unions, but from the perspective of someone who loves to play political chess, I couldn’t help but wondering if the self-promotion was more valuable than landing a blow on the Government.

Having said that, there were two interesting things I heard guest speakers say that in retrospect might very well answer my own question:

  1. The declaration by one of the Union leaders that “we are finally working together again to get justice”, and
  2. The inclusion of a couple of Federal ALP Ministers on their hate list.

The first point was an interesting public confession that unions haven’t been working well together recently. Clever. Our Premier could learn a lot from the person behind that comment. Swallowing just a little bit of humble pie in front of those who have lost faith in you goes a long way to being forgiven.

But again, as a guy who has spent most of his adult life developing strategies for political change, I found the second point a little confusing. Why would the Unions choose to muddy the waters, or indeed, dilute their very pointy message to the State Liberal Government by throwing in some parts of the Federal ALP Government? Maybe adrenalin got the better of the speaker and it just slipped out or maybe Minister Ferguson is so universally stinky to the Union movement, they strategically dropped his name knowing it might damage the Federal ALP Government and blunt their WA message.

I don’t know which it is but thought it was one of the few interesting moments of the day.

PS. Perhaps something else our Premier could learn - it's important to support your supporters: a message clearly not lost on 2013 ALP candidates Reece Whitby and Bob Kucera who were there yesterday.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Reshuffle kerfuffle – Part 2: Troy Buswell

Other parts already published:

• Part 1: Timing

Other parts coming soon:

• Murray Cowper
• Michael Mischin
• Liza Harvey / Rob Johnson
• Staff fallout
• Cost to the State
• Other movements and their wider impact

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Premier Barnett is a supreme thinker.

Take for example the way Troy Buswell found himself back in charge of the State’s purse strings last Thursday. From the outside, the Cabinet reshuffle the Premier announced last week looked messy, rushed even - and maybe it was -but the plan to give Mr Buswell the Treasury started a long time ago.

Given that Mr Barnett disclosed recently he had known Christian Porter was considering his move to the Federal sphere for “6 months or so”, this OpEd piece I wrote and never published in November 2011 shows the Premier was thinking of Troy way back then:

Something big shifted in Western Australian politics last week. Troy Buswell came back.
It was quietly reported that the Premier has asked Housing and Transport Minister Troy Buswell to re-join the EERC – the Economic and Expenditure Reform Committee. This group of senior Ministers meets regularly to scrutinise and evaluate proposals from their Ministerial colleagues. Basically, if someone wants to spend the State’s money, the responsible Minister has to make their case to the EERC.
And it’s not always a cordial affair. The meetings are often brutally open and frank in debate about the benefits of each proposal – economically and of higher priority to this group, politically. Ministers who don’t have the skills to sell their idea to their senior colleagues or bring forward a proposal that simply costs more than the EERC believes the State can afford, often leave empty handed.
Although the room also contains several advisers who play a significant part in the final decision, the meetings are typically chaired by the Treasurer who first asks the Minister to brief the meeting on the proposal. After the short introduction from the Minister or their Departmental Head, the Treasurer and his senior Cabinet colleagues ask clarifying questions. With the mix of personalities and intellect at the table ranging from cool, wise heads like Norman Moore, quiet contemplators such as John Day and ferociously barking attack dogs like Simon O’Brien and Brendan Grylls, chairing the meeting to deliver an outcome is no mean feat.
Which brings me to the big shift.
It is widely acknowledged that for a lawyer, Christian Porter is doing a great job of managing the State’s finances. Indeed, having sat through a number of fierce EERC meetings, Porter’s prosecutorial background equips him with an incredibly valuable skill for the Treasury portfolio – the ability to ask the right questions to quickly get to the crux of the issue.
So if the Treasurer is doing well, why would the Premier bring Buswell back to the EERC and risk it looking like a vote of no confidence in Christian Porter?
I propose two plausible reasons:
1. There will soon be a vacancy on EERC and the Premier is ensuring a hand-over
Given that the Premier confirmed Norman Moore expressed interest in the job of Agent General and then publicly defended the possibility of it happening, it is likely that the Premier is just ensuring EERC is fully staffed if Minister Moore departs in December.
The downside of this move is that Buswell’s presence on the EERC could cause tension between him and the real Treasurer – it’s always difficult to put aside anger and envy when you’re expected to work as part of a sled team that you used to lead.
2. December’s “minor” reshuffle will see more than just Troy Buswell back as Treasurer.
This makes sense on one level - Buswell is a standout in terms of intellect and political nous – exactly the kind of guy you would want defending the State’s economy in the lead up to the 2013 election. However, this is only sellable if Christian Porter is willing to say he isn’t enjoying being the Treasurer or moving on to something bigger and better. For those with ambition in politics, there’s only one job more coveted than that of Treasurer – you guessed it, the Premier.
As Premier, Colin Barnett is notorious for holding his cards very close to his chest so the public will know anything about his retirement plans until the day he enacts them. However, as unlikely as many say it is, it’s definitely plausible that he won’t be Premier at the next election.
Personally, the Premier turned 60 last year and after 21 years in the Parliament and 3 as Premier, he has a sizeable superannuation and good health that would allow him and his family to enjoy it. Professionally, he brought the Western Australian Liberal Party back from oblivion on the eve of the last election and has since stood strong and proud as the only Liberal Premier in more than his fair share of COAG meetings. Among an impressive list of his achievements in his 38 months as Premier, Colin Barnett brought the Queen to Perth, secured funding for the Stadium, started work on the foreshore redevelopment, sent more money to the bush than ever before and oversaw the beginning of construction of the Fiona Stanley Hospital.
Other than bringing water from the north, he has ticked a number of extraordinary boxes on any ordinary man’s bucket list – what else could he want in life? Perhaps a happy retirement on the porch of his Toodyay property reading about everyone dealing with what will be a difficult election in just over 12 month’s time.
Whatever the Premier’s rationale, the reinstatement of Troy Buswell to the EERC signals the beginning of a significant change to the Western Australian political landscape.
Watch this space.
Colin Barnett hates the way the West Australian newspaper has given him the unofficial title of “Emperor” but the fact is he plots, plans and executes in a way that would have embarrassed many actual Emperors of the past.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Reshuffle kerfuffle – Part 1: Timing

Other parts coming soon:

• Troy Buswell
• Murray Cowper
• Liza Harvey
• Michael Mischin
• Staff fallout
• Cost to the State

“Curious”, “erratic” and “suspicious” are all words you could use to describe it. Why did the Premier announce his Farnham-esque (“This is the last, last time, I promise”) Cabinet reshuffle on a Thursday while half the Parliament was still sitting?

In politics, Cabinet changes are big news. They are typically planned, with a full media strategy behind it to maximise the bang for buck and minimise any potential criticism. But this one wasn’t.

On the most obvious point, it’s far from usual practice and more than a little risky to announce Cabinet changes while Parliament is sitting and particularly only hours before the last “questions without notice” of this Parliamentary session. The Legislative Council is far less likely than their lower house colleagues to ‘go feral’ in that situation for sure, but nevertheless, the opposition was provided an unusual choice to really misbehave with minimal long term consequences. It turns out the ALP didn’t choose that path this time, but the point is the Premier took a gamble when he declared to the 500 Club fundraising breakfast that morning that he would be announcing a “wider than expected” reshuffle later in the morning.

And the question is why couldn’t he wait until 5pm after question time – or if he wanted the 6pm TV news stations, why not 9am Friday, just 24 hours later? Governments typically only make compromises by rushing out big stories like this to either distract the public (and media) away from some very bad news elsewhere or to circumvent some other unhelpful event, before it happens.

So what else happened on Thursday? There was the “no decision” of Environment Minister Bill Marmion regarding the release of the EPA’s report into James Price Point -but that was hardly something that was going to be overseen by environmentalists regardless. Then there was the Deputy Premier taking the media on a long-planned tour of one of the Government’s biggest claims to fame, the Fiona Stanley Hospital… but surely the Government would have hoped for otherwise “clear air” so nothing reduced the attention on such a good news story??? Other than that, I’ve struggled to find anything else that actually happened, state-wise.

So that leads me to suspect the rush was not to distract from something that actually happened, but to mitigate the chances of something bad eventuating. But it failed, like so many other attempts by this government to manipulate the media since late in 2008.

The threat they were trying to neutralise was of course, friendly fire.

I’m told before the Premier dumped former Police Minster Rob Johnson on Monday afternoon, he asked him to voluntarily resign. Mr Johnson refused and having shown his hand, the Premier was left with no choice but to make it, umm, un-voluntary. LoL

Anyway, there’s two important points that I wanted to make here:

  • To Mr Johnson’s great credit, even after that ugly interaction on Monday and learning that he was to be publicly dumped at some time soon, he attended several public media events AND flew to Melbourne for a meeting of Police Ministers, all the while maintaining a highly professional image.
Don’t underestimate the value of that - there’s been a lot of vitriolic “spit on your grave, good riddance” kind of comment out there since Thursday, but this man learned that he was soon to be publicly humiliated, held it together and got on with his job. Would you be willing or able to do that?
  • The Premier obviously knew from the moment Mr Johnson refused to resign, it was going to get ugly. He should have started this negotiation a long time ago, but I’ll explore that in a future part. However, given that he blew that opportunity and instead chose to thrust it on Mr Johnson on a random Monday afternoon, one might have thought he would also be brave enough to cop it on the chin (sorry about the pun, I’m in a good mood). Instead, he and his team of geniuses (as Minister Collier refers to them) decided to make the announcement while the outgoing Police Minister was on a plane flying across Australia. Good management? Nope. Honourable? I don’t think so. Another disastrous attempt at sneaky media strategy… yep.
And the rest, as they say, is history. After Mr Johnson landed and learned the Premier had done what he did – but only after and Mr Johnson deserves credit for that - he responded in the only way someone who had been treated so poorly could, with grave disappointment.

And given what I’ve just highlighted about our Premier and his advisers, that’s a disappointment we should all share with Mr Johnson today.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Minister Collier has to go

Yesterday’s post explained why the Premier’s imminent pre-election reshuffle should include a replacement for Minister Liz Constable, but she’s not the only current Minister he should jettison forthwith.

Today, I’ll explain some of the reasons why the Premier should take the opportunity to also drop Minister Collier who is, as you will see below, a much greater liability to the Government than the Minister for Education.

Firstly, let’s clear the air about something. My last job in the Barnett Government was as Minister Collier’s Chief of Staff and despite what he said to Paul Murray during this interview our relationship did not end amicably. In fact, the termination of my contract was a total surprise to me – delivered via SMS by the Premier’s Chief of Staff while I was in New York on annual leave with my pregnant wife. I have had one conversation with the Minister since then, which I initiated, at 1am from my hotel room. During that 30 second call, I asked what I had done wrong and his response was, “It’s not like that, we are just very different people”.

While thankfully we are indeed very different people, I had spent the vast majority of my time in Minister Collier’s office working to arrest the high level of staff turnover and build efficiency through improved morale – and had quite some success. But to a genuine narcissist, efficient teams and stable human resources are of little value.

Some will attempt to paint that as nothing more than a vengeful spit from a disgruntled former employee – so be it. Regardless of how my detractors go about trying to play it down, there are many other examples of the Minister’s total disregard for others - and that is why he has to go. A Minister’s stock-in-trade is the strength of relationships he or she holds. They need people to trust them enough to offer the truth when asked and be open to conversations that end in accepting a compromise, or favour, for the Government - for want of a less corrupt-sounding word.

But Peter Collier is simply not capable of building those kind of relationships. His lack of willingness to discuss his issues with me face to face is one thing, but he’s also done some pretty ordinary things to others – like asking me to replace his longest serving staff member while that person was on compassionate leave trying to cope with a terrible family tragedy.

Some might question the public relevance but anyone who has ever held a management position will immediately understand the cost of staff turnover and poor morale - in pure tax-payer dollar terms - on top of the lost time and corporate knowledge that is now in the hands of someone else. In his office of 13, Minister Collier has seen around 40 staff come and go – a complete turnover of staff 3 times in just over 3 years. Just think about how that kind of change would impact on your workplace.

And it’s not just his office staff walking away.

Astonishingly, the Minister seems almost proud to take credit for what he rather insensitively calls “napalming” the upper levels of management of almost every agency he oversees. In fact, every single agency (Training and Workforce Development, Office of Energy, Department of Indigenous Affairs, Western Power, Synergy, Verve and Horizon) have lost its CEO on Minister Collier’s watch and many, many more highly experienced Board Members have taken their expertise elsewhere.

I am even aware of anonymous correspondence sent to the West Australian newspaper claiming that as a result of bullying by the Minister, a number of staff at the DTWD have suffered and taken ill. I am sad to say that if I hadn't intervened and stood in the middle, I’m certain this would have continued with devastating outcomes. The West hasn’t printed the correspondence because until now, no one would validate the claims – although it did prompt the Public Sector Commissioner to undertake an investigation into the way the Minister interacted with the Department. And that’s another occasion when I had to mediate because of a broken relationship. I recall discussions I had with Commissioner Mal Wauchope while the Minister was standing over my desk, insisting that the terms of the investigation be changed to an “examination” that included a specific reference to yet another senior (and superbly performing) Departmental officer he had in his sights at the time.

And there are many others he has “napalmed”.

Since I started writing my blog, I’ve been contacted by others who used to report to the Minister – some with harrowing stories of bullying and intimidation. The cost to Western Australian tax-payers in golden handshakes, reduced productivity and lost corporate knowledge is literally incalculable. But on top of that, in three short years he has turned so many friends of the government into enemies he has become a liability to the Barnett Government on that basis alone.

But his narcissistic arrogance and non-existent people skills have damaged the State in so many other ways – for example the embarrassing trip to the UK where he managed to offend, or at least mortify every one of the senior CEO’s that spent their time and money travelling with us to try to promote Western Australia as a working destination. There was the CEO who told me I needed to stop the Minister publicly denigrating the countries hosting our delegation, the several who asked me to stop him staring into his mobile phone whenever they wanted a quiet moment with him and of course the humiliating lunch meeting with senior officers of the Irish government when he declared that he “doesn’t eat lunch” and spent most of the meeting walking around outside the glass-walled room talking on his mobile phone, while the rest of us spoke on his behalf.

Notably, he still hasn’t provided a report to Parliament explaining the outcomes of the expensive and damaging two week jaunt.

Not only was that trip damaging, it was exhausting for all involved because he has an overwhelming need to have expert knowledge of everything he confronts. That manifests in three significant ways:
  • His diary secretary is explicitly instructed to accept a maximum of only two meetings in his office per day (but occasionally takes more when absolutely necessary),
  • He becomes highly anxious and unpleasant when he is surprised, and
  • His departments are put under enormous pressure by being forced to generate briefing notes for every trivial issue, including his own Cabinet submissions.
There’s a reason we don’t ever see the Minister on weekend news or at weekend events – there are no staff available to provide background briefings!

But the Minister’s failure to manage and optimise relationships and the impact this has had on the efficiency and effectiveness of his three critically important portfolios isn’t the main reason the Premier should replace him in next week’s reshuffle. It’s the Minister’s propensity to shirk all responsibility and mislead Parliament that are the real hanging offences.

Sadly, I haven’t yet had time to trawl through Hansard for specific examples but there are more than a few occasions the Minister has misled Parliament – here’s just two that I heard during question time on 15 May:
“As far as chiefs of staff are concerned, I was very sorry to see Colin and Blair go; they went on to other things. Darren moved on to something else” [Yes, a reluctant stay-at-home Dad]
“I have had only one change in media officers… she was fantastic but she wanted something a little quieter” [Outright lie, she was effectively dismissed]
I promise I’ll do that research very soon - if the Opposition doesn’t get to it first - but my baby needs to be fed and I can’t end without mentioning the reason the Minister was referred to as “slippery Pete” long before the Federal Speaker fiasco arose – and the serious image problem it causes for the Government.

While we have the Premier on the radio regularly offending people with his somewhat charming “tell-it-how-it-is” style of honesty and accountability, the Minister for Energy; Training and Workforce Development; Indigenous Affairs is working the room, taking credit for everything positive and busily blaming everyone around him for anything less than pleasant.

Again, there are many examples of this in Hansard, but I really liked this report in the West Australian last week when he did a classic Bart Simpson (“It wasn’t me”) and blamed his performance in the House on the poor Police Minister - Collier silenced over 'fake cop' scandal. Now, it just may be true that Minister Johnson had provided instructions to his Upper House colleague on how to deal with tricky questions, but it’s far from collegiate and a long way from in the best interests of the Government to escape scrutiny by blaming an already vulnerable Minister.

And that really exemplifies the core of why the Premier should dump this Minister now.

He isn’t a team player. He doesn’t understand the need to assist his colleagues. He does not have the best interests of anyone other than himself at heart. Quite simply, Peter Collier is not worthy of the Ministerial salary based solely on his lack of competency, let alone the wider damage his reckless self-obsession continues to cause the state of Western Australia.

Note: To answer any question about why I’ve decided to tell “my story” now – two things:
  1. There’s a chance the Premier will promote Peter Collier in this week's reshuffle and he needs to be fully aware - so he can be accountable - of the truth before he finalises his decision.
  2. Personally, I’m ready and quite anxious to move on. My professional reputation has suffered because many former friends and colleagues were left to make assumptions about the circumstances of my departure while others were actively misled. I need to set the record straight so I can set about rebuilding the bridges that were burnt from under me.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Minister Constable has to go

Honour is a rare commodity these days. And sadly, it appears to be one that some believe they can expediently trade when it suits them.

Take Minister Liz Constable, for example.

Regular QBF readers know that I value the intellect of Minister Constable and believe she has been a worthy contributor to our Parliament over her 21 year career. But quite simply, she now has to go.

There’s a couple of sound reasons for this.

Firstly, as I wrote in Too little too late - revolt is nigh, the Premier is under growing pressure from his constituents (no, not his subjects in Cottesloe-I’m talking about those who elect the Premier in the Party Room) to move her aside and give some actual Liberal Party members a chance to shine. It’s virtually a no-brainer that a retiring Independent will not and indeed, can not spruik Liberal Party education policies the way they need to be spruiked in the lead up to an election.

This is so obvious, frankly it’s embarrassing that the Premier let the situation arise, let alone condone it for so long. The only possible justification he can cling to in that regard is the fact that the Cabinet is so short of women, although that doesn’t say much for his confidence in competent Liberal women in the waiting, like Liza Harvey.

But internal Liberal Party issues aside, Minister Constable was elected in 1991 after a heavily factional Liberal pre-selection saw her resign from the party and run as an “Independent”. From her first words in Parliament, Dr Constable championed a few key causes:

1. More women in Parliament

2. Various Education issues

3. A more “open and accountable Government”

She hasn’t achieved the first one – although in fairness to her, it’s simply too big an issue for any single MP to fix. On point two, Dr Constable did the virtually impossible and attain the Education portfolio as an Independent, however her performance as Education Minister is not without its critics.

But let’s take a closer look at her third cause.

Dr Constable started her Parliamentary career by paying tribute to her predecessor in the seat of Floreat, Mr Andrew Mensaros as a man who set high standards. She continued by saying, “I hope that I will be regarded in the electorate and in this Parliament as he was - a person of substance, of principle, of excellent judgment and of compassion.”

And therein lies the rub for the Minister.

Being a person of principle isn’t really a flexible term. You either are, or… well, you wake up every morning, avoid looking in the mirror and recite, “it’s better to try to fix the system from the inside than hold on to rigid beliefs and have no influence”. Indeed, in order to keep her seat around the big table, I imagine many of Dr Constable’s days now start with murky self-affirmations just like that one.

It really is difficult to understand how she can reconcile continuing to take a Ministerial salary while being complicit in so many compromises of her career ideals. For example, the Member for Floreat as she was at the time, spoke of the need for Freedom of Information legislation in these terms:
“It should require all Government departments and agencies to publish details of their operations and the processes they use in making decisions. By granting citizens access to Government documents, freedom of information legislation aims to increase the citizens’ powers over the power of the State and it lessens the State’s claim to secrecy. As such, it is one of the instruments of accountability.”
Of course, we now have FOI legislation but rather than it empowering those hoping to better understand Government process, Minister Constable’s Government has form in using the process to do quite the opposite (eg. Secrecy claim over Govt staff payouts)

And of course there’s the lobbyist legislation that Dr Constable unsuccessfully tried to enact as an unsupported independent backbencher in 2003 and 2007 – which still hasn’t been passed despite her current Government committing to do so in its first 100 days, 1,290 days ago….

If you’re like me and try to take a pragmatic view of things, these examples of small compromise are probably a justifiable way to hold influence and contribute to addressing bigger issues.

However, as a person of principle who has vehemently and almost exclusively championed the need for more Government and lobbyist accountability for more than two decades, it’s nothing short of disgraceful to declare retirement, reduce your workload and expect to continue to be fed from the tax-payer’s teat for the next 255 days.

The Premier has no choice but to drop Dr Constable from Cabinet when he announces his pre-election Ministerial line-up early next week.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The negative opposition fallacy

I was involved in a Twitter conversation last evening that was started with this Tweet by @sarahscustard:
“This campaign bugs me. Do you really have to campaign on negativity and cheap statements? :( #wapol “
I’m very sure it was a genuine question and not a strategic attack from an anti-Labor campaigner. Regardless, it led to a good, robust conversation that attracted input from the ALP State Secretary, two Members of the Upper House and a couple of others including social commentator and aspiring politician, @troutish and myself (@_darren_brown_).

It was worthy and while I won’t go on about the reluctance of this Government to use social media more proactively, the discussion did confirm two things for me:

  1. There’s a bunch of people out there who are interested in our political system but at risk of becoming disillusioned because no one takes the time to offer a counter argument to the cynical views developed by reading newspaper headlines and watching 7 second grabs on TV, and
  2. Social media, like Twitter, provides a massive opportunity for someone to offer that alternative view and hopefully engage more people in our political system.
I’ve always been an advocate for greater engagement and involvement , but until today hadn’t seen that it’s probably something I could be doing more to facilitate, for the betterment of all – and hopefully to prove that I have yet another skill worthy of payment! :-)

So let’s address the question raised earlier today.

Why are Oppositions so negative?

Firstly if the title isn’t obvious enough, they aren’t in control of the State’s policy agenda. That is, their job is to offer an alternative to the government, or to oppose. That doesn’t mean Oppositions blindly oppose everything just because they’re not holding the reigns. In fairness, there is actually a lot that happens in Parliament where all Parties say their piece, then agree to compromise a bit for the sake of practicality and productivity – during the committee stages of new Bills is a good example of where that happens a lot.

And because of that, it’s sometimes very hard for the media to report the happenings of Parliament in a way that will even be heard, let alone interesting to the majority. As an example, when I worked in the office of a Leader of the Opposition, I was constantly frustrated when news outlets would report the outcome of our Parliamentary tactics as, “The State Opposition failed to suspend standing orders today” when it should have been, “The Government used its majority to deny the Opposition’s motion to suspend standing orders today” - but again, most of the voting public would rather watch Bear Grylls sucking the gizzards out of a live snake than follow through on a headline that simply confirms an expected outcome, so in retrospect who can blame a journo for trying to “sex-up” a daily summary of Parliament a little?

So that leads to most of the voting public only ever hearing about the disagreements in Parliament, and only when they are passionate and animated enough to compete with Mr Grylls drinking his own urine – Bear, not Brendon that is. And from that, it’s really no wonder many believe that all Parliamentarians carry on like pork-chops every day and the Opposition (regardless of political colour) never offers anything positive to the debate, just criticism.

But it’s more than just perception. It’s a huge gamble for any Opposition Party to release any specific policy too far out from an election, particularly if it’s innovative or if it involves significant expenditure. And when I say too far out from an election, I mean pretty much anytime before the caretaker convention kicks in.

While this is frustrating for the public, it is really quite easy to understand.

In comparison to the Government, Opposition Parties really do have very limited resources. The Leader has 10 or so staff and that’s it. Everyone else is multi-tasking – and working only with publicly available data. The Government on the other hand, has access to privileged information and thousands of departmental staff available to analyse policy ideas both in isolation but importantly also how any change in direction would impact across the rest of the government, with the benefit of knowing what else is on the agenda.

This means an almost impossible no-win situation for any Opposition with big ideas. If they release an innovative policy before the caretaker period, the Government will employ its significant resources to study the opposition document and either adopt it and implement it if it’s a good idea or pick it to pieces and use its large microphone to explain every single risk or flaw, thus rendering the policy more of a liability than an asset to the opposition come election time.

And there’s one more legitimate reason for Opposition Parties to keep their big policies under wraps until close to the election – money. There’s a few variables that determine how much both the Opposition and Government can spend in election commitments.

Firstly, there’s the amount of money the State can squeeze from the Federal Government in terms of GST reimbursement. The Premier and former Treasurer made a lot of this lately and WA’s share is planned to fall significantly however, in terms of making election promises, at least this figure is known well in advance i.e. it’s something everyone can budget for.

The next big income source is one that neither the Government nor Opposition can accurately predict, although the Government has information that should always give them a better idea – Royalties. Given that the State’s income is increasingly bolstered by the sale of commodities, fluctuations in international demand and the value of the Australian dollar means no-one really knows precisely how much cash the State will get until the ships have unloaded their ore at their destination. Having said that, Governments will sometimes use very conservative assumptions as to the value of the Dollar and likely levels of export so they aren’t caught short – and that means they often have a larger than predicted surplus to play with every May.

The last one is the killer for Oppositions. The fact is, Governments ALWAYS try to underestimate the level of surplus in pre-election budgets so they can announce a surprise windfall (and associated new spending and projects) just in time with the election. Lots of games get played with the budget papers to hide or underestimate money in pre-election budgets and the one being debated in Parliament right now is no different.

The problem for the Opposition is they have to base their election promises on what is visible in the budget papers – if you believe you only have one dollar, it’s irresponsible to promise to spend two. However, the Government knows where the extra money is buried and exactly when it’s coming, so expect a new school, tax cut or some other sweet promise from the incumbent Government that the Opposition will never be able to match, simply because they didn’t know there was enough money to do it.

So really, Opposition is a pretty crappy game until a month or two before an election when the Government shows its hand and you get to see what they’ve been hiding. Until then, it’s almost always unwise for Opposition Parties to release detailed policy commitments because it’s simply too dangerous.

Having said that, it should be noted that New Labor, under Mark McGowan appear to have made the conscious decision to start rolling out election promises early. Given what we’ve discussed above, that’s remarkably courageous or just plain stupid, but I guess only time will tell.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Lord of the flies

Imagine you’re an honest, hard working kid who has been beaten up by the grumpy school captain for three years. Pretend that when you first met him, you admired his knowledge and thought you and he could be friends, but after trying for several years to get into his exclusive lunch circle, the most attention you have ever had from him is his wrath.

Then one day a kid who doesn’t mind copping a bit of his flak comes along and openly challenges him. Then a few others join in and soon it looks like he is about to fall… where do you think human nature would lead you?

As a keen observer of what makes us tick, I predict all those who have been ignored or beaten by the head bully would join together and assist the fall.

Enter Premier Colin Barnett, his “remarkable stable” Cabinet and the throng of eager but ignored backbenchers watching the chink in his armour widening…

I’ve said it before, but just in case I was too verbose – in politics, it’s easier to maintain the support of your colleagues if they like you. And it’s probable that if you irritate too many people, one day when you develop a little hole in your shiny suit, they will, at best sit back and let you fall or worse, join in the fracas and actively help bring you down.

So here we are.

The Premier has been Mr Grumpy Pants for 3 years, shown no faith in his wider team, irritated a lot of people along the way and somehow still thought he had enough friends to impose a candidate for Churchlands on the lay Party.

Something about chickens, roosting…

And his response?
"I think Kate Lamont was clearly the outstanding candidate in that field, some good candidates, but Kate Lamont should have been selected... The people of Churchlands, it’s the adjoining electorate to mine. They are basically Liberal voters. And they have an expectation that the Liberal Party will deliver the highest quality candidate they can into that electorate. And I don’t know that we’ve done that”
Instead of apologising to the candidate to whom he gave false hope and standing up to the outgoing Member, he attacks everyone else. He’s a knowledgeable man, but doesn’t seem to predict human behaviour very well.

Now back to the school yard.

Isn’t it now almost inevitable that all those kids he snubbed will see the chink in his armour and either watch while he falls, or actively contribute to his downfall?

PS. I was wrong in predicting which candidate would get up (because the western suburbs clique isn't as strong as they thought they were), but if you have time re-read the bottom of this article about why the Premier has sprayed the lay-party today: The unholy fight for Churchlands (part 2)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Response to reader "Wizman" comment

I normally post replies to comments as a comment, but I thought this one deserved a post of it's own.
In response to Even children have depth perception, wizman commented at June 15, 2012 9:54 AM:
i caught you on 720ABC in the afternoon talking about liz constable and her replacement (you and peter kennedy would be a great state politics double act). anyway, with christian porter leaving, will a backbencher get 9 months to show some promise or not? when liz constable goes and assuming barnett wins again at the state election, does the "new member" who may or may not be delivered by parachute get a free ride into cabinet, or again does barnett trust a backbencher? if he continually overlooks the elected members doesn't this just reinforce the opinion that there is no talent, or is it just barnett's "incompetence as leader" at work again?
My response:

Hi Wizman.

Firstly, thanks. I admire PK and would love to work with him (WABN and ABC: Hint! Hint!)

I honestly hope Mr Barnett takes a bit of a calculated gamble by throwing a couple of backbenchers in the deep end, but I really don’t think he will. He reinforced that yesterday in Parliament in an answer to a question without notice – he made way too much of the fact that he has had a “stable” cabinet, effectively making yet another rod for his back. He is a very conservative man who prioritises stability in the public sector.

Unfortunately, that causes two big problems:
  1. Retiring Ministers are very problematic at elections. Norman Moore will be in Parliament for a few months after the election (because the LC doesn’t change until May 2013), so that one is not a drama. However, how on earth is the Government going to articulate its Education election promises when their spokesperson can’t speak for the party (because she’s independent) or the future (because she won’t be part of it)? I’m guessing that’s another role the Premier will probably take on in the caretaker period before the election.
  2. The other, which I think is the biggest problem and one that Mr Barnett is not fully cognisant of is the huge morale problem brewing in the back bench. Imagine being a 2nd or 3rd term Liberal backbencher who has played all the games and done as you were told for the last 8 or 12 years and hearing the Premier cite Independent and National MP’s as evidence of his available talent. Good leaders are inclusive and lay out a growth path for their ambitious subordinates – and Colin fails to do that over and over again. He needs to remember what happened to Natasha Stott-Despoja and Kevin Rudd – both very popular with the public, but rolled by their immediate constituents – their subordinates – because they weren’t making them feel valuable.

Colin’s reluctance to take a punt on anyone new is not evidence of the depth of the talent pool. It is, however absolute evidence of one of Colin’s worst qualities, which will be his downfall in spite of his many good ones.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Even children have depth perception

My father is good man. He has always been kind and loving and also knows a thing or two about human nature. And he used that understanding to teach me some valuable lessons. As a child, I remember sharing dad’s warm and secure canoe in the middle of a serene section of the Collie River during a camping trip in the area. My memory is that at the time, I had swimming skills but wasn’t a particularly confident swimmer - so guess what he did? Yep, unannounced he rolled the canoe onto its side and tumbled us both into the icy cold river. Within seconds I was doggy paddling strongly toward the muddy banks and from that day on, never again doubted my ability to swim.

It might seem a bit brutal, but it worked. Just like mother birds push their chicks out of the nest and horses nudge their foals onto their feet at birth, there really is something to the old theory of sink or swim.

But it seems much of today’s public don’t agree or at least don’t have the generosity to acknowledge that they do. Sadly, in the hours following yesterday’s resignation of WA’s Attorney General and Treasurer, I heard on talkback and read on news websites the same old tired rhetoric about the depth of talent in our parliamentary backbenches.

Rik Oshea’s post on the ABC’s Facebook page was indicative of many:
“My view? Staggering indifference. Had he stayed we'd still have a serious lack of depth problem. John Tonkin & maybe Sir Charles Court were probably our last real statesmen, not sure we have any great legislators at present.”
This is sad partly because it shows the level of cynicism the public maintain toward our Parliament but mostly because it is just so ill-informed.

The truth is it is very, very hard for anyone other than the Premier, Leader of the Opposition and Ministers of controversial portfolios (like Police) to get enough public airtime to be recognisable, let alone fairly judged on their abilities. Thirty minute press conferences are condensed down to a 7 or 8 second “grab” on TV news, newspaper column space has to compete with ever encroaching advertising to pay their bills and there is simply no way talkback radio can give any time to anyone other than the Premier and his direct nemesis.

The ugliest part of this truth is the vast majority of us would prefer to see a pretty blonde girl talking about the weather than watch an unscripted 3 minute address from any one of our political representatives. And because of that, it’s deeply unfair and often wildly inaccurate when people who have never met or even heard more than a 7 second grab from any of our Members of Parliament to judge their talent or lack of.

I know I won’t change many minds with this post, but I think it’s a very important point to make.
Journalists and their editors are often blamed for not providing the public with more opportunities to get to know their representatives in their own words - without truncation. But the fact is, like politicians, one way or another journalists get paid by the public and would therefore alter their content accordingly if there was a stronger demand for more open access to our MP’s.

That perpetual conundrum aside, of greatest disappointment to me as someone who knows there are many competent, hard working people who are invisible only because they are confined to the shadows of their respective Leaders, is that rare opportunities to shine a light on them aren’t being embraced.

I’ve made it very clear before that I respect Colin Barnett for his intellect and historical knowledge of all things politics, but his incompetence as a leader never ceases to amaze me. Yesterday, when a lazy journalist rolled out the cliché that he doesn’t have much choice in choosing a replacement for Christian Porter, he cited Ministers Constable, Hames and Buswell as evidence to the contrary. It is telling and deeply disappointing that Mr Barnett’s first and immediate reaction wasn’t to jump on the chance to talk about how he has too many competent backbenchers to choose from.

As I said above, there are a number of others in the shadows – on both sides - waiting patiently for their time to shine. Like my good old Dad, I have faith that many of them will quickly become strong swimmers if they are ever thrown in the deep end.

With regard to the Premier’s next move, I would love to see him undertake a bold reshuffle that sees 3 or even 4 backbenchers thrown in, but unfortunately I think his aversion to risk will see only one new face and a bit of a rearrangement of the deck chairs.

I hope some day soon our political leaders take the time to realise that blaming the media for missing opportunities is a moot point when so many massive ones float past them, the people we pay to set the agenda, apparently without even being noticed.