Thursday, March 15, 2012

CCC issue showcases WA’s great planner, err Premier

I don’t blame Leader of the Nationals Brendon Grylls for his decision to risk everything and run against a popular Mayor in the Labor-held seat of Pilbara at the next election. I mean, just imagine how frustrating it is being him – or for that matter, any other ambitious subordinate of our hyper-cautious, slow-moving statesman Colin Barnett.

A case-in-point is the growing furore around whether or not Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan lied or indeed just honestly stuffed up when by incorrectly recalling the precise time of when he first learned of last year’s Roleystone fires. I get the “integrity” issue – our top cop shouldn’t lie to a formal inquiry - but even in the unlikely event that it was intentional and not just flawed memory, is this really a matter that should occupy the resources of the State’s Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC)?

Speaking from Singapore with Paul Murray on Perth radio 6PR today, the integrity-focussed Premier confirmed he didn’t think it was worthy of a CCC investigation:

“However, I’m staying out of it… Allegations have been made and in my opinion the CCC has no choice but to enquire into them. I just hope they can do so as quickly as possible.”
And why does the CCC still have “no choice” but to waste its precious time on yet another nonsensical witch-hunt that will do little other than cast a shadow over the reputation of our hard-working emergency services?

The uncomfortable, yet true answer to this question is unfortunately the same for so many other points of inertia that is causing damaging internal conflict and frustration as well as external reputational issues to the WA Government – and it is quite simply, Colin Barnett.

Let me justify that claim.

As I demonstrated in “Humpty Dumpty fell – do something about it or stop whining and get over it!”, the Premier’s tendency to clumsily think out loud before shoring up a plan of action has caused more than a little uncertainty within government and industry regarding the future of WA’s energy sector. Although in that case, the Energy Minister hasn’t helped by insensitively “napalming” the State’s corporate knowledge in the area, the one guy who genuinely could have made things happen 3 years ago, is still just talking about it.

After a quick (and I mean literally 5 minutes) search of Hansard, here are some of the things the Premier has thought-out-loud about the CCC during his last 3 years of no public action:
“It is certainly my hope, and I think most members would agree, that the resources of the Corruption and Crime Commission and the very extensive powers of the CCC should increasingly focus on dealing with organised crime. That is certainly the intent of the government.” - Thursday, 28 May 2009

“The Liberal–National government will also target organised crime, with the introduction of anti-association legislation aimed at groups who come together to engage in criminal behaviour. We will also broaden the powers of the Corruption and Crime Commission in this area.” - Tuesday, 23 February 2010

“We have also seen the issue… of what might be seen to be normal disciplinary processes dragged into the Corruption and Crime Commission and gain a level of public and media interest that is perhaps unwarranted. Again, that is another area of full reform that we will be entering into as a government; that is, the role of the CCC will be more related to organised crime, and there will be a balancing out of the matters that should go to the CCC—presumably, criminal or serious corruption issues—and the matters that are more of a disciplinary nature and should be dealt with by the Public Sector Commissioner.” - Tuesday, 22 June 2010

“The government’s legislative agenda also includes legislation to allow the Corruption and Crime Commission to focus more on organised crime…” - Tuesday, 15 February 2011

“The Liberal–National government makes no apologies for its tough law and order agenda… As promised, the government will target organised crime this year… The government will also introduce amendments to the Corruption and Crime Commission Act to extend the CCC’s powers to investigate organised crime.” - Tuesday, 21 February 2012
In the Premier’s defence, some might argue that he’s busy and three years simply isn’t long enough for anyone to work out about how to modify the parameters of such a complex issue.  Hmm… that argument might float if it wasn’t for yet another awkward truth – Mr Barnett started thinking about these issues at least 9 years ago, when as Leader of the Opposition, he said this during the second reading of the enabling Bill:
“The Opposition is supportive of the Government’s measures to build a more effective mechanism to fight corruption and crime. This Bill establishes a particularly powerful body… In that sense we must be conscious as legislators to examine and find the correct balance between the powers needed to control corruption and the potential threat those powers may in turn mean for the rights of individuals to maintain their livelihoods, their freedoms and their reputations… We should also be conscious that the CCC will have wide-ranging powers that will extend not only to police and public servants but also to judges, ministers, members of Parliament, public officers and police officers. That is acceptable, but in this business we all know how easy it is to make allegations. Allegations can be made by people outside this House, and sometimes they are made by people from within this House. If an allegation is made against a public figure, particularly in Australia, it is very hard to defend. Great damage can be done to people in public office and to their families by scurrilous and unfounded allegations…” - Wednesday, 4 June 2003
For me, the most frustrating part of drawing all this together is that I know the Premier is a good bloke. I also know he’s smart and considered, and I for one want those qualities in the guy representing our great State domestically and particularly abroad, as he is today.

But Colin Barnett has another good quality that unfortunately compromises his ability to get things done as Premier – a paralysing fear of having his personal integrity questioned. This is indeed a double-edged sword for him, especially with regard to the CCC issue.

Every rational person would agree that we need a strong, independent body to ensure corruption at crime does not pervade our community. I’m certain most of those people would also agree with the Premier – that the CCC should focus its limited resources on the most serious end of the spectrum. But alas, in our adversarial system of government, the Premier knows that as soon as he stands up to commit to the changes he has talked about for 9 years, he will be accused of compromising his integrity and that is an inevitability he has not yet been able to personally reconcile.

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