Proving that she can cover the whole country, Perth-born Hillary Bray provides a special look at some of the issues in the WA election. She reckons dodgy Doug Shave could be going down.
Hillary is filing this week from Steve’s Hotel Nedlands, just by the University of Western Australia, where a chunder stain from Bob Hawke’s student days has been lovingly preserved on the floor of the front bar. Blanche d’Alpuget is said to have wept the first time she visited this site.
Hillary hears that both Labor and Liberal internal polling should have Premier Rich the Runt rattled – but Geoff Gallop still needs a hell of a lot of seats to become premier.
Dishing it up in Dullsville
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
It’s all happening here in Perth. The Worst’s “Dullsville” headline is but a distant memory. Have a look at this piece by Matt Price that appeared in the WA edition of the Oz on Wednesday:
“Perth has acquired a reputation as Dullsville in recent months, but life under a Gallop government should be anything but tedious if Liberal Party propaganda is to be believed.
A “futuristic postcard” being distributed by Liberal backbencher Chris Baker, says that by 2002 West Australians will be tending to their cannabis plants, selling heroin in shopping centres and prostituting themselves on the streets under policies introduced by the new government. That’s when they’re not being encouraged by Labor to have sex with boys and experiment on human embryos.
Mr Baker’s imaginative portrayal of life under Labor has been distributed to every household in his marginal seat of Joondalup.
While the conservative backbencher described it as “a creative way of drawing attention to Labor’s policies”, Mr Baker’s opponents cried foul.
“It’s a pack of lies and the worst form of politics,” Labor drug policy spokesman Alan Carpenter said. “This bloke’s not fit to be sitting in parliament, he’s a disgrace.”
Mr Baker insisted his 2002 scenario was “possible” under a Labor government. He said he understood ALP policy supported the legalisation of marijuana, allowing five plants per person to be grown. In fact, cannabis use remains illegal under Labor policy, although the offence for any household caught with two plants or less would attract an initial warning, followed by fines.
The Court Government has already pioneered cannabis decriminalisation in Western Australia, where small-time users can attend a lecture to escape conviction.
Labor is also committed to calling a drug summit after the election, which Mr Baker said was a “front” for introducing radical drug policies, including heroin-injection rules. Mr Carpenter admitted a strictly controlled heroin trial was a possibility under Labor, if approved by the summit.
Mr Baker’s IVF claims are based on support for law reform in Western Australia, a move supported by many Coalition MPs.
Labor is also committed to removing discrimination against male homosexuals, and lowering the age of consent from 18 to 16 as applies to females.
Claims by Mr Baker that a Labor government would overturn the state’s mandatory sentencing laws ignore Dr Gallop’s success in winning approval of Western Australia’s laws at last year’s ALP national conference.
Mr Baker said Labor was seeking to disguise its policies to win the February 10 poll. “People should appreciate the social risk if they elect a Labor government,” he said.
Jesus! He makes Doug Shave look like a pillar of propriety. Talking of whom
Police Minister Kevin Prince offered last August to resign when his links to collapsed Albany finance broker Leon Jamieson were revealed. Back in 1982, when a lawyer, Prince had represented Jamieson in a criminal matter and may have referred clients to him over the years.
Jamieson ceased broking in July and was declared bankrupt the following month, putting some $1 million at risk, including $35,000 from an estate of which Mr Prince was a trustee.
Rich the Runt rejected Prince’s resignation – the closest the any WA Minister has come to taking responsibility for the finance brokers scandal. No-one was surprised. Rich’s brother, Ken Court, has been linked to a series of mortgage deals that turned sour. Other senior Liberals also have links to the finance-broking industry.
Best of all, has been the performance of Fair Trading Minister Doug Shave – the bloke supposed to be running the show. Doug helped his former father-in-law secure a payout from a broker in financial trouble – but has done bugger all for the other poor sods who have lost money.
Over 7,000 investors, mainly self funded retirees, a key Liberal demographic, have seen their nest eggs vanish. People in their sixties and seventies have gone back to work. Others have been forced on to the age pension.
In most cases, the problems are the same – an inability to recover capital, investment by brokers in unsaleable properties in overcapitalised areas and an inability to recoup income. For the unlucky victims of bodgie brokers, there is no way of knowing the outcome, nor the length of time it will all take. The uncertainty is a killer. No-one deserves this treatment, but for authorities and governments to ignore the older generation in such a manner to save their own political hides turns a scandal into an outrage.
John Urquhart, chair of the supposed watchdog, the Finance Brokers Supervisory Board, quit last year and told Shave to do the same – but Doug’s dug in, despite all the evidence that’s mounted against him during the Gunning Inquiry into the scandal.
Gunning for Dodgy Doug
One of the first statements to Ivan Gunning came from a former member of the Supervisory Board who claimed he told Doug of the need to give it greater powers at a meeting in 1997 – a year before significant problems emerged.
The current registrar of the Finance Brokers Supervisory Board, Susan Nulsen, refused to hand over controversial legal advice relating to the Government’s handling of the finance broking scandal following a directive from Doug not to supply the legal opinions.
You get the drift. In short, the inquiry uncovered firm independent evidence that Dodgy Doug presided over a massive failure in the regulation of the finance broking industry. But there was more to come.
In December, an Upper House inquiry into the finance brokers scandal reported. Once again, it’s simplest just to quote the Oz. Here’s what Colleen Egan had to say:
Court stung by own MPs
Two of his own MPs dealt West Australian Premier Richard Court a heavy blow yesterday, with a stinging parliamentary report recommending a full-scale inquiry into the finance broking scandal.
The unanimous report from five upper house backbenchers — two Labor, two Liberal and one Democrat — also recommended the Government “genuinely seek to reach agreement over compensation and assistance” to the thousands of investors who lost their life savings.
The report is in direct conflict with the repeated position of Mr Court and Fair Trading Minister Doug Shave, who have argued that the Gunning inquiry, which reported last September, was sufficient to investigate the scandal.
Mr Court has also said that the Government should not offer any compensation to investors, who claim that inaction by the Ministry of Fair Trading led to their losses. Mr Court and Mr Shave were unavailable for comment yesterday.
The two Liberal MPs, Ray Halligan and Greg Smith, dissented on only one recommendation in the report — that the new inquiry should not take the form of a royal commission, but a reconstituted and expanded Gunning inquiry.
They agreed that the inquiry should examine what they believed was collusion between finance brokers, borrowers, valuers, lawyers, auditors and their associates.
It should also consider whether the savings of self-funded retirees could fall into similar unscrupulous hands and whether government should tighten regulations in similar industries.
Wow! Doug, of course, has met with widespread support from his Coalition colleagues. Rich the Runt has been hard pressed to keep a lid on party room dissent and demands from his own backbench for Doug to resign or be sacked.
Back in September, Liberal backbencher, Bob Bloffwitch, said there were about 12 MPs who thought Doug should resign. A second Liberal MP, Derrick Tomlinson, said Mr Shave should have quit when the Gunning inquiry brought down its finding.
Tomlinson claimed the finance brokers scandal and Doug’s refusal to resign was “the number one talking point” in the electorate – adding “I think it makes it that much more difficult for the Government to retain government”.
Disgruntled Libs planned to put a no-confidence motion to a party meeting, but were blocked by a conveniently full agenda which did not allow any time for the matter to be discussed.
The most succinct comment, however, may have come from WA National Party President Ric Beattie. Beattie said it like it is, stating investors hurt by the finance broking scandal were part of the Government’s constituency and that “A lot of our people are starting to say Doug Shave is going to have to pay the price for what has happened.”
And now it’s election time.
Dodgy Doug’s cunning stunt
In a smart tactical move, Labor isn’t running in Doug’s seat of Alfred Bay. Instead, he faces s bevy of high profile independents, Liberal dissidents and minor parties. Preference flow will be vital – and that’s why Doug seemed so excited when he welcomed the nomination of independent John Grayden at the last moment.
Doug has suggested Grayden will be placed second on his how-to-vote card, ahead of other more high profile candidates and says Grayden is a genuine Liberal Independent, unlike the Liberals for Forests, which he claims do not represent the views of the party.
There’s also the fact the John-Boy is the son of a member of Court Senior’s Government, Bill Grayden – plus the rumour that Doug was desperate for anyone to run as a funnel for preference and that lad John was the only person in town willing to risk their reputation by being associated with the dodgy one.
Still, Rich the Runt has sent out a letter to every household in Alfred Bay saying what a wonderful bloke dear Doug is – so that’s all OK, then.
No independent has been elected to the lower house of WA Parliament – Liz Constable, Phillip Pendall, Ernie Bridge and Larry Graham were all originally elected as members from the major parties – but this could change on February 10.
Fashion designer Liz Davenport is running against Rich in his seat of Nedlands as a Liberals for Forests candidate, Graham Kierath is under challenge in his seat of Rivervale from a spartacist nurse, still smarting over his time as Labour Relations Minister, but Alfred Cove is where the action is.
The biggest name up against the Minister for Denying Dodgy Dealing is Denise Brailey, who has ruthlessly pursued Shave over the finance brokers scandal. The Finance Brokers Supervisory Board started to hear allegations against Albany firm Leon K Jamieson and Associates on Friday, adding more fuel to a burning issue.
City of Melville councillor Pam Neesham has formally nominated to contest the seat, along with John-Boy Grayden, Liberals for Forests will field a candidate, along with the Greens, One Nation, the Dems and Fred Nile’s Bible-bashers, the Christian Democrats.
Doug has drawn the number one spot on the ticket, so at least he’s guaranteed to get the donkey vote. There’s been some talk that Neesham might preference Doug, along with John-Boy and, given Shave’s own comments that One Nation could pick up three seats, speculation that rednecks who can count to two will preference Dodgy Doug.
However, a fascinating bit of trivia comes in here. The One Nation candidate Terry Corbett was an investigator for Fair Trading who gave extensive – and compelling – evidence at the Gunning Inquiry that files were being buried at the Ministry.
Interesting times lie ahead.
WA’s Commissioner of Fair Trading, Patrick Walker, told ABC Radio listeners in Perth last week about how he was keeping an eye on fuel prices. Pat so rightly said “the greatest gift you can give consumers is information about the market place.”
Well said, Pat – but there were never any consumer warnings to self funded retirees – now pensioners – about the risk of defaulting loans when they handed over their life’s savings to dodgy finance brokers.
Still, it’s very important that warnings are issued on such sensitive matters as petrol prices in the middle of an election campaign, isn’t it. Information, as you say, is a gift.
Right to know
Rich the Runt also knows how important information is. Right at the beginning of the campaign he was on the ABC too, saying “The people of WES-tern Australia have a right to know what happened.”
Trouble is, he was talking about WA Inc deals that took place more than a decade ago. If you ask him about brother Ken and his offsider Ross Fisher and the “pooled mortgage investments” they were flogging in the early 90s, then it’s an entirely different matter.
If you enjoyed that, check out Hillary’s earlier article on the WA election and a further examination of political donations in WA.
Crikey’s first election
It’s Crikey’s first election and Hillary is reporting from the spot, perched with a laptop on the rocks at Rotto watching the quokkas frolic in the West’s bright sun. And without any more ado, on with the show.
State of Excitement (not)
After hanging on to office long enough to pass his father Sir Charles Court’s length of term in office, family runt Richard has finally announced his big date with the people on 10 February.
Having announced the date several days earlier than he had to, wasn’t it an interesting coincidence it occurred on a day when the Bulletin spent four pages trying to bring the delights of the Queensland electoral rorts saga to Western Australia.
But anyway, back to Rich the Runt. Rich inherited two things from his father. One is the peculiar pronunciation of his state as WES-tern Australia. The other is the family motto of “I blame Canberra”. To this, the Runt has added another motto, “I blame Brian Burke/Peter Dowding/Carmen Lawrence/anyone who ever had anything to do with a Labor government”.
Which is where young Rich has a few problems. It’s eight years since Dr Feelgood was defeated, and now five years since Emperor Paul departed. He is having to stand on his own record, and it appears the electorate is a little underwhelmed.
The Runt spent last year deploring Canberra for all these illegal migrants arriving in the West not surprising from a Premier who said Paul Keating could only visit the state if he went through the formal channels. One wonders what Rich would have actually done with those boat people if for some reason the West had had control over the defence forces.
Anyway, Hillary digresses there. With the result depending on a string of outer suburban and regional seats, the pork barrel is out. Already it appears the government is promising that no pensioner in Bunbury will ever have to pay a bus fare again (two marginal seats there you see), and the government is happy to piss the proceeds of the Alinta Gas sale up against the wall for a railway to Mandurah (another two marginals there).
Whatever you say, Hendy
With the government certain to lose seats even though it will probably retain office the the power of National Party leader and Deputy Premier Hendy Cowan is likely to be increased.
Hendy is a big bloke. He played more than 300 games for Narembeen Football Club, and his approach to politics sometimes looks like the approach of a big bloke to football. The shortest distance to the ball is always in a straight line and if there is someone smaller between you and the ball, well, that’s their problem.
No one suggests that Hendy terrifies Rich the Runt, but there are not many people in Cabinet who ever willingly want to pick a fight with the Merredin Mauler. But don’t ever think he’s you’re old-fashioned redneck. On several occasions Rich has hinted at holding a death penalty referendum in conjunction with a state election, and it was Cowan that helped stamp the idea out. The WA National Party is a bit different than in the other states, having a rather green tinge. They started the Coalition backdown to protect the old growth forests in last year’s forests dispute with Wilson Tuckey.
For some reason, Tuckey seems to hate the National Party. Odd given he ran for them as a candidate in 1974. (For some reason they formed an alliance with the DLP that year and called themselves National Alliance. Poor choice of name.)
Hillary in fact thinks it would be good sport to lock Hendy Cowan and Wilson Tuckey in a room and see who survives. You could sell tickets to watch. It would be more entertaining than most Fremantle Dockers matches, anyway.
Labor’s woes in Pilbara
In the last decade, Labor has struck a few problems in its traditional mining heartland. Some have been simple demographic change. Less and less mining towns are being built, with the growth of fly-in fly-out operations. The folk who live in mining towns are more likely to be on individual contracts, and Labor’s old strength built on union solidarity has diminished.
Back in 96, when Graeme Campbell slagged off multiculturalism one too many times, Paul Keating kicked him out of the party. The Labor Party has been undergoing splits in the Federal electorate of Kalgoorlie ever since. The current state parliament ends with one lower house and two upper house Labor MPs from the area sitting on the cross benches.
The old blue collar but in reality small business mining sector has got mightily pissed off that Labor seemed to be worrying about Aborigines, and the conditions of the strippers and prostitutes in Kalgoorlie. What a hide! Don’t the Labor Party understand blokes have rights too?
Anyway, the Labor Party have picked a few too many female candidates for the blokes liking. One, female lawyer Megan Anwyl, should hold on to her seat in Kalgoorlie, but the Liberals are sniffing about. But up in Pilbara, the Labor Party disendorsed Larry Graham, the son of a former Labor Deputy-Premier, in favour of a female drug and alcohol counsellor, Jacki Ormsby.
Graham hasn’t taken it lying down and is now running as an independent. Former Labor Leader Ian “I love Brian Burke” Taylor has let his party membership lapse to campaign for Graham, and a Morgan poll last year indicated he will win the seat.
Still, new Labor candidate Ormsby is off and running. But choosing to sponsor a local horse race did not have the required effect. Rather than attract publicity, the Jacki Ormsby ALP Handicap rather highlighted the problem she has created for the party.
King Canute and the Kimberley
Hillary can’t quite remember the full story of King Canute, but it had something to do with tides, hence the link with Kimberley. At first this tale sounds obscure, but if the election is as close as some pundits are suggesting, then the whole fate of government could rest on the result in Kimberley.
Kimberley has been held since 1980 by the state’s only Aboriginal MP, Ernie Bridge. He had to fight long and hard to originally become an MP, the Court (the elder) government even changing the law in the 1970s to make it harder for blackfellas to vote in an attempt to prevent Labor winning the seat.
Bridge, as well as being an accomplished country and western singer (not that Hillary likes songs about trucks, dogs, the road and unfaithful wives), was a minister in the Burke, Dowding and Lawrence governments with a pet scheme to bring water from the Ord River to the state’s south-west. Even governments silly enough to spend 200 million bucks on non-existent petrochemical plants weren’t prepared to come at that pipe dream.
In fact back when Labor was desperately trying to find a replacement for “Slick Pierre” Dowding they were desperate for someone different. They passed on having the first legless Premier (Graham Edwards) and the first Aboriginal premier (Ernie Bridge) and went for the first female Premier in Dr Feelgood.
Anyway, up in the Kimberley, they are trying to do something about the local power grid. Energy Minister Colin Barnett wants to put in gas fired generators. For some reasons, the locals, backed by Wilson Tuckey and various green groups, want to build a tidal power station, to make use of the areas vast tidal range.
Now, sure it is good for the environment in terms of global warming but how many untouched inlets are going to have to be dammed for this project. Anyway, the locals want it, and in a close election, they are going to get at least part of their scheme. Hendy Cowan said to do it, and the rest of Cabinet wanting to leave the Cabinet room with all their limbs attached, agreed to the Merredin Mauler’s idea.
So what turned the National party around? Well, the answer comes from a messy Labor Party preselection last year. Ernie Bridge resigned as a Labor MP before the 1996 election, and was re-elected as an Independent, though without a Labor opponent. He is retiring at this election.
Labor Leader Geoff Gallop was backing Derby-West Kimberley Mayor Peter McCumstie for preselection, but some mad factional deal that involved protecting an upper house MP in Perth resulted in Labor choosing local social worker Carol Martin, who now has the chance to become the state’s first female aboriginal MP.
This created two problems. First, Ernie Bridge has said he doesn’t support Martin, some suggest because her husband ran against him as an Independent in 1996. Second, having been rebuffed by Labor, McCumstie threw his lot in with the National Party and is now their endorsed candidate. Hence Hendy Cowan’s support for the tidal power station.
McCumstie is built as broad as the region’s boab trees, though he probably would have done better as an Independent Labor MP. By not choosing him as their candidate, Labor passed up a certainty to win and have thrown the race for Kimberley, and possibly for government, wide open.
Not that it is the first case of power policy being determined by the fate of marginal seats, as Geoff Gallop would remember.
Back in the dying days of Dr Feelgood’s government, Cabinet agonised over the state’s next power investment. It had two options.
One was banks of 20Mw gas turbine generators. You could set up several of these in banks on greenfield sites, and they basically could turn themselves on or off depending on the amount of power required by the grid, sort of like a gas water heater turning itself on as required. They employed few people, with the main on-going task associated with the generators being someone turning up to mow round them once a week. The state was awash with natural gas, they were good on greenhouse gas emissions, and only produced as much power as required.
The alternative was a new base load power plant at Collie. This was more expensive in both capital and labour cost. Because it burned Collie’s poor quality brown coal it was worse on greenhouse gas emissions, and as a base load generator it produced 300Mw whether you needed it or not. Clearly the gas turbines were the better option.
So which option did the Feelgood government choose, and the Runt Cabinet concur with later? The Collie power station. Why? Well, Collie was a marginal seat, and despite the state’s commitment to north-west gas, no-one was going to tell the voters of a marginal electorate they were no longer interested in their brown coal.
Blasts from the past
Mooner Murray’s decision to use Brian Burke and Noel Crichton-Browne as election commentators for his show on 6PR has provoked much comment. And so it should. They’re both scumbags.
True, only Burkie did time, but NCB is also a convicted criminal. And both continue to exercise a malign influence on their respective parties that will have significant affects on the outcome.
Let’s look at NCB first. The Court Government’s biggest liability is Fair Trading (ha-ha) Minister Doug Shave and his conduct over the finance brokers’ scandal. In any decent government, Shave would have gone but he still has his job because he’s one of NCB’s boys.
Then there’s Burke. Hillary calls him “Colonel Kurtz” as there he is, perched out in the wilderness, fat, bald and mad but still commanding a band of loyal soldiers. WA Inc remains one of the Liberal’s strongest cards because Burke won’t go away.
Hillary has been bemused by the WA National Party’s new web site. Why have they got an internet presence at an address with a United States domain name?
All Australian websites have the suffix “au” tagged on the end but the Nat’s new site is at www.nationalswa.com, not an Australian domain name.
Are they trying to get away from local laws for something they plan to do in the campaign?
Recognition at last
You normally have to wait to you’re dead, but the Western Australian Electoral Commission are clearly on the ball. They’ve got in early and named a seat “Hillarys”. Maybe we should run there as an independent.
Cash, no comment
Eighties nostalgia is big nowadays, so let’s take a trip back into time – and out on a boat with Hawkie, Richo, Burkie and some of the other stars of WA Inc. Remember?
Money and politics are always closely linked – and nowhere more so than in the West. There are a whole heap of special interests – like the mining companies – who want to make sure the favour bank is kept well stocked.
Western Mining have been big supporters of the local Libs – kicking in donations of around the $75,000 mark. With the shake up of the industry – like the Shell bid for Woodside – it will be fascinating to see where this sector distributes its largesse.
But they’re not the only donors. Parties are required to disclose details of their donations to the Australian Electoral Commission, and the AEC very kindly puts these up on the web. There’s still a lot of dodgy stuff that goes on – the Libs rort the rules through the Free Enterprise and Greenfield Foundations that create barriers between donors and the party – and, of course, it’s easy to launder Labor donations through a union.
The full details of donations to all the political parties are available on the AEC web site at http://search.aec.dev.edime.com.au/fandd_returns/.
Real estate developers Furama are the biggest donors, handed out a whopping $147,000 to the Liberal Party. Construction giant Multiplex spread their favours, handing out big bucks to Labor, the Liberals and the Nats. Strangely, the lads down at the millionaires factory, Macquarie Bank, gave $11,000 to the ALP and nothing to the Coalition.
The gun nuts at the Sporting Shooters Association managed to come up with 43 grand for One Nation in WA alone – how cashed up must they be? Graeme Campbell – the former Labor Member for Kalgoorlie who lost the race for the rednecks to Pauline – and his Australia First outfit didn’t even get any donations above the declarable limit.
There are a couple of amusing details to note – Janet Holmes a Court is happy to give to the Dems, Labor and even the Nats, but draws the line at the Libs. Gina Rinehart more than fills the gap. Bet Liberal State Director Peter Wells wishes she’d had more legal luck against Rose.
Finally, remember that these are 1998-99 figures. The returns for last financial year don’t have to be in until next month. Funny that. You’d think that a Government that makes mum and dad operations complete a quarterly Business Activity Statement might be a little more responsive.
Enjoy your browsing!