Geoff Gallop finds that governing the West isn’t as easy as it looked
Taking over from a government that had lost touch and featured a Cabinet full of arrogant incompetents, Geoff Gallop would probably have expected a pretty easy first year. A mixture of poor advice, a lack of talent on his own front bench and some booby traps left by his predecessor have seen any early goodwill drift away quickly.
Richard Court was a mean-spirited, vindictive Premier (consider the Marks Royal Commission whose sole purpose was to cripple Carmen Lawrence’s Federal career), and totally lacking in charisma. But he never seemed to inspire the hatred that, say, Jeff Kennett could – nobody was ever tempted to start a website called dicked.com.
That meant a lot of people were surprised when Labor engineered the biggest change of seats in Western Australia’s history, making some of Court’s Ministers unemployed in the process. But government members misusing political power and public resources had been making headlines for months up to the election, and that’s without considering the woeful performance by Crikey’s favourite Minister for Fair Trading, Doug Shave. Shave allowed the finance brokers scandal to run on and on, despite compelling evidence that his Department and its agencies had failed in their responsibilities to investors.
Gallop should have known it wasn’t going to be easy when, in the first month of government, Transport Minister Alannah MacTiernan lost her driver’s licence for speeding. But then, with a complete lack of spin control, the story trickled out over several days that she had been banned twice before in alcohol-related incidents. Coming clean when the story broke would have made the best of a bad situation; having each bit drawn out like pulling teeth just made the new government look dishonest. Road safety was, unsurprisingly, taken out of MacTiernan’s portfolio responsibilities but the damage was done.
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Labor’s response to the finance brokers scandal has been has been well-documented elsewhere. Suffice it to say that Attorney-General Jim McGinty, when in opposition, allowed the victims of these scams to believe that they would receive a reasonable level of support from a Gallop Government, both in funding and in the release of certain sensitive documents. This support hasn’t been forthcoming, and McGinty has backed away from any earlier commitments. It’s a lot easier in Opposition!
Witness the spectacle last week of Perth’s three major hospitals going on ambulance bypass because of bed shortages. When this happened during the Court regime, Gallop called it evidence of a health system in crisis. He was right of course, but no government can afford to spend enough on health to please everybody, as he’s finding out now. It’ll take time to fix the mess, he says, but the efforts so far don’t inspire confidence.
The Gallop government inherited a fight with the nurses’ union over a pay claim that had dragged on for months. The usual government tactics (we’d love to pay you more but there isn’t any money) were tried, but in the end Gallop stepped in and more money was mysteriously located. It’s always hard to fight an industrial campaign against nurses because the public love ’em. It’s not like they’re politicians or journalists.
Another problem left behind by Court was a disjointed and demoralised public service. Heavily politicised (not that the Liberals were the first government to do that), its employees work under a mishmash of individual Workplace Agreements and collective Enterprise Bargaining Agreements.
The Court government made an ideological push toward the individual agreements at the expense of EBA’s: textbook divide and conquer tactics. They offered higher salaries for longer weekly hours, reduced entitlement to overtime and other conditions, etc. (By the Court government’s definitions, if your hourly rate is cut by 10% and your required hours are increased by 15%, you’ve had a pay rise.)
The result of the push is that there can be as much as 20% difference in pay between employees who are doing the same work at the same level. Gallop’s government deserves credit for attempting to fix this shemozzle, but it inevitably involves some sort of pay freeze for the higher-paid employees while the victims of the old policy catch up. Not happy, Geoff!
“Outspoken” is the kindest description of John Quigley, a barrister who made his considerable public profile by being the Police Union’s favourite defender when its members are charged with misconduct. “Media tart” might b more accurate. The ALP ignored the warning signs and pre-selected him for a winnable seat at the February election. It now has to deal with having this slightly conflicted loose cannon sitting in Parliament when the long-promised Royal Commission into police corruption finally arrives.
Quigley’s political nous and that of Gallop’s minders were found wanting early in the term, when a minor controversy was stirred up over Quigley’s continuing to work in his legal practice after entering Parliament. It turned out that he was, at his client’s specific request, finishing a case tat had started long before the election, but it took three days before Quigley made the obvious PR statement that he would be donating these fees to charity. The points that seem to have been missed again: a considerable proportion of voters are ready to take any opportunity to paint politicians as greedy and out of touch; and controlling the story is better than being seen to be reacting to public pressure.
It’s not clear yet whether Gallop and his minions can learn from the mistakes of Court, Shave et al, but at the moment, my money’s on a one-term government.