There remains something rather rotten at the heart of Perth, a putrescence that wasn’t excised by the WA Inc inquiry despite it being exposed to sunlight.
I don’t mean the miserable state of WA politics, although the influence of Brian Burke within and without parliament is symptomatic of the disease. The problem is bigger than the odious Burke.
The key lesson from WA Inc was that the shonks, crooks, spivs and conmen only really thrive with the assistance of the professional classes — the accountants, lawyers, valuers, journalists et al. It takes at least a culture of acquiescence and, more likely, one of mercenary complicity for the likes of Bond and Connell to prosper.
The smell that remains amidst the mighty WA resources boom is a suspicion that Perth still doesn’t want to question money too closely. A big house in Peppermint Grove, flash car, matching boat and attendance at a couple of the right events will get you even further in Perth than Sydney.
As evidence I submit the Firepower saga. It has amazed me that such a blatant con job could be perpetrated in Perth without being questioned. Quite the opposite in fact — the Perth that is represented by the board of the Western Force and the Liberal Party willingly embraced and promoted Firepower chief Tim Johnston.
(At least it took Firepower’s ill-gotten money to have the Western Force turn a blind eye to the scam — it turns out Julie Bishop’s Liberals were prepared to arrange dinner with the Prime Minister on just the hope of a donation, as the SMH reported.)
It has been a particular mystery to me how little examination of Firepower occurred in The West Australian. If a town’s newspaper reflects its society, what does it say about Perth that such a big and obvious story unfolded without the local hacks ripping into it?
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I posed the question to various people during a recent trip to Perth. It was suggested that Johnston and his hired help duchessed various people at The Worst as easily and efficiently as the dunderhead jocks who wore the Firepower logo.
Tonight Four Corners is having a crack at the Firepower story. It will be interesting to see if the program manages to go much further than the excellent pursuit mounted by the SMH’s Gerard Ryle. From a Ryle story in today’s SMH, it seems Four Corners at least has some telling admissions from ex-CEO John Finnin as well as the usual ASIC-was-warned-but-did-nothing angle.
What I will be interested to see though is whether Four Corners also looks at how the ABC itself seemed to largely ignore the story for so long; whether there’s truth in a suggestion that people connected to the West Australian were given Firepower shares; the role played by Warren Anderson in getting Johnston established in Perth; whether they speak to the WA farmer who paid a fortune for Firepower “shares” that had been given to Anderson; whether the Western Force board ever questioned where the Firepower money was coming from; and how the Murdoch tabloids have largely run dead on the saga.
To give due credit, Murdoch’s broadsheet has somewhat belatedly joined the pursuit with a fine contribution by Anthony Klan on the Anderson angle.
Anderson, a prominent Perth businessman, seems to have a knack for picking up millions of dollars in quick profits in strange circumstances. As Four Corners reported in 2002, he apparently made a fortune by selling the Cairns Conservatory building for $18 million to the PNG public service superannuation fund when private assessors put the value at more like $7 million.