Western Australia: July 2001 to December 2001

Article excerpt

There was much controversy in Western Australian politics during the period in which the world was shaken by the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States. Major electoral law changes, together with legislation intended to remove discrimination against the gay and lesbian community, provoked much public controversy and long and bitter parliamentary debates. The Gallop Labor government, which began the period under review with a minor Cabinet reshuffle, also delivered its first budget. As former National Party leader Hendy Cowan had resigned his Merredin seat in a quest for a Senate berth in the 10 November federal election, this necessitated a keenly fought by-election with the National Party requiring victory to retain its status as an official party.

Ministerial Changes and Reviews

In carrying out his second Cabinet reshuffle, effective from 1 July, Premier Geoff Gallop created two new portfolios and made other minor changes to the front bench. The expanded Local Government and Regional Development portfolio was allocated to Tom Stephens while Nick Griffiths became the first Minister for Government Enterprises. Dr Gallop said the changes were necessary to accommodate reform of the public sector. This had entailed a reduction in the size of the Cabinet from seventeen to fourteen and a lessening from forty-two to twenty-three of the number of departments.

The government continued with its range of task forces, working groups and review committees, either to formulate or implement policy. Among forty such groups tabulated in the West Australian (1 September 2001) was the Royal Commission into the so-called "financial broking scandal", headed by Ian Temby Q.C. The report covering seventeen investment projects, was delivered on time and one million dollars below budget. However, the Government's decision to seek legal advice before its response could be released meant the public had to wait until the New Year to find out what went wrong and why, and what actions would be needed to prevent a repetition of the huge losses to elderly investors. In the meantime, Temby warned about the vulnerability of the superannuation industry to similar problems facing the broking industry.

As part of the Labor Party's determination to improve relations with indigenous people, the Government announced draft guidelines to ensure that native title applications would be dealt with more quickly and effectively. In September, Premier Gallop, speaking at a ceremony at which more than 434,000 hectares of land at Lake Gregory and Billiluna stations became the Paruka Indigenous Protected Areas, argued that Western Australia could not afford the social and financial costs of claims (nearly 150) continuing to drag through the courts. Responding to the findings of an inquest into the death of a fifteen-year old school girl, Susan Taylor, Premier Gallop also committed the government to a three-member inquiry into child abuse in Aboriginal communities. The inquiry, to operate under the Public Sector Management Act, was to be conducted by Aboriginal Children's Court Magistrate, Sue Gordon; former State government minister, Kay Hallahan; and indigenous psychologist, Darryl Henrie.

Budget Matters

Prior to the tabling of the State Budget on 13 September, Premier Gallop again ruled out the government's permitting the installation of poker machines in the State's hotels, clubs and at the Burswood Casino. Instead, he indicated he would pursue the revenue implications with the Council of Australian Governments, while Treasurer Eric Ripper blamed the GST for a shortfall in revenue because Western Australia had not benefited from a growth dividend. When the budget was presented, just days before the collapse of Ansett airlines, the Treasurer announced a small $52 million operating surplus budget and emphasised the economic and political necessity of preserving the State's published objective of Triple A credit rating. …