Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Western Australia: July to December 2007

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Western Australia: July to December 2007

Article excerpt

Western Australians will remember the second half of 2007 as a period characterised by sustained economic growth, the opening of the new southern rail project, and continuing revelations from the ongoing investigation into public officers with connections to the lobbyist and former state premier Brian Burke. The boom in employment and investment in the north-west contributed to significant labour and skills shortages across the state, whilst the 23 December opening of the controversial Mandurah to Perth railway line was labelled as a "Christmas Gift" for Western Australians, muting criticism about the year long delay in its opening. In parliament too, some historic events arose as a result of its Privileges Committees' investigations, and those of the Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC). The 24 November federal election campaign had an impact in Western Australia, with the Liberal party performing better than elsewhere in Australia.

Parliament

As resolved by the Legislative Assembly in June, on 14 August 2007 former Burke government minister and prominent lobbyist Julian Grill, became the first citizen to be summoned to the Bar of the House, in this case to apologise for his role in leaking a confidential parliamentary committee report. Grill's appearance was pure political theatre, as he was led to the Bar before a hushed gallery of media representatives, supporters and members of the public. Before his scheduled appearance Grill had urged all members of the Assembly to grant him leave to give a wider explanation of his actions to the parliament. However, before rendering his apology, which Grill said was undertaken with "a heavy heart", he unsuccessfully sought the permission of Speaker Fred Riebeling to speak on the substantive matters. The historic occasion concluded with Liberal Matt Birney's failed motion to permit Grill to explain his actions. Birney, himself familiar with the processes of the Privileges Committee, considered this "level of natural justice [...] vital in maintaining the good standing and integrity" of the parliament.

Of perhaps greater moment were the findings and recommendations of the Legislative Council's Select Committee of Privilege, which had been established to inquire into whether there had been any unauthorised disclosure of deliberations of its Standing Committee on Estimates and Financial Relations Operations (SCEFO). The alleged leak related to a proposed inquiry by the SCEFO into the state's iron ore industry.

Once again, the influence of former MLAs Brian Burke and Julian Grill on government members of parliamentary committees was under scrutiny. Further to these, former Senator Noel Crichton-Browne was also alleged to have been involved in attempts to persuade particular members of the SCEFO to undertake the inquiry. The Select Committee conducted its inquiry over almost eight months, tabling its final report of some 500 pages on 13 November 2007.

The Select Committee round that three members of the SCEFO--Shelley Archer MLC, Anthony Fels MLC and Giz Watson MLC--had disclosed committee proceedings without the committee's authorisation. Whilst Watson's disclosure was considered by the committee to be of a minor nature, the committee found that Archer and Fels' disclosures constituted a contempt of the House and recommended that they apologise to the House for their actions, that they be disqualified from membership of any parliamentary committee for the remainder of the session, and that they undergo further induction training from the Clerk of the House in relation to parliamentary privilege. These recommendations were endorsed by the Legislative Council, and both members apologised to the House on 5 December 2007.

The Select Committee further round that Burke, Grill and Crichton-Browne had disclosed details of the SCEFO's proceedings to other parties, and accordingly were guilty of contempt of the House. The Legislative Council resolved to accept these recommendations, along with a direction for each of these persons to submit a written apology to the House within seven days. …

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