Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Western Australia

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Western Australia

Article excerpt

July to December 1977

In the first year of the 35th Parliament the Court-Cowan Coalition suffered a temporary drop in the poll ratings although it appeared to have recovered its strong position by the Christmas recess. In the second half of 1997 Richard Court, after nearly five years as premier, also witnessed some dents in his reputation for rarely making errors of political judgement, particularly with regard to the Global Dance transactions. The High Court judgement which denied the states the capacity to levy excise taxes placed strains on the Western Australian budget which was facing particular difficulties in the health and education sectors. Minister Graham Kierath, who had contributed to the downturn in the government's popularity with his industrial relations reforms, was again at the forefront of controversy when he unilaterally authorised regulations to ban smoking in enclosed work places. These restrictions were not to be effective until August 1998 but the manner of the announcement drew a rebuke from Premier Court. Other social issues such as gambling, prostitution and drags were often at the forefront of the news.

Premier Court and Controversy

On 27 September Premier Court celebrated his fiftieth birthday and announced his intention to lead the Coalition to the next election and beyond. He suggested he would like to stay on until 2004 to match the eleven years he spent in Opposition. His general willingness to be open to the press, however, was strained by newspaper reports carrying details of his past links with a Japanese cult, the Mahihari, which had been the subject of adverse reports from a Belgian parliamentary commission. The Premier's wife Jo, described as a regular churchgoer, was said to have joined the organisation after studying comparative religion at Teachers' College but Court's links were more tenuous. While insisting he was not involved with the organisation he defended his family's right to privacy and described some of the reports as "deeply offensive".

More potentially damaging was the Premier's involvement in what had become known as the "Global Dance Affair". The Premier's acceptance of an invitation to appear before the Legislative Assembly's Public Accounts and Expenditure Review Committee in August to "address" evidence taken during the Committee's initial round of hearings gave rise to what was thought to be the first occasion since 1915 that a Premier had appeared before a parliamentary committee for questioning. As Tourist Minister in 1995 Mr Court had been keen to secure Perth as the venue for an international dance contest being promoted by Global Dance Foundation Inc. and scheduled for August 1997. The Committee sought clarification about several aspects of the Premier's involvement in negotiations with Global Dance Chairman Peter Reynolds, who provided a supporting letter from the Premier's father, Sir Charles Court. It also questioned the Premier concerning apparent disparities between his statements to Parliament in March 1997 and evidence suggesting he had overridden or ignored concerns about the deal voiced by officers of the Western Australian Tourist Commission, the Arts Department, Treasury and the Crown Solicitor's Office. Queries were also raised about why there had been no immediate action to recover the $430,000 of state money committed to the project to promote the proposed Global Dance when the deal started to go sour. With the Committee's final report not due to be tabled until 1998, Independent MLA Phil Pendal introduced a Private Member's Bill requiring the government to reveal details of "handouts" to business of $50,000 or more within twenty-eight days of the decision. Despite support from Opposition members his bill was defeated in the Legislative Assembly on 27 November.

Another episode which proved highly embarrassing for Court was the collapse of Western Australia's $1 million deal with what had been labelled "Elle Racing". …

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