WA Inc: more heads to roll?


WA Inc: more heads to roll?

By Rurik Davidson

PERTH — The WA Inc Royal Commission's first report, tabled on October 20, is a chronicle of corruption and deceit in high places.

Three former premiers — Brian Burke, Peter Dowding and Ray O'Connor — former deputy premier David Parker and senior public servant Len Brush were among those found to have acted "improperly".

Heads immediately began to roll in parliament. Environment minister Bob Pearce, still protesting his innocence, resigned over the findings of his misuse of confidential financial records. Cabinet secretary Bill Thomas resigned over his handling of cabinet records on Burswood Casino.

But it was the former premiers' sins that demanded the most attention, particularly those of Brian Burke and his "sleaze team".

Burke had acted improperly when he backed, in October 1987, the rescue of Rothwells with a $150 government guarantee. Burke had wanted to help out his mate Laurie Connell's failing company.

Connell had previously been the adviser to the 1983 governmental purchase of Northern Mining from Bond Corporation at between $7 and $12 million over value. As Burke knew at the time and concealed from parliament, Connell was also acting for Bond Corp.

This was only one of the many shady deals that Burke and his associates had been involved in. These often included large donations to the ALP by business people who were trying to sell companies to the government at a profit.

This was the way the WA Labor government operated in the '80s. The ALP was hand in glove with big business — people like John Roberts, the chief of construction company Multiplex, who between 1982 and 1989 gave $692,000 to the ALP.

Although out of government, Liberals were able to get in on the act too. In the commission's report, former Liberal premier Ray O'Connor was found to have been given money by Bond Corp with which to bribe Stirling City Councillors who approved the controversial Observation City development. Instead, he kept the money for himself.

The government is desperately trying to give the impression that such indecent doings are a thing of the past and that everything is now above board. But on October 21 Premier Carmen Lawrence only narrowly survived a censure motion over her knowledge of the failed financial group Western Women, looted by its founder.

In April Lawrence had told the Legislative Assembly that she knew nothing about the group. Then — hey presto! — up pops a letter gned addressed to Western Women, and the premier was forced to eat her words.

Corruption as a large-scale phenomenon can partly be put down to the current recession. In the context of a downturn in the capitalist economy — when big business's houses of cards are collapsing, such as Tricontinental or Rothwells, big business demands the government's direct support.

The pretense is that parliamentary democracy isn't supposed to get its hands dirty helping out rich "mates". It's supposed to provide some sort of popular control over the administrative apparatus. But the '80s have shown that to be just an illusion.