Libby Mettam: Cook still has questions to answer over Burke influence

Libby MettamThe West Australian
Libby Mettam: I’ve learnt the hard way this week that Brian Burke’s political tentacles go deep.
Camera IconLibby Mettam: I’ve learnt the hard way this week that Brian Burke’s political tentacles go deep. Credit: Don Lindsay/The West Australian

Power should not exist without accountability.

Which is why the Liberal Party will continue to hold the Cook Labor Government to account, especially on issues of integrity and transparency.

It is also why, despite the recent attempts by Labor supporters to intimidate and distract us, we will continue to question the Cook Labor Government over its dealings with disgraced former premier Brian Burke.

Most West Australians who remember the absolute mess he made during the WA Inc years would agree that Mr Burke should not profit from government grants.

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Yet despite being banned by the Labor Party and successive Labor premiers, including Roger Cook, from ever associating with their governments and ministers, Mr Burke played a key role in the procurement of government grants to some groups directly related to COVID recovery.

The $15 million “Getting the Show Back on the Road” package, a taxpayer rescue package for the live events industry which was brought to its knees due to COVID restrictions, was orchestrated in part by lobby group Live Entertainment Western Australia, backed by Mr Burke.

Another one of Mr Burke’s foundlings, the Home Builder’s Action Group, which was lobbying for the new home building industry, was awarded a cash lifeline in the form of no-interest loans from the State Government.

While the Liberal Party has no issue with elements of the building and entertainment industries receiving government assistance due to the impact of COVID, it is fair to ask what difference did Mr Burke’s involvement make in the awarding of the grant?

If Mr Burke made no difference, then why use him and certainly why pay him?

And if he did make a difference, was that leg up from Mr Burke a significant factor in these grants happening or not?

It’s also fair to ask what role the $30,000 campaign donation from LEWA to the ALP had in this saga.

We remain unaware what action the Premier has taken to assure himself that those donations to his own political party weren’t actually funded by the taxpayer through these grants.

Not a good look for a Government that promised gold standard transparency.

We know Mr Burke and his associate were paid by the groups, but it raises many questions about what they were actually paid to do? Meetings with intermediaries? Calling in favours? How was their influence used to affect the outcome?

Given the overt involvement of Mr Burke and his partner in securing these grants, does the Premier honestly expect us to believe that no one in the entire machinery of Government knew they were behind the scenes?

When pressed on this issue, the Premier claimed that the Government did not ask for the backgrounds of the groups it was negotiating with. Why not?

Almost 20 years ago, several Labor ministers lost their jobs due to their association with Brian Burke following a CCC investigation.

It appears now that nothing has changed. Despite his protestations to the contrary, Brian Burke is still pulling the strings.

As I’ve learnt this week, Mr Burke’s political tentacles found their way around my former deputy leader, Steve Thomas.

Steve Thomas should have known better than to enter into dealings with Mr Burke.

He should have dealt with the issue better once confronted with it and I make no apologies for taking the swift action that I took.

As leader of the Liberal Party, I expect a lot from my team, as do Liberal supporters and members across the State.

This is why I will continue to hold my team to high standards, particularly those in senior leadership positions.

While the events of this week are disappointing, they should not detract from the many unanswered questions that remain about the influence Mr Burke has over the Premier and Government decisions and why WA taxpayers are ultimately paying for it.

WA taxpayers have not received a satisfactory response from the Premier over whether he, his ministers, their advisors, as well as the entire 74 Labor MPs in Parliament have been in contact with Mr Burke.

And they have not received a satisfactory response over whether 100 per cent of the funds provided to the live entertainment industry have gone towards assisting the companies impacted by the COVID shutdowns.

Given the hundreds of millions of dollars that the Labor government distributed to groups adversely affected by COVID, West Australians deserve to know that every cent of taxpayer money went to the industries affected by COVID and not into the pockets of Brian Burke or his associate.

West Australians expect strong leadership with integrity and accountability at its core. That’s what I will continue to deliver as Liberal leader — both in opposition and in government.

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