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Businessmen's links to govt upsets WA

AAP logoAAP 28/08/2016 Greg Roberts

Many West Australians were angry last week when it emerged that six wealthy businessmen had commissioned their own poll on Premier Colin Barnett to apparently destabilise and end his leadership after eight years.

Talkback radio fielded calls from West Australians who remember well the WA Inc 1980s scandal and were unhappy that business interests were again interfering in a democratically elected government.

People know that the rich and powerful donate money to political parties and buy influence, but last week it was thrown in their faces.

Notre Dame University senior politics lecturer Martin Drum said he could not recall ever before seeing such an obvious example of businesspeople trying to influence public debate.

"I wouldn't say it's better or worse than people donating large sums of money, which is already done quite frequently, or mining companies opposing a mining tax with a public campaign," he told AAP.

The men named so far - WA financier John Poynton, property developers Nigel Satterley and Greg Poland and chemicals entrepreneur Vikas Rambal - are all big Liberal Party donors who have fallen out with Mr Barnett and lost financially in recent years due to policies under him.

The Reachtel poll of more than 10,700 people across 11 marginal Liberal-held Perth seats was damaging for the government, indicating Labor winning the 10 it needs for government.

The ill feeling is now obvious with an angry Mr Barnett referring the matter to the Public Sector Commissioner and publicly accusing the businesspeople of trying to interfere or influence decisions of government.

Mr Poynton hit back over the weekend, accusing Mr Barnett of being happy to accept $35,000 he raised when he ran for premier in 2008.

He blamed Mr Barnett for what he dubbed a "witch hunt" in which his and Mr Satterley's emails would be examined for evidence of favours with ministers, such as Dean Nalder, who has been linked to the businessmen who handed the poll results to him.

Mr Barnett's office denies ordering emails be examined.

During the week, several senior ministers including Treasurer Mike Nahan and Health Minister John Day recalled WA in the 1980s when the government lost hundreds of millions of dollars, and politicians, including premier Brian Burke and Ray O'Connor, were jailed.

"We have in WA a history repeatedly of commercial interests getting too close to government. We called it WA Inc, mark I and II," Dr Nahan said.

Regardless, the Liberal National government look divided heading towards the polls next year.

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