EXCLUSIVE: Introducing WA's new Minister for Commerce

On the 11 March 2017, Western Australia went to the polls and delivered a resounding result to the WA Labor Party. After campaigning on jobs and no privatisation, the new McGowan Government has begun the task of delivering on their platform. It’s a big job. Some might say colossal.

During the election campaign, we worked hard to provide members with opportunities to make informed decisions about their vote. We ran forums in target seats, inviting all candidates and giving members and candidates an opportunity to speak directly to each other. Not one member of the Barnett Government attended those forums.

With CPSU/CSA members in the unique position at an election of being able to choose who sits across the table from us as we negotiate Agreements, it was not surprising that the former Government didn’t show up but it was disappointing nonetheless.

Ultimately, we encouraged members to vote for a change. The Barnett Government wasn’t engaging with us despite repeated efforts and almost three months into the bargaining period for the Agreement covering a large number of public sector workers, they had failed to give the Department of Commerce any instructions for the Agreement negotiations.

There was a stark contrast on the 29 March at our Mass Members meeting. The new Minister for Commerce, Bill Johnston, walked out of his office at Dumas House and down to the Convention Centre to take part in our meeting.

It’s the first time in a long time that a Minister has been so publicly accessible to CPSU/CSA members and it makes for a welcome change.

What did the Minister have to say?

The two take home messages from the Minister were that the State election was about privatisation and that Government is a humanising force.

Mr Johnston was keen to ensure that we got the message on privatisation saying:

“The Labor Party doesn’t just say we are opposed to privatisation, we are opposed to privatisation. We know the good work that is done by public servants. “

It’s heartening to know that public sector workers are valued by the Minister for Commerce especially when he committed to the promises made to CPSU/CSA members during the election on conversion to permanency, cessation of privatisation, stopping the over use of labour hire and ten days of family and domestic violence leave.

The Minister then went on to say:

“Government actually achieves things for ordinary people. I represent the Cannington community. They are ordinary, working people just like the people in this room, and it is government that achieves for those working people. Without government society doesn’t function.”

Of course, it’s not all roses and sunshine. We know the State finances are a mess, and we know that this is going to impact on what is possible. The Minister acknowledged this by saying:

“I am not going to promise that you are going to love me in a year’s time, but I make the point that we are on the same page about what is important in society. We are on the same page about valuing the work of public service employees.”

The new Government is off to a pretty good start, now we just have to ensure that they keep going in the right direction.

Who is Bill Johnston?

Bill Johnston joined the then Australian Public Services Association when he was a Clerical Assistant at the Department of Foreign Affairs Canberra in 1981. Mr Johnston has been a continuous member of the Australian Services Union since 1988 and is still a member today.

Mr Johnston then went on to work for nine years with the Shop Assistants Union and  was Vice President of the Trades Labour Council (now UnionsWA) before becoming Assistant Secretary, and later Secretary, of the WA Labor Party.

Mr Johnston was elected as the Member for Cannington in 2008 and in his inaugural speech said:

I intend to use my time in Parliament to represent all people who are prepared to have a go with the opportunities that life presents them and to ensure that the state grants ordinary working people every opportunity.

Mr Johnston is the youngest of eight children and grew up with what he describes as “the privilege of being raised by a strong woman who did her best with her eight kids on the war widows’ pension and the low-paying jobs she could find.

Bill is now a father of three and is married to Kate Doust, a Member of Western Australia’s Legislative Council.

Favourite Song: Working Class Man, Jimmy Barnes

Favourite Book: The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

Favourite Movie: Star Wars: Episode IV –  A New Hope

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