New Premier Roger Cook should be well known to many, as deputy premier for six years and Health Minister during the COVID years.
But, in being elevated to the top job, Roger will come under increased scrutiny, with genuine and understandable public interest in who he is and what he’s about.
I had the privilege of working under Roger before he entered parliament, serving as his understudy as general manager of the WA office of then national government relations agency, CPR.
What I learned about Roger then, as his friend since and in watching his political career develop, talks to the sort of premier he will be and the sort of government he will lead.
Roger has strong values and an ability to think big picture. And he takes the time to build and nurture relationships.
With an MBA, he understands that you need a strong economy and for business to be successful, if you’re to do anything else.
He recognises the importance of mining and gas to exiting coal and the broader energy transition, as well as the contribution of these sectors to the WA economy. But, he is passionate about the opportunity climate change presents to grow new industries in renewables and storage, as well as modern manufacturing based on emerging technologies and low-cost, carbon-free energy. And he believes in the role of government to provide direction for industry and attract investment in a globally competitive world through the provision of infrastructure.
But, Roger doesn’t see a strong economy as being an end in itself. Rather, it’s a way to build a stronger society and improve people’s lives.
At his core, Roger is a family man, with his wife Carly and two adult children at the centre of his life. He understands the important role growing up in a loving and nurturing family environment played in setting him up for happiness and success, and wants this for others.
Roger understands that the world isn’t carved up into goodies and baddies. That complex social issues need thought and care, and how important it is to explain and bring people with you.
It is possible that Roger’s formative experiences in growing up in a large family and working in Native Title taught him the importance of consultation, negotiation and building relationships.
As a younger political operative, working with Roger was an eye opener for me. He was the first political animal I had met who actively took time to sit down with members of other factions and build relationships.
At that time, he had already been pre-selected for the seat of Kwinana and didn’t need their support. The interest in people of different backgrounds and opinions was genuine. It is completely consistent with the recollections of his high school cotemporaries, that Roger was “everyone’s friend”. It’s a quality that probably delivered him the premiership.
As his performance during COVID demonstrated, Roger can make tough decisions. I have no doubt he will make the tough calls as premier, when he needs to. But, given who he is, he will seek to involve his colleagues in the decision-making process whenever he can. He will be more chairman than CEO, and his ministers will be respected in their portfolios.
At the end of the day, Roger’s success will depend not only on his own capabilities, but on the collective performance of everyone else in his government.
There has never been a more qualified person than Rita Saffioti to become treasurer, nor a more loyal person to serve as deputy. And in committing to maintaining the highly talented Amber-Jade Sanderson’s role as a senior minister in his government, Roger will give his team the best chance of success.
Roger’s biggest fault, from my perspective, is that he is a Dockers fan. But, his true passion is rugby union, a sport that he played in his junior years. Like rugby, politics is a contact sport.
Now that the dust has settled from a tough, but brief, leadership contest that nobody was expected, I have every confidence in Roger’s ability to bring everyone together as a team and deliver united and strong government.
This article also appeared in The West Australian newspaper.