08/03/2005 - 21:00

Adding oomph to Gallop mark 2

08/03/2005 - 21:00


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Premier Geoff Gallop has won his second election, his parliamentary majority is intact, and he has refreshed his ministry with a modest reshuffle and five new faces.

Premier Geoff Gallop has won his second election, his parliamentary majority is intact, and he has refreshed his ministry with a modest reshuffle and five new faces.

What will he and his ministers make of this opportunity, which very nearly was denied them?

Will Dr Gallop continue in his academic mould, reviewing, consulting and analysing?

Or will he be emboldened to pursue reforms with more vigour?

It’s worth recalling the initial response to former opposition leader Colin Barnett’s surprise backing of the Kimberley water canal.

The concept was embraced by a clear majority of Western Aust-ralians, who backed the bold vision.

The proposal subsequently unraveled as doubts over the cost and viability of the canal proved overwhelming.

Nonetheless, this episode indicates that Western Australians want a government that leads with conviction.

A similar view was espoused on election night by Stephen Smith, the Federal Member for Perth and a senior figure in Labor ranks.

In a rare moment of frankness, he said the Gallop Government had been timid and voters were “underwhelmed”.

The limited scope of last week’s ministerial reshuffle does not augur well for bold change.

If change is to occur, the onus is on Dr Gallop, who sets the tone for his entire government.

A key challenge is whether his government adopts a more vigorous embrace of economic growth and economic development.

Eric Ripper, shed of his energy portfolio but still with his hands on the treasury, will be called on to ensure the government runs a tight ship financially.

Alan Carpenter, in his new role as state development and energy minister, will be at the centre of the economic action over the next four years.

In his new role he will hear a lot about skills shortages and infrastructure bottlenecks – issues that are well and truly on the national policy agenda, albeit two or three years too late.

Other ministers such as Judy Edwards (environment), Alannah MacTiernan (planning & infrastructure) and Fran Logan (heritage) also have an important role to play, not so much in directly fostering growth, but in removing roadblocks.

These portfolios highlight an imbalance in the Gallop Government – the buzzwords were due process, stakeholder consultation, triple bottom line and sustainability.

These things are well and good, even desirable, but not when they stand in the way of a government making decisions and getting things done.

Ministers would do well to take a leaf out of Jim McGinty’s book.

As Attorney-General, he had a firm view on what he wanted to achieve and he has pursued those goals in a methodical and determined manner.

The merit of Mr McGinty’s far-reaching reforms can be debated but at least he can look back at the past four years and see a record of constructive achievement.

Not many other ministers could do the same thing.

The hard sell on apprenticeships

For most of the past two decades, there has been little support for apprenticeships in the traditional trades.

Most students, encouraged by their parents, opted for university and the hope of a secure job and a rewarding, well paid career.

In practice, many university graduates were unable to gain work in their chosen profession or emerged with a generalist degree that barely opened doors.

Now the worm is turning.

Australia is in the midst of an acute skills shortage that is pushing up costs and forcing companies to defer or restructure projects.

Much of the debate about skill shortages has focused on traditional blue-collar trades, such as boilermakers, motor mechanics and bricklayers.

There are serious shortages in all of these trades, yet the reality is that skill shortages extend much wider.

Accountants and lawyers – particularly those with two to five-years experience and a desire to stay in Perth rather than travel – are in short supply.

Medical professions, led by nurses, are in absolute short supply and country towns and outer suburbs are crying out for doctors.

Chefs, hairdressers, pharmacists and auto electricians are also in short supply, according to the federal government’s listing of occupations in demand, which includes 30 professions and trades.

Surprisingly the list, which is used to support skilled migrant appli-cations, does not include engineers.

That aside, the list shows that the problem of skill shortages is very wide.

Pushing bright young teenagers into traditional blue collar trades is only a partial solution – especially as the welders and fitters of tomorrow would otherwise have pursued an alternative career.

We also need to be careful that expectations are not pushed too high.

Sure, some bright young people are making a lot of money from their trade, but that is in the middle of a boom.

Let’s hope the boom is sustained, but history tells us a slowdown is inevitable.

We don’t want apprentices entering the workforce in four years, only to find the big dollars and the unbounded opportunities are no longer there.


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