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Branching out

CONCERNS about WA becoming a branch economy have been around for a long time, but the issue has gained more currency with the drama of Shell’s bid for Woodside.

That battle, rightly or wrongly, has been won for now by Woodside and the forces railing against such a loss.

Business News firmly backed Woodside’s efforts because this newspaper was concerned about the impact that a loss of decision makers would have on our economy.

While we would generally discourage political interference in business, we decided it was time to go to our Business Panel and ask them if WA was becoming a branch economy.

The answers we have received are as mixed and varied as could be possible, reflecting the different industries, businesses and personal opinions of the diverse group we have assembled.

Perhaps the most interesting responses were those in the smaller scale of business who may feel the effect of such economic change before the bigger players.

The concern about losing decision makers from an economy is likely to be felt by those with less resources to develop relationships outside their immediate sphere of influence.

Maybe they are the canaries in the coal mine. Or maybe they just need to get out more ... out of the WA, that is.

There is no doubt that niche, flexible performers who are prepared to travel can win business from other markets. Those attached the lifestyle here, prepared to fly and able to use technology well, can be successful from WA’s low cost base.

Gresham Partners, which successfully advised South Africa’s Billiton on its merger with Melbourne-based BHP, show just what is possible.

But, while there is an obvious trickle down, these sorts of niche service businesses don’t directly employ the same amount of people as the headquarters of a big company like Woodside.

Anyway, that is my view for what its worth. Reading the views of our Business Panel may convince you differently.

What reforms?

IT is interesting see the matter of workplace reforms, which was so pressing during the election earlier this year, has slipped off the State Government’s to do list.

Not that we mind. Business is happy with what is currently in place and would be glad to see the previous Government’s efforts left in place.

So is this a calm before the storm or, more ominously, a sign that Geoff Gallop’s crew is waiting to see if Labor can succeed federally before they weigh in on the WA scene?

Federal Liberal stirrer Tony Abbott believes that WA’s new Government is holding off on sweeping changes because it does not want to jeopardise the chance for Labor to sweep into office nationally on the back of small businesses unhappiness with the GST.

There is certainly no doubt that Labor can be far more disciplined than the Coalition forces when it comes to looking after party interests – and few could be more important than winning control in Canberra.

It is worrying, though, that business is not getting a chance to feel what a Labor Government might really do in the area of workplace reform, ahead of the federal election.

Just as the WA Liberal Party’s loss offered a wake up call to its federal counterpart, so might a few changes to WA’s industrial landscape offer an equally alarming message to Labor.

Then again, maybe Mr Abbott is wrong and Dr Gallop really is in control of our State’s destiny.

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