Len Buckeridge is gearing up for another battle.
LEN Buckeridge has always enjoyed a fight, so it should come as no surprise to discover that the building materials billionaire has threatened to use his money, and the legal muscle it can buy, to force the state government into cracking heads at the local level.
Last week, Mr Buckeridge cornered three ministers to give them a lecture, and deliver a threat, over an estimated 3,700 building licence applications jammed up in local authorities across Perth.
Treasurer Troy Buswell, Planning Minister John Day, and Local Government Minister John Castrilli were on the receiving end of Mr Buckeridge’s blunt warning, which started with an astonishing illustration of what’s to come.
“I said to them I’m going to be the Ghandi of house building,” Buckeridge told Bystander.
“If you don’t speed the process of issuing building licences then you had better budget for 30 new court rooms because I’m going to fight every delay on behalf of the people who want to build homes, all the way to the High Court.”
Mr Buckeridge rarely makes idle threats, though it is hard for Bystander to associate the man who has repeatedly whipped the union movement into submission with the founder of modern India, and advocate of peaceful protest, Mahatma Ghandi.
What WA’s biggest builder really means is that he is prepared to back financially, and with legal assistance, the thousands of people being hurt by the inability of local government to do one of the few jobs (apart from rubbish collection) that it has – issue building approvals.
Inquiries with building industry lobby groups revealed that Mr Buckeridge’s estimate of 3,700 people being delayed by local government is not far off the mark, partly a result of an approvals process which has run amok, and partly the traditional inefficiencies of local government and the laziness of some who work there.
In some local authorities approvals are easy to obtain, only requiring the rubber stamp of one department. In others, two departments get involved.
The result is that the best local authority in Western Australia averages 2.9 weeks to issue a building licence. The worst takes an average of 35.6 weeks – an utterly astonishing time for what should be a very simple process; either the application complies, or it doesn’t.
Local government officials, doubtless, will blame WA’s fast-growing economy and high demand for housing. It might come as news to them but with a resources boom looming it is going to get much worse as workers flock to Perth and the north-west.
It is today’s disgraceful delays, and the certainty that worse looms, that Mr Buckeridge says caused him to read the riot act to the three ministers – plus the fact that delays equal lost profits for his business.
The interesting bit now will be to see whether Messrs Buswell, Day and Castrilli, can achieve anything with local government, or will it prove to be another mission impossible, such as achieving local council amalgamations.
If they fail, it will be up to Mr Buckeridge to deliver on his threat, something Bystander suspects he almost relishes, fresh from a big legal win against arch-rival Boral, and a local public relations firm, over a campaign run against his new brickworks.
The only problem he faces is fulfilling his threat to be the Ghandi of house building, because the man who says he hates wearing suits might find it even less comfortable going public in a loin cloth, which was The Mahatma’s rather sparse uniform.
The China syndrome
THE return of the resources boom, which is sending shudders through all levels of government as it is forced to try and keep pace with the private sector, is something that sets Australia apart from the rest of developed world.
In Europe and North America there is an exactly opposite view of the force driving Australia – China.
Overseas, where manufacturing industries are being wiped out by cheap imports, China has become a dirty word – and it’s quite easy to see why.
According to a recent survey, China has just overtaken Germany as the world’s biggest exporter with a surge that took it to 10 per cent of total global exports, up from just 3 per cent in 1999.
What worries the Europeans and Americans is that China is showing no sign of slowing, partly because its workers get a fraction of the Western world’s pay rates, but also because its currency is being artificially held down.
If the trend continues, China could snatch up to 25 per cent of global trade, but that can only be achieved if other countries allow it to happen without erecting trade barriers and mounting economic counter attacks.
Meanwhile, down in Australia, we are the major beneficiary of China’s surge to the top, especially WA and Queensland, where little manufacturing takes places.
It is a different story in NSW and Victoria, where jobs are already being lost as manufacturers are hit with the same Chinese forces damaging Europe and the US.
Better to be a provider of raw materials to the dragon, than a competitor.
On the way out
REMEMBER Christmas cards? Not from the Christmas just past, but the time when your home and office were full of them.
Well, Christmas cards are one of the products named in a recent report in Time magazine as things you might “see no more”, killed by modern communications and technology developments.
Other suggested products heading for the junk yard are telephone land lines because in the US 21 per cent of homes are already ‘mobile only’, handwriting, which has given way to email and texting, bank cheques, and free-to-air television, which is being clobbered by cable.
A FRESH addition to the language from the US is “jingle mail”, invented by bank workers opening letters from mortgage holders who have forfeited their houses because the property is worth less than the mortgage, and have chosen to simply mailed the keys to the bank with the implied message: “it’s your problem now”.
“Things in our country run in spite of government, not by aid of it.”