03/09/2008 - 22:00

Business critical of policy failures

03/09/2008 - 22:00

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Uranium mining, nuclear waste dumps and genetically modified foods barely rated as significant political issues when the state election was called last month, yet they have become major issues as the campaign has unfolded.

Business critical of policy failures

Uranium mining, nuclear waste dumps and genetically modified foods barely rated as significant political issues when the state election was called last month, yet they have become major issues as the campaign has unfolded.

They are part of the Labor Party's campaign to warn voters of what it believes are the dangers of a Liberal Party government under new leader, Colin Barnett.

This focus also reflects Labor's concerted effort to portray itself as the environmentally responsible party, evidenced by policy commitments in favour of public transport and renewable energy.

Mr Barnett has responded by accusing Premier Alan Carpenter of launching a scare campaign before Saturday's election, saying the Liberals' position on uranium and GM foods has been misrepresented, and that debate should focus on issues such as education, law and order and health care.

If Labor is voted to power this weekend, it will be the third successive election victory for the party, after former leader Geoff Gallop led it to victory in 2001 and 2005.

The Liberal Party is hoping to leave its leadership woes behind and have put their faith in Cottesloe MLA and former Court government minister Colin Barnett, who served as the party's leader in opposition from 2001 to 2005.

The large amount of negative campaigning will add to the dismay in the business community over the lack of constructive debate on bigger, strategic issues facing Western Australia.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA chief executive James Pearson felt compelled to issue a statement early this week calling on the major political parties to focus on their long-term vision for the state; but apparently to no avail.

"Western Australians deserve political leaders who are visionary, able to develop sound policies, and responsive to the needs of business and industry," Mr Pearson said.

"Instead, the campaign to date has been characterised by short-term approaches, ad hoc plans, and policies that appear to take business and industry for granted."

He said WA faced significant challenges, which, if not properly addressed, would stop the state realising its full potential.

In particular, he said the major parties had failed to release plans to address the chronic labour shortages, secure the energy system, provide meaningful tax relief for business and households, or improve government efficiency and service delivery.

Other business and industry groups have echoed the CCI's concern and highlighted similar policy priorities, led by the shortage of skilled labour (see page 17).

Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA chief executive Reg Howard-Smith highlighted better planning, more investment in people and infrastructure, improved land-use management, and energy security as the top issues.

"The greatest threat to sustained investment is the absence of a vision for state growth," Mr Howard-Smith said.

Like many companies in the resources sector, the chamber's concern about infrastructure investment extends beyond physical infrastructure such as ports, roads and railways.

"Strong leadership by all levels of government in housing, health and education is essential to improve the liveability of regional areas and enhance opportunities for local employment," Mr Howard-Smith said.

This echoes some of the concerns of The Nationals, which along with The Greens could hold the balance of power after Saturday's election (see page 18).

Property groups have highlighted housing affordability as a continuing problem for the state, but this has gained little traction as an issue during the campaign.

Housing Industry Association executive director John Dastlik said housing affordability remained at crisis levels in WA.

While interest rate reductions will help address the problem, the HIA and other property groups are still looking for structural reforms, including to land supply, property taxes and building approvals.

As well as maintaining an unrelenting attack on the Liberal Party, another surprising feature of the campaign in its final week was Labor's decision to release internal polling showing a big swing to its opponents.

Labor wants to ensure that the public does not make a protest vote against the government on the assumption it will be returned to office anyway.

Its internal polling adds to a wide range of results from recent public opinion polls, which suggest either a close race or a big victory for Labor

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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