Business puts its case for change...

03/09/2008 - 22:00


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IT'S the one issue that comes up time and again, in boardrooms and business forums across Western Australia.

Business puts its case for change...

IT'S the one issue that comes up time and again, in boardrooms and business forums across Western Australia.

But with an effective strategy yet to be developed, the state's labour shortage remains one of the key concerns of industry leading up to the state election on September 6.

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA has placed the issue at the top of its policy agenda, calling for a human capital strategy to combat current and forecast labour shortages.

It wants to increase migration, both permanent and temporary, and encourage greater participation in the workforce from under-represented groups.

Hand in hand with labour shortages is the need to improve WA's education and training system, which the CCI says should be more flexible and responsive to industry.

One strategy aimed at achieving this, supported by both the Master Builders Association of WA and the Housing Industry Association, is a roll-out of the Building and Construction Industry Training Fund levy to construction works in the resources sector, which is currently exempt from the program.

It's a policy which the building industry has long argued for, and at a levy rate of 0.2 per cent of a project's total value, could add an extra $20 million to the BCITF annually, according to the MBA.

Another regulatory change aimed at easing the shortage of unskilled labour is the proposed removal of restrictions on tourism-related working holiday visas, put forward by the Tourism Council of Western Australia.

The council also believes there needs to be better recognition of the semi-skilled and transient employee stream, as opposed to the skilled stream.

Tax relief has been raised by most business groups, with the CCIWA calling for broad reforms to land tax, stamp duty and payroll tax.

With regard to the latter, the MBA has lobbied to raise the fixed payroll tax threshold and index the level from the 2009 budget onwards.

Land tax reform is a key issue for the Property Council of Australia (WA), which believes the current high rate of tax will deter long-term, private investment in social housing.

The organisation estimates that land tax revenue will increase by 74 per cent over the next four years, to $744 million.

"In comparison, the revenue from stamp duty is expected to remain flat. We are calling for the government to tie land tax to CPI so as not to discourage investment," PCA WA executive director Joe Lenzo said.

Major regulatory reform is also needed for the state's project and land approval processes.

The Chamber of Minerals and Energy says a risk-based assessment process for environmental approvals, along with set timelines, would streamline the system and improve transparency.

In the property development industry, several agencies have proposed that independent local government panels be set up to assess projects, and defined timeframes be introduced for building licence applications.

Delivering a state infrastructure strategy is another major policy priority for a number of WA industry groups. The CME says more government investment is needed in regional areas, particularly in social infrastructure areas like housing, health and education.

It has also called for greater spending on key physical infrastructure - ports, roads and rail - and better co-ordination between government, industry and community providers.

The Urban Development Institute of Australia (WA) supports a similar long-term plan, which it says should contain defined growth areas to ensure the appropriate location of transport, energy, water and health infrastructure.

Individual projects - including a statewide broadband network, road upgrades near Perth Airport, the foreshore redevelopment and the Northbridge Link - should be a priority for any new government, according to the CCI.

In addition, the WA Local Government Association has requested $80 million in funding for critical road works undertaken by local governments.

Related to the need for an infrastructure strategy is the demand for a state energy plan to guide the management and commercial development of energy resources - a policy which has gained traction in the aftermath of the Varanus Island explosion.

According to the CME, the policy would need to set out a vision for the state's future energy needs, as well as strike a balance between meeting domestic needs and growing energy exports.

Advocates for green energy have called for better government support, with the WA Sustainable Energy Association proposing a mandated target which would require local electricity retailers to source at least 20 per cent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020.

The organisation has also suggested a gross feed-in tariff for solar energy, similar to that adopted by other states.

Within the energy sector, exploration expenditure remains a chief concern, with the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association calling for more government spending in pre-competitive geoscience.

The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies has similarly raised the issue of government-backed incentive schemes for mineral exploration, which exist in other states, along with better marketing of incentive programs.

Other issues flagged by industry bodies include the liberalisation of WA's retail trading hours - a recurring theme in WA elections - with the state's peak industry body, the CCI, championing full deregulation. The Property Council has also called for Sunday and late evening trading.

Strategies to improve housing affordability have also been outlined by the UDIA and HIA, including tax incentives to encourage building, incentives for private sector landlords to charge below-market rent, density bonuses and further stamp duty reform.

The HIA says a single agency is needed to provide a cost-benefit analysis of all future legislative and regulatory measures affecting land and housing supply.


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