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Cattle musters his forces to keep Esperance free of dust

WITH the rancour of his controversial removal from the board of Skywest behind him, Miles Cattle is hoping to use his 10 per cent share-holding in the airline to ensure its future is sound.

Mr Cattle resigned from Skywest’s board last month after an aborted attempt to remove him from the position.

Retired Clayton Utz partner John Saleeba and former Qantas Airlink general manager Grant Pitman were recently announced as Skywest’s new directors, joining chairman Pat Ryan and directors Mike Calneggia and Clive Hart.

Mr Cattle does not want to discuss what happened during his last days on the board of Skywest but is clearly unhappy with the way the situation was handled.

“I resigned from the board because I wanted to leave with dignity,” Mr Cattle said.

“Skywest is bigger than any individual. I want to use my share-holding to help the airline establish itself.”

His time spent trying to get the airline operating again has also cost him financially. While he was concentrating on Skywest, his Esperance travel business recorded irregularly low takings.

“I took my eye off the ball in Esperance while I was involved with Skywest,” Mr Cattle said.

His involvement with the airline goes back 20 years to when he bought the Skywest agency in Esperance.

“When Skywest went down on September 14 I took the last flight out of Esperance on that day,” Mr Cattle said.

“I told the staff I would do what I could to get it going again.”

Mr Cattle said he gathered a number of businessmen to put together a bid to the administrators of Ansett, which owned Skywest.

It was one of seven bids put to them but its plan to keep the airline together, employ all of its staff and honour their entitlements won the administrators’ approval.

“We wanted Skywest to be the only horse in the company’s stable and solely dedicated to regional business,” Mr Cattle said.

“It is important for WA to have Skywest. It is recognised as an essential service to the State and provides essential services to a lot of rural and regional communities. It was one business the State couldn’t afford to see fall.”

Mr Cattle said Skywest needed to be protected from competition be-cause competitors would “cherry pick” its best routes, meaning its more marginal destinations would lose viability.

“There is only room for one fully fledged, strong regional airline in WA,” he said.

“Skywest’s destinations are spread over vast distances and growth in business from them is minimal.

“I’ve always been of the view that it is better to have one airline doing it properly than to have seven not doing it at all.”

Indeed, he said Skywest’s twice daily service to Esperance was one of the main reasons he remained in the town.

Mr Cattle came to WA from his native Belgium seeking opportunities, a better climate and beaches.

“When I was in university I realised the opportunities in Europe were very limited,” he said.

“I also liked the Australian ethos – reward for effort.”

His first job in Esperance was as a jackaroo on an Esperance Land Development property.

Since then his business career has flourished to include owning news and travel agencies and taking a role in the business development of his home town.

Mr Cattle said energy remained Esperance’s main issue and had been for the past eight years.

He said the town was on the verge of another boom if the natural gas pipeline could be extended from Kalgoorlie.

“If it comes to pass, that gas pipe-line will do to Esperance what the Ord River Dam did to the Kimberley,” Mr Cattle said.

As a member of Esperance’s Chamber of Commerce, Mr Cattle said he found himself in the unusual position of fighting against the Esperance Port Authority’s plans to add iron ore shipments.

“Esperance is a pristine tourism destination and we didn’t want iron ore dust spoiling it,” he said.

Mr Cattle said the chamber’s resolve to keep the iron ore mining out of the town firmed when it saw Port Kembla’s red townscape.

“We worked closely with the Environmental Protection Authority and were delighted it said the iron ore had to be stored in enclosed sheds,” he said.

“Now other port authorities are coming to Esperance to see how it is done. Because the iron ore is enclosed it is kept dry and that adds a premium.”

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