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Concern as business digs a little deeper

WHILE the Pilbara and Northwest Shelf are being championed by many media outlets as heading the latest resources-led economic boom for Australia, not all is rosy for the local business community.

Complaints of preferred ‘out-of-town’ sub-contracts and little access by local shires to the spoils of the resources industry have resulted in a growing feeling of discontent among local business operators.

Pilbara Shires Association chairman Kevin Richards has called for a social impact study on the area’s town populations, which are gradually shrinking despite the huge dollars being poured into resource development.

Mr Richards – who also is president of the Roebourne Shire, which presides over the town of Karratha, the so-called financial hub of the Pilbara – echoes the sentiment of many service industry operators who see the financial benefits flowing away from them to big out-of-town contractors.

It’s a view not shared by all. Karratha Chamber of Commerce president Leanne Rowlands says that, while it is true a lot of the money from big developments does flow out of town, there is work available for locals who are innovative and prepared to work hard.

“I think there will be a spin-off to small business, and it’s up to them to make sure they’re known to the larger companies,” Ms Rowlands told Business News.

“We have a shortage of workers here at the moment because some of the smaller companies can’t afford to pay what the big companies do. But there are a lot of opportunities for small business, and there’s new housing developments going on.”

Mr Richards insists the story is the same in all of the major Pilbara towns of Karratha, Port Hedland, Parabadoo, Tom Price and Newman.

The common gripe of medium to large business operators in Karratha is that, even with major resource developments such as Woodside’s Phase Four natural gas pipeline, all they’re getting is a few crumbs of sub-contracting work.

Consider the figures being bandied about for the on-going development of the gas-to-liquids (GTL) industry on the Burrup Peninsular.

The Department of Mineral and Petroleum Resources says six GTL projects valued at more than $6 billion has resulted in the Burrup Peninsular being regarded as Australia’s most strategic strip of industrial land.

Woodside has constructed a special village to house the workers for the construction of LNG Train 4, and Perth company John Holland Construction also will have workers in the area for a small civil works contract.

On February 7 Woodside announced that the $100 million off-shore installation for the second gas supply trunkline had been awarded to Portugese company Saipem Comercio Maratimo, employing a workforce of 300 for four months.

Both projects are due for completion in mid 2004.

Most workers are employed on a fly-in-fly-out basis and the local service industry will see only a fraction of the investments via a few comparatively small sub-contracts.

The end result for a town like Karratha is a false, highly inflated economy with unaffordable rental accommodation by normal standards where most dollars earned by workers are spent in their home bases, such as Perth.

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