15/10/2008 - 22:00

Corporate types staying calm

15/10/2008 - 22:00


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WHAT a difference a year makes.October, the traditional time for market crashes, is also when I make for Rottnest on an annual holiday.

WHAT a difference a year makes.

October, the traditional time for market crashes, is also when I make for Rottnest on an annual holiday.

Last year, on the last night of my holiday, I was chatting with some corporate types at the pub about the euphoric state of the markets.

"If you are not up to your gills in debt now you are really missing out," was one comment, suitably Rotto with its maritime reference.

It's hard to imagine that line looking more outdated than in the past week. But then the news of the time was probably at its zenith in terms of optimism. That very same week the hyperbole included talk that the proponents of the Capital Square development on the old Emu Brewery site had received an offer of as much as $16 million for the penthouse from an interested local party.

A year later, the chances are that many people who were indebted "up to their gills" may well be underwater right now. Meanwhile, the Capital Square development has run into drastic trouble, with problems securing a builder putting a second tower in doubt.

However, I have to say, the corporate types were still thick and fast at Rottnest last week, many coming and going via private yachts and helicopters with what seemed like a great deal of composure given what was unfolding on global markets.

"What can you do?" was a bit of a standard response from some that I chatted to. The fact that many of them remained at the island - albeit with Blackberrys buzzing away in their board shorts - showed how much of a sanctuary Western Australia really is when this sort of global turmoil takes place.

The machinations of global markets and world banking systems might be worrying the average punter, but many high level executives believe the ripple effect in WA will be a quietening down from what has been an excessively busy period over many years.

And it's worth remembering that what is taking place is yet to directly bring down any major local business. Business here may well be battening down but it knows it's not out, at this stage.

Political football

I WAS surprised to see federal opposition deputy leader Julie Bishop joining the board of the West Coast Eagles.

There is no doubt that the AFL footy team could do with a female of Ms Bishop's stature, given what it has gone through in the past year or two, but what is good for the gander isn't always good for the goose.

Ms Bishop has proved in her life that she can be multi-skilled but I was quite stunned to see someone with so much already on her plate take on an additional workload, especially in a week when global financial turmoil was making her role as opposition Treasury spokesperson even more important than ever.

From my point of view, the Eagles is a very serious franchise and a big business, so I doubt the appointment is any sort of tokenism. Presumably, therefore, a board job on the Eagles will require as much work as that at a public company.

There is also the political risk inherent in connecting yourself to something as potentially self-combustible as young footballers, or even old ones for that matter.

It is also worth remembering that football in WA, something which the Eagles is intrinsically a major part of, is vying to influence the expenditure of $1 billion of state money in the shape of a new sports stadium. With Kevin Rudd now offering billions for infrastructure, it's possible that issue could vaguely enter the federal sphere as well.

Finally, and perhaps more obscurely, football is widely broadcast on television and radio, areas heavily regulated by the federal government and regularly seeking protection, especially in the coverage of sporting events.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with showing a bit of sporting allegiance. In fact, you'd be a dull and colourless pollie if you didn't.

We often see political and cultural leaders becoming patrons or number one ticket holders; that is just PR and vastly different from becoming a decision maker.

But politicians typically remove themselves from positions of potential conflict, especially when it comes to administration.

In reading the commentary around this subject my senses were heightened by the Western Australian Football Commission's chairman, Neale Fong, reportedly stating Ms Bishop's appointment marked an exciting time for the football industry in WA.

While boundaries may blur when it comes to sport and business, footy is definitely more than just a recreational activity. Huge crowds, TV audiences and sponsorship packages make it a big competitor in the entertainment industry.

And I'm not sure I want to see politicians more aligned than they have to be to any particular industry, entertainment or not.

Personally, I'd rather see Ms Bishop use all her very abundant energies making the government answerable in her important portfolio at this critical time.


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