24/09/2008 - 22:00

Cost control the first fight in battle of Troy

24/09/2008 - 22:00


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A streamlined and efficient public service is what new treasurer Troy Buswell wants to see.

Cost control the first fight in battle of Troy

A streamlined and efficient public service is what new treasurer Troy Buswell wants to see. Mark Pownall reports.

PERCEIVED by some to be outside the tent of new state premier Colin Barnett, Troy Buswell and Norman Moore have become two of the big winners from the Liberals' surprise election result.

Mr Buswell emerged from a tough period as opposition leader to become one of our busiest politicians, taking on the key role of treasurer as well as major portfolios of commerce, science and innovation and housing and works.

Mr Moore, considered a factional opponent of Mr Barnett's, has been granted the mines and petroleum portfolio, returning to a ministry he held previously under Richard Court.

Mr Buswell has immediately primed the public sector for cost control, taking a stance familiar for newly elected governments but also one that the business lobby had chanted for.

"It is unacceptable for the government to go forward with double digit growth in recurrent spending," he told WA Business News.

"To simply spend more money on the public service is not going to allow us to deliver outcomes."

Mr Buswell said he wanted to introduce reforms to make sure the public service performed more efficiently, empowering management to take responsibility to deliver services within budget, and was prepared to look at alternative models for delivering government services, including partnerships with the private sector.

He particularly thinks more competition should be used to help improve public services.

The former opposition leader acknowledged that his workload looked big but said restructuring of the Department of Industry and Resources will focus the bureaucracy reporting to him.

Mr Buswell expects DoIR to be split, with the administrative minerals and resources elements going to a new department under Mr Moore, while the more general industry functions form a new Commerce Department.

That department would most likely also include the Small Business Development Corporation as well as the state's consumer protection and employment protection bureaucracies.

In addition, his proposed department would also include the business-relevant areas of science and innovation as well as investment facilitation.

While underlining the importance of having a small business focus, Mr Buswell was uncertain about the future structure of the SBDC, which has operated for decades as a stand-alone authority.

"Small business is fundamentally important," he said.

"One of the benefits of having the treasurer responsible for small business is some of the issues confronting small business will be given higher priority."

The government will aim to review the red tape encountered by all business, working in a consultative way to remove regulations and statutes that no longer serve a purpose and ensure that all new rules consider the wider impact on business.

Mr Buswell said this micro-economic reform included laws that control occupations to how the industrial relations system worked.

The new treasurer said he had an open mind when it came to dealing with IR, a politically dangerous area.

The options range from keeping the status quo to going as far as handing responsibility for IR to the Commonwealth.

"I think it is fundamental for the incoming government to test all assumptions," Mr Buswell said.

Another politically sensitive area is trading hours, where Liberal policy differs from that of Nationals WA. Mr Buswell said this would be handled in a consultative way, though other regulations and restrictions on retailers were open to change.

"There are aspects of the current regime that almost any person would agree need to be changed," he said.

One key promise made by the Liberals during the election was to cut state taxes by $250 million.

An economic audit committee would be formed to make recommendations about where those cuts should be made, though Mr Buswell said a priority for the state was housing affordability.

Taxes that impact on housing affordability will have to be part of the review," he said.

"But I am well aware of the business community's demands with regard to payroll tax.

"There is a lot of reform of taxation we could be looking at, but until we get recurrent expenditure under control it will take time to deliver.

"$250 million is only a start, it is just a small step in the process."

The future of state development group LandCorp is also in doubt, with Mr Buswell suggesting that the government doesn't need two such agencies, including Housing and Works, and that the state ought only be a developer of last resort.

An audit of capital works will also be carried out to ensure there are no further shocks or unexpected blowouts than those already confronted by the incoming government.

Mr Buswell said he remained committed to the privatisation of state superannuation manager GESB which was halted at the last minute by former treasurer, Eric Ripper.

While the former state government acknowledged the allocation of reserves to the newly private GESB was a key issue in the decision to stop the process one day before the mutualisation, it offered no further information on the matter, which affected hundreds of thousands of existing and former public servants who were promised superannuation choice from July 1.

"It is a significant issue," Mr Buswell said.

"I don't think these are the sorts of matters that should be hidden from public consideration, the mutualisation of GESB was an important reform."


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