19/12/2007 - 22:00

Demanding a place at the big table

19/12/2007 - 22:00


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In times to come we might look back at 2007 as the year Western Australia finally counted in the national schemes of things.

In times to come we might look back at 2007 as the year Western Australia finally counted in the national schemes of things.

Of course, the powers that be in Canberra have known for a long time the wealth WA delivers the rest of the country; they just didn’t need to do anything about it until now.

WA was just a distant province.

But the massive increases in wealth generated from resources, which reflects itself in royalties, has driven the state beyond its previously perceived position.

What happens here really does matter to everyone.

The importance is reflected in our corporate sector, in our housing prices, and in the recent federal election.

Corporate Perth has been the powerhouse performer of the national economy.

Even Australia’s biggest company, Melbourne-based BHP Billiton Ltd, would find its strong year has been disproportionately driven by assets in WA. There has even been quite strong talk that it could relocate its headquarters here.

Below that, Wesfarmers Ltd has emerged as the nation’s 13th biggest company, joining the 9th largest in Alcoa Inc (Australian operations), and the 12th biggest in Woodside Ltd.

Wesfarmers’ purchase of Coles Group Ltd was the transaction that not only rocketed the company up the ladder in terms of market value, but also pushed it to becoming the country’s biggest retailer and largest private sector employer.

That is quite a feat from little old WA.

Even the bad corporate start to the year, with the disastrous management buy-out attempt at Alinta Ltd, helped solidify Perth’s corporate leadership.

While at a national level attempts were made to paint Alinta’s MBO group as pariahs, the fact is that the resulting auction stopped one of the country’s more ferocious infrastructure acquirers becoming bigger than anyone could have imagined.

Alinta has simply snuck up on the markets over two years to emerge as a major player.

As everyone was grumbling at Perth’s renewed cowboy attitude, they were quietly ignoring the very same thing at Qantas Ltd.

Anyway, the market was soon taken aback by the audacity of Wesfarmers’ bid for Coles.

Below that group, the likes of Fortescue Metals Group Ltd and a host of other mid-tier stocks have driven a significant amount of value for Australian Securities Exchange investors.

And that, in turn, has led a host of junior stocks to market, with another bumper year of Perth IPOs.

WA is now home to a third of the companies listed on the ASX, about the same number as Sydney in numerical terms.

Rising property prices is rarely viewed in Perth as helpful to our economic growth but it reflects the rise in demand.

In the city, those prices and the resulting rent rises have prompted investment in a host of new office and apartment blocks, with the city skyline criss-crossed with cranes.

Along with this massive develop-ment, Perth is expected to have its first underground rail network operating before the end of the new year.

The increase in property prices has put Perth on the map. Ultimately, property prices reflect demand, which reflects people wanting to live here. While affordability issues may also be driven by poor planning and red tape, there is no doubt that the rest of Australia has noticed people want to live in this city.

The recent federal election has also put WA squarely in the spotlight.

While the state’s voters did not end up making the difference, they did send a very real message to the new government – that the wealth of WA depended on a consistent approach to economic management.

By going against the trend, WA has also provided potential new leadership to the defeated Liberal Party, with Julie Bishop taking up the deputy’s post.

This changes the rare triumvirate in education that presided in WA during most of 2007.

Ms Bishop was federal education minister, Labor’s Stephen Smith was the opposition spokesman, and University of WA vice-chancellor Alan Robson headed the Group of Eight research universities, a prestigious post in terms of education policy.

Mr Smith has since gone on to become Australia’s foreign minister.

The poor result for Labor in WA highlighted another political issue – that the population remembers the bad days of WA Inc and doesn’t want to see them again.

For all his attempts to shed this image, Premier Alan Carpenter has been beset by difficulties created by one of predecessors in the post, Brian Burke.

Mr Burke’s dealings with government and parliamentarians have gathered more headlines than the state leader and his party would care to remember.

This has spoiled Labor’s image and highlighted some of the boom’s issues for the government.

With a government bursting at the seams with work, companies have resorted to many methods to get approval for their project or iron out difficulties. Enter Mr Burke, lobbyist and consultant.

I’m glad the state has become big enough to expose this issue before it really got out of hand.


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