18/03/2009 - 22:00

Developing ties with Singapore

18/03/2009 - 22:00

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CAN a place that bans chewing gum and has been ruled by one party for decades offer Western Australia opportunities to develop our state and improve our government? Premier Colin Barnett certainly believes this may be possible and has let loose one of his

CAN a place that bans chewing gum and has been ruled by one party for decades offer Western Australia opportunities to develop our state and improve our government?

Premier Colin Barnett certainly believes this may be possible and has let loose one of his best-credentialled new backbenchers to pursue the task of developing a strategy.

The place, of course, is Singapore. Once a cheap shopping destination for thousands of WA tourists, it now claims regional leadership in a number of fields that are critical to WA's future.

The backbencher is Mike Nahan, the energetic former head of the Institute of Public Affairs, who holds one of the state's most marginal seats after entering politics at last year's election.

Mr Nahan believes there is much to be gained from developing a closer relationship with the city-state that has emerged from third world status in 1970s to become one of the leading and most open economies in the region.

While he acknowledges that Singapore's political climate is significantly different that here, Mr Nahan sees potential benefits for the state in developing stronger links in areas such as financial services, banking, engineering, the arts and the public service.

One particular area of interest is the Singaporean government's services, where its bureaucracy and trading arms operate very efficiently.

Mr Nahan said we could learn much from how they operate, pointing to the efficiency of Singapore's port, which is one of the biggest and busiest in the world.

"In terms of delivering public services, they outshine us," he said.

"If you talk to the major law firms and accounting firms, they fly to Singapore all the time.

"Our public servants should be doing the same thing."

Apart from a trade in professional services there is already a strong relationship with Singapore. The island nation is our fifth biggest trading partner with $6.3 billion in two-way trade, and an estimated 30,000 Singaporeans live in Perth at least part of the time.

The city is almost as close to Perth as Sydney and, conveniently in the same time zone as WA, when daylight saving isn't in force.

Mr Nahan admires the way the Singapore has lured banks and financial services majors to take the mantle as the region's capital from Hong Kong. It has also turned itself into a more cosmopolitan city via investment in the arts, medicine and education.

Having such a close financial centre is a major advantage. WA companies already access these markets for capital; perhaps more will seek to list there in the future.

"Competition is always good," Mr Nahan said.

"Right now it's just the ASX. Just as many or more resources transactions are in Singapore, why not have a listing there?"

Singapore is also the major oil and gas hub for the region, with much of the infrastructure linked to WA LNG projects manufactured there or close by in Malaysia.

Mr Nahan wants to see some of that work shared by using the natural attributes of each in a combination of competition and cooperation.

"How can we get greater fluidity of people and skills?" he asks.

"The biggest game going forward is LNG. Downstream processing is hard yakka but we need to emphasise developing WA as a centre of excellence for resources engineering and related services.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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