Election campaign a fizzer so far

27/08/2008 - 22:00


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Western Australia is in the middle of a once-in-a-generation boom, but you'd struggle to know that if you had closely followed the state election campaign.

Western Australia is in the middle of a once-in-a-generation boom, but you'd struggle to know that if you had closely followed the state election campaign.

These extraordinary times provide an ideal opportunity for our political leaders to be truly visionary; instead we have got a lacklustre competition between two leaders who seemingly are most worried about not slipping up.

The character of the election campaign was to a large degree dictated by the manner in which it was called.

Premier Alan Carpenter called the election five months early, clearly worried that new Liberal leader Colin Barnett would gain traction if he was given more time.

It was a cynical ploy and Mr Carpenter has done very little since then to enthuse the electorate.

Nor has Mr Barnett.

Pledging to make tax cuts worth a paltry $250 million, as he did this week, is hardly going to capture the imagination of the electorate.

One of the few intelligent contributions to the campaign was the Strategies for Growth document released this week by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA.

CCI chief James Pearson noted that seven years of rapid economic growth has WA well placed for the future.

The state's economy is almost twice the size it was at the start of the decade, almost 200,000 jobs have been created, and record numbers of people are moving to the state.

He also correctly pointed out that the strong economy has created some major challenges.

The feedback to WA Business News from a wide range of business people across many industries is that labour shortages, the rising cost of doing business in WA and the lack of investment in infrastructure are the main sources of frustration.

It is ironic that, at a time when most politicians preach financial prudence, many business people want to see the government increase its spending for the long-term benefit of the state.

The reality is that business issues don't rate very highly for the average voter.

Last week's Newspoll in The Weekend Australian identified health, education, law and order, water management and the environment as top issues.

They were followed by several issues closer to the heart of the business community - the economy, energy supply and, much lower down the list, taxation and industrial relations.

The CCI report focused on 10 issues it believes need attention, with labour shortages seen as the most important challenge facing WA business currently.

It called for the next state government to put in place a human capital strategy, including support for increased permanent and temporary migration, and increasing participation by groups which are under-represented in the workforce, including women, older people, indigenous Australians and people with disabilities.

Another hot-button issue for CCI was infrastructure development.

It expressed disappointment that the final report of the State Infrastructure Strategy is yet to be released, despite being handed to Treasurer Eric Ripper earlier this year.

CCI called for the report to be released as a matter of priority.

It also expressed concern that the strategy may not address the infrastructure requirements of regional WA, as the cut-off for projects was too high.

The key priorities it identified include creating a state broadband strategy, upgrading roads around Perth Airport, redeveloping the Perth foreshore, and a commitment to proceed with the Northbridge Link project.

A state energy strategy was another priority for the CCI, in the wake of the Varanus Island gas incident.

It wants a strategy that would encourage sound management and commercial development of energy resources, increased energy production, and greater security of energy supply.

WA Business News applauds these goals and agrees that energy security is an important goal but is keen to see detailed costings before future governments commit to any new spending.

Ideas like building a second gas pipeline to the south of the state, establishing gas storage reservoirs north of Perth, and possibly even building LNG receival terminals at Kwinana have been floated.

They also raise all sorts of contractual issues. Woodside cannot simply divert LNG tankers from customers in Asia to supply Perth.

All of these would be expensive, to the point where the cost of the solution may outweigh the cost of gas outages.

Other priorities for CCI include providing tax relief and removing WA's unwelcome ranking as the highest taxing state in Australia, on a per-capita basis.

The flipside of this goal is public sector reform, so there is greater control over government spending.

Scrapping the state's antiquated retail trading hours regulations is another priority, but this fight seems to have been lost.


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