17/12/2008 - 22:00

Errors of judgement cost Labor

17/12/2008 - 22:00


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THIS is State Scene's eighth year-in-review column and, like the first, it features a change of government.

Errors of judgement cost Labor

THIS is State Scene's eighth year-in-review column and, like the first, it features a change of government.

The first, 2001, was easy to review since it was the year Labor pushed Richard Court's government out of power.

New premier Geoff Gallop had undertaken not to increase taxes, but promptly forgot he'd said that, so taxes and charges went up.

He also said he'd call a referendum so Western Australians could democratically decide if they wished to elect their governors, rather than having them put in place by a single person - the premier.

That commitment was also promptly forgotten, which means Western Australians continue to have governors appointed rather than democratically chosen.

New Labor education minister, Alan Carpenter, pronounced he'd elevate the performance of government schools to match that of private schools.

Has anyone noticed any change eight years on?

Years 2002 to 2004 were not as easy to engage.

And this despite the fact that, somewhere in among those nearly 1,000 days, Dr Gallop moved to impose what was dubbed a 'premium property tax', a new slug over and above council rates and charges on people fortunate enough to inherit or to have bought a house with Swan River or Indian Ocean views.

So upset with the tax plan were those with water views that something like a California-style Proposition-13 anti-tax rebellion emerged across Perth's western suburbs.

The threat of those homeowners storming parliament finally persuaded Dr Gallop to scrap this idea and to instead raise the extra money by lifting the level stamp duty on everyone buying land or a home.

Year 2005 resembled 2001, since then Liberal leader, Colin Barnett, lost an election to Dr Gallop by just more than 1,000 votes.

If he'd not mentioned his Kimberley canal plan, which he claimed would cost $2 billion but later estimates put at seven times that, he'd almost certainly have become premier then, since the Gallop government had sat on its hands and refused to trim taxes.

Years 2006 and 2007 were also a little troublesome except that Dr Gallop bowed-out in early 2006. Mr Carpenter took over and continued in the Gallop mould of unimaginative and big-taxing governance.

Thankfully, 2008 has been another year full of interest.

Look what's happened.

A new state government; a new American president; a new recession - sparked by years of printing now largely worthless IOUs with names like derivatives and collateralised debt obligations, both of which were long-warned against but the warnings ignored; a Papal visit; the Beijing Olympics; Moscow's invasion of tiny Georgia; the first Chinese astronaut to walk in space; plus much more.

Yes, 2008 was an eventful year, and one that will be remembered for many things.

But when the clock is about to strike midnight on December 31, some will look back and perhaps wonder why certain other things didn't happen.

That said, the two standout items not realised that will remain in mind were: the Carpenter government's Inpex debacle; and why that government, in an era of climate change panic, sought to ban the extraction of a fuel that was emission free.

Yes, how did the Carpenter Labor government fail to ensure that Inpex Browse Ltd would locate the $24 billion LNG processing facility in the Kimberley rather than at Middle Arm Peninsular off Darwin?

That this loss came less than two years after the death of one-time premier, the late Sir Charles Court - the man who could legitimately claim to having placed WA firmly on to the international hydrocarbon map - shows just how much things had changed in such a short time span.

There's no way in the world that Darwin's Middle Arm Peninsular would have pipped the Kimberley if Sir Charles were still premier.

One can guarantee he'd have moved heaven and earth to ensure the hydrocarbon processing hub was located in this state, especially since the gas in question is being extracted off WA's coast.

That incompetent outcome of the unimaginative Carpenter government was therefore truly the paramount dismal event of 2008 for WA.

What it's meant is that a second major hydrocarbon hub has not been established along Australia's western coast.

What Mr Carpenter and his energy minister, Fran Logan, appear to have failed to realise is that the Kimberley may now have to stand well aside forever from achieving that status, since Darwin can be expected to continue building upon the huge Inpex facility by attracting other such facilities.

Rather than WA becoming the unchallenged centre of Australia's northern offshore hydrocarbon industry, therefore, we may now find this steadily moving towards Darwin.

Not to be overlooked in this regard is the fact that Darwin is now also better placed to be able to bid to become a service centre for the exploitation, not only of the Browse Basin that lies off the Kimberley, but to also fulfil an identical role for the oil and gas exploitation beneath the nearby Timor Sea.

What a pity there was no-one in the post-Brian Burke Labor Party who was able to step into Sir Charles Court's big boots.

Messrs Carpenter and Logan were certainly not up to the task.

Instead of plotting and planning an unnecessary early election over much of 2008, and the parachuting in of journalistic and other pals into what were seen as safe Labor seats, Mr Carpenter should have been spending all his time on the multi-billion dollar Inpex case.

Unfortunately, Inpex wasn't the only such 2008 lost opportunity since Mr Carpenter, during his premature election campaign, actually announced that if he was returned he'd team-up with the Greens to pass legislation banning uranium mining in WA forever.

In other words, he intended ensuring that one third of the Australian continent could not benefit from the extraction of this non-climate changing energy source.

Apart from denying international consumers this fuel, that meant huge potential losses to Western Australians.

Michael Angwin of the Australian Uranium Association said the benefits to WA, Australia, and the world of developing uranium between now and 2030 would be considerable.

"WA's uranium exports will avoid 1.5 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions globally," he said.

Mr Angwin said the state's uranium output would have generated $460 million in state revenue, including $200 million in royalties, and would boost gross state production by $3.2 billion.

Although the Inpex loss is now probably irreversible, thankfully Mr Barnett moved promptly to lay the groundwork for what may still emerge as a Kimberley hydrocarbon hub by seeking out a preferred location for other possible proposals.

Thankfully, he's also moved on uranium.

Hopefully Labor has learned from the Inpex loss and its failed uranium stance, and never repeats such mistakes.


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