07/12/2011 - 11:16

Glass more than half full for local workers

07/12/2011 - 11:16


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Workers in other countries would jump at the opportunities offered by our mining, and oil and gas giants.

Workers in other countries would jump at the opportunities offered by our mining, and oil and gas giants.

IT was fascinating to see the fluoro shirt brigade out there last week protesting against Chevron’s Gorgon LNG project.

It makes me wonder if I live in a parallel universe.

Across the seas in places like Europe and the US, people would be appreciative if a big business like Chevron made a significant investment in their area.

In many parts of the developed world, the jobs and investment created by a project like Gorgon would win elections and bring reprieve from banks threatening default.

In the past year, Chevron’s workforce in Western Australia has grown from 1,400 to more than 3,000, according to research for the WA Business News ‘Biggest Employer Survey’.

The company has committed to another development that will put Onslow on the map and is, according to our sources and reported only in this newspaper, looking to build its own headquarters in Perth, a decision that will create even more construction jobs in the union-dominated high-rise sector.

If this were in Greece, Chevron would be hailed as a national saviour.

Yet here, protests by the unions show just how out of touch with reality they have become under laws that they virtually wrote for themselves.

I have no doubt that Gorgon is not perfect. At least one contractor I know of has gone to wall trying to deal with the huge demands of the project. 

There are environmental risks at the A-class reserve of Barrow Island where it is placed. And there’s the competition for domestic supplies of gas, which come at a cost. There is also the issue around local fabrication, which has proved a tricky one given the scale of what Gorgon has required.

Each of these arguments has some merit and would have been part of the decision-making process before Gorgon was given the green light. 

But when it comes to labour issues, it’s hard to believe the unions have anything to complain about.

Employees in some sectors with militant unions have already extracted wages and conditions on the project that might seem obscene to any other part of the 99 per cent of the rest of the world’s employees – be they in Greece or Thailand. 

Unions know they are well placed to impose the maximum cost on a company like Chevron because they control the very limited labour supply in key fields and have no qualms about using that leverage. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission would haul a company over the coals if it used similar monopoly power.

Gorgon is expected to employ 6,000 construction workers and create a further 4,000 indirect jobs during the construction phase. Even back in 2009, when both the state conservative government and the federal Labor government supported Gorgon’s announcement, the world was in a shaky place and this kind of investment was welcomed as insurance against further global drama.

These days, with much of the world’s economy on its knees, we should be even happier that we have such economic development guaranteed. It is past the point of no return, unlike many other projects.

This is our moment to show that we are the place to invest, no matter what the dreadful condition of the world’s economy. 

Instead we show a disdain or even hatred that must be quite a shock to foreign investors.

Last year, opponents of the mining tax used the imagery of WA’s super rich protesting on the back of a ute as part of their campaign to penalise the success of those who had invested in mining. The wealthy here were simply acting to protect what was rightfully theirs, having made decisions based on the law of the land.

Last week, we saw the opposite. Those who have become successful as a result of others’ investment in resources are demanding more.

These are not the unemployed or those left behind. These are people who have significant incomes and conditions that the rest of the world can only dream of. 

After bloodying Chevron’s nose with exorbitant wage claims they are now demanding more jobs for locals when the unemployment figures show the employees simply don’t exist. 

All of this, in my view, is counter-productive. It is like we have returned to the 1970s and 1980s when closed-minded people thought that Australia operated in isolation.

Repellent thought

MUCH has been said about the pros and cons of nets in the era of increased shark activity off our coast.

I am a firm believer that we are heading into a new and unpleasant era, with the rise in the number of big sharks likely to change the way we think about our former ocean playground.

Given the impact that will have on some of the key attractions WA has to offer, I think we have to give a bit of thought to how we can make our beaches and diving spots as safe as possible.

I have already suggested in this column the idea of suspended shark-repelling devices that emit a signal to keep these predators of the deep away from certain locations, such as beaches and popular diving spots. They could even be powered by wave motion.

Since then, however, a comment regarding the dangers of cage diving tourists prompted me to think of a variation on this theme. 

At the time of the latest of three deaths this year, there was strong commentary going around that tourists using underwater cages to view the sharks close at hand might give sharks the wrong impression.

So why not have a few remote-operated fake scuba divers and coastal swimmers dangling shark repelling gear? 

If we had enough of these out there, surely sharks would learn to steer clear after a few discouraging episodes? 

Even more advanced models could, perhaps, hunt sharks and give them enough of a dose to ensure they’ll think twice about going near a swimmer or diver. 

This brings together so many of our strengths. 

Deep sea ROV technology has been used here for years in the offshore oil industry. More recently miners have started using remote operated vehicles; Rio Tinto controls trucks and trains from a hub near the Perth airport.

So why not bring our love of oceanic entertainment and our industrial talents together to protect our way of life?

• mark.pownall@wabn.com.au



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