24/02/2011 - 00:00

Going all out on capital works

24/02/2011 - 00:00

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The state government is overseeing a massive capital works program, but questions remain over Oakajee.

THE $440 million Perth waterfront development plan is the most ambitious of a multi-billion dollar capital works program confirmed by Premier Colin Barnett.

In fact, Mr Barnett didn’t hold back when he listed the projects in parliament, describing the hospital component of the program as the “largest-ever health infrastructure program undertaken in this state”.

The waterfront has had more planned redevelopments than any other part of Perth, including sinking the railway through the city.

Mr Barnett torpedoed the previous government’s ‘Dubai on Swan’ plan, although there are many similarities with the final design.

Work at the site is scheduled to start immediately after the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in October, and be completed in mid 2014. Mark your diaries.

In the meantime, watch out for more driver stress as Riverside Drive traffic is diverted around The Esplanade site. The government should be ready to establish a complaints hotline for troubled motorists.

Preliminary work is already under way for the Northbridge Link, and the demolition of the Perth Entertainment Centre will “happen shortly”. The premier did not list the cost or completion date, although $468 million, and 2014, have been nominated in the past.

Demolition of the museum’s vacant Francis Street building will start in March, although there’s still no plan for the old East Perth powerhouse, which the previous government had earmarked as a new museum.

The long-awaited sports stadium is back on the agenda, with an announcement of the government’s intentions promised by mid-year. Money will be allocated in the May budget for planning and design work.

Work will start on the construction or redevelopment of 10 schools during 2011-12, including the rebuilding of the Governor Stirling High School, which will cost $63 million.

But Mr Barnett has singled out the hospital program – work will start on the new children’s hospital next January, with $505 million already set aside. The total cost is tipped to be more than $1 billion, completed by 2015. Again, mark diaries.

The Fiona Stanley Hospital is “on time and on budget”. That’s tipped to be $1.7 billion, with completion in 2014. Work on the Midland health campus should commence in February next year, and on upgrading the Nickol Bay Hospital in Karratha in mid-2012, according to the premier.

It’s a formidable list of which Mr Barnett appears justifiably proud.

Naturally the government will be hoping to get kudos as a result of this commitment. But it can just as easily rebound politically if undue delays occur, or costs get out of control. The Perth Arena project in Wellington Street, started under the previous government and subject to massive delays and cost overruns, is a case in point.

Mr Barnett was cautious, though, when it came to the planned $4 billion port at Oakajee, north of Geraldton.

“The Oakajee project will open a new frontier of resource development for Western Australia, generating jobs and the opportunity for a world class industrial estate for value adding industries,” he told parliament. But still no timetable.

Mr Barnett did acknowledge the work of the previous government, under Alan Carpenter, praising its “foresight in committing to the building of the State Theatre”, which was opened recently.

The opposition did place the premier under scrutiny over his assurances that there would be plenty of work for the metal fabrication shops south of Fremantle resulting from the resources boom.

Mr Barnett acknowledged he had said last year that the shops “will be full” from orders for the petroleum mining projects. He remains confident, saying: “I have no doubt that will be the case ...”, even though his recent inspection of the shops confirmed that they were working at about one-third capacity.

The premier added: “I am advised by people in the industry that they will see skilled fabrication work start to flow into those industries probably over the next six to eight months as some of the existing projects go into construction and as other projects move from earthworks into actual steel above-the-ground work.”

But he knocked back an opposition proposal that laws guaranteeing local content targets be set for new resource projects. When deputy opposition leader Roger Cook said the issue was local jobs, Mr Barnett responded: “Yes – and watch this space”.

There’ll be no shortage of viewers for that one.

Missing in action

State Parliament adjourned for the summer break on November 25. It resumed 82 days later on February 15, time enough you would think for MPs to return refreshed and raring to go.

Not so for the second most important man in the parliament – National Party leader and Regional Development Minister, Brendon Grylls.

Apparently his wife had booked a family holiday in Bali without being aware of the sitting dates for 2011.

So despite the fact that Mr Grylls has responsibility for the allocation of millions of dollars under the Royalties for Regions scheme; has proposed a plan for super regional towns; and initially thumbed his nose at a direction to release correspondence with Queensland mining magnate Clive Palmer, he was a no show.

The opposition blew the whistle on Mr Grylls outside parliament, and the premier defended the absence of his key minister on the grounds that he had worked hard during the break, including during the Carnarvon flood crisis.

The opposition did not box on with the issue in parliament as Labor MPs have some form on this regard, including senior minister Kim Chance, who took a week off early in the last Labor government to go rally driving in Tasmania during upper house estimates hearings.

Mr Barnett could not be publicly critical because the support of Mr Grylls and his National Party colleagues is critical to the Liberal-National alliance. But if the premier wasn’t privately fuming, he should have been. He’s been on about setting high ministerial standards and that, presumably, includes turning up when parliament sits.

It’s not that onerous. The house is due to sit this year for 22 weeks. That’s 66 sitting days out of 365. Surely cabinet ministers can be expected to arrange their affairs so that sitting weeks are clear for all except the most urgent non-government business.

Mr Grylls is no orphan. Former Kalgoorlie Liberal MP Matt Birney also absented himself to attend the Melbourne Cup. And there are other instances.

But parliament is where the government is directly accountable. If ministers short-change the parliament, they short-change voters as well.

 

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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