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Government heeds SW mayday

CALLS for help from the South West following the WA’s government’s backflip over the Regional Forest Agreement have been heeded, with the government offering to provide funding assistance.

Businesses affected by the South West timber industry restructure have been offered assistance in developing new business markets and opportunities.

Regional Development Minister Hendy Cowan said an industry restructuring program had been established to help build new employment opportunities in areas hit by the regional forest agreement.

A spokesman for Mr Cowan declined to comment on how much money had been set aside for the program.

However, Minister of Resource Development Colin Barnett said the government would be spending between $30 to $40 million to assist those affected by the change in policy.

The industry restructuring program is only a small part of the $30 million commitment.

The program, to be administered by the Department of Commerce and Trade, will provide assistance for businesses to invest in new processing and manufacturing equipment, develop new products and services, add value to existing products, use new technology, develop business plans, conduct market analyses and develop marketing strategies.

Businesses will be expected to contribute a minimum of 50 per cent of the cost of their business proposal.

Each expression of interest will be evaluated by a board of government officials involved in the South West.

Proposals requiring a large amount of funding, understood to be more than $100,000, will be considered by Cabinet before the funds become available to the applicant.

At the time of going to press, thirty expressions of interest for assistance had been received by the department.

Mr Cowan said the South West had an abundance of resources and it was important businesses identified new ways to become competitive.

“By taking advantage of new business opportunities that build on the resources of the area, we can help ensure communities in the South West continue to grow and prosper,” Mr Cowan said.

South West Chamber of Commerce president Rolf Stene made use of the South West Focus 2000 conference to repeat calls for government action.

Mr Stene called for a “can-do” Minister such as Mr Barnett to step in and return confidence to the area. He said that at present there was a lot of talk but little action.

Mr Stene said that there were frustrations in dealing with the government because no-one yet had a clear understanding of who had jurisdiction over the problem.

Both the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Commerce and Trade are initiating programs to help those affected by the RFA. However, to date no money has been distributed.

The government backdown was a result of strong community pressure from environmental groups and metropolitan Perth.

Federal Forestry Minister Wilson Tuckey shared the same sentiment as Mr Stene. He told the audience at the conference that both sides of politics had deserted the people of the South West.

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