11/06/2009 - 00:00

Hard to be heard as economies fall

11/06/2009 - 00:00


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WITH the drums of the global financial crisis still pounding their deep-toned warnings, the shrill sounds of peripheral issues appear to have been drowned out.

WITH the drums of the global financial crisis still pounding their deep-toned warnings, the shrill sounds of peripheral issues appear to have been drowned out.

Last year's opinion leaders list contained a coterie of scientists, philanthropists, media voices, local government figureheads and legal types in the prosecutorial game.

It would be fair to say that the influence of many of these opinion leaders has diminished as governments forget about the more decorative issues to concentrate on stabilising economies, saving jobs and finding revenue.

All the voices surrounding sports stadiums, foreshore developments and cultural centres have been silenced, at least to the public ear.

Even the communicators no longer seem to matter. The West Australian's former editor, Paul Armstrong, was the dominant media voice last year. He was an early victim of Kerry Stokes' new dominance of WA Newspapers Holdings.

So if all that matters is business and government, it is perhaps no surprise to find that Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA CEO James Pearson being recognised as an influential character amid the policy positioning under way.

Mr Pearson is a quiet achiever, taking a very different stance from his predecessor, John Langoulant, who was loud and proud on many issues, even those outside the chamber's traditional hunting ground.

Observers say CCIWA is asserting itself at a time when business really does matter. Premier Colin Barnett is, of course, a former chief of the chamber's predecessor.

Mr Barnett has carried a torch for one of CCIWA's pet subjects, retail-trading deregulation, though only in a limited capacity.

He is also maintaining his enthusiasm for the merger of state utilities Verve Energy and Synergy, which is unlikely to be applauded by business.

Interestingly, in a climate of heightened power in LNG but diminished influence of minerals, the Chamber of Minerals and Energy has been less noticeable.

CME CEO Reg Howard-Smith's length of tenure is about the same as Mr Pearson's, but he faces a different set of circumstances.

One challenge for the CME boss is that tougher times for miners have called into question the need for so many representative bodies. Balancing cost and the rising need to have a voice in Canberra is a threat to the local chamber whose big members are almost all multinationals.

Add to this the outstanding public role of Minerals Council of Australia CEO Mitch Hooke who has become the golden tonsils of the mining sector, making regular public appearances in the industry's fight to be heard over emissions trading.

One rare voice standing out from the crowd is that of Peter van Onselen, an academic at Edith Cowan University, whose regular column in The Australian has helped put him on the national stage.

A public spat with federal Liberal deputy leader Julie Bishop was very damaging for her and left Mr van Onselen with increased credibility.


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