05/07/2022 - 09:36

Infrastructure plays to Lockwood’s strengths

05/07/2022 - 09:36

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National connections and regional understanding are a rare combination.

Infrastructure plays to Lockwood’s strengths
Nicole Lockwood has developed an expertise in infrastructure development. Photo: David Henry

It might be one of the most remote business centres in the world, let alone Australia, but from Nicole Lockwood’s perspective the Pilbara was key to forging a career in infrastructure that now reaches across the nation.

Long before Ms Lockwood took roles such as almost nine years with Infrastructure Australia, her current seat on NBN Co or raised expectations she will chair the gestating Net Zero Infrastructure Alliance, she was deeply immersed in the politics of her then hometown of Karratha.

For five years starting in 2007, Ms Lockwood was on the Shire of Roebourne’s council, including two busy years as president.

During that time, the former lawyer also chaired the Pilbara Development Commission for three years.

“I’ve had the benefit that, since living in the Pilbara, I’ve had a lot to do with the east coast,” Ms Lockwood told Business News.

“And that’s because I think the fascination with what was going on through the boom meant we had a reputation and relevance that we maybe didn’t have before.”

Ms Lockwood joined the Infrastructure Australia board in 2011, a position she held for almost nine years.

“You get the benefit of being able to develop national relationships,” she said of this role.

“And I’ve maintained those since.

“The infrastructure sector is actually not that big, there are large organisations but there’s not a lot of them, so once you’ve developed a network, even though people move around as they do in other areas, between certain parts of the sector … a lot of the same people are still there.”

As may be expected, Ms Lockwood’s background also has a strong presence in Western Australia’s institutions.

Currently she chairs Infrastructure WA, a role she took over from John Langoulant before he headed to London to become WA agent general.

Further underscoring Ms Lockwood’s rich curriculum vitae in her chosen area of expertise are past board positions on Westport Taskforce, Water Corporation, Freight and Logistics Council of WA, WA Planning Commission and Horizon Power.

Nicole Lockwood (left) with then WA transport and planning minister Rita Saffioti and John Langoulant, whom she later replaced as chair of Infrastructure WA.

Shire politics

As unusual as it might seem for a national infrastructure leader to emerge from what is now the City of Karratha, it is perhaps worth considering the scale of the development in that part of the world at the time Ms Lockwood arrived, following her husband’s job relocation as they started a family.

Billions were being invested in mines, railways, ports and liquefied natural gas plants, not to mention the roads, housing, retail and health services required for a burgeoning population.

And the state government of the time, led by Colin Barnett, was pushing to grow Karratha, driven by then Nationals WA leader Brendon Grylls’ Royalties for Regions policy and vision to populate the north-west called Pilbara Cities.

As a resident of Karratha, Ms Lockwood said, she saw the contrast between the wealth driven by major resources projects and how little of it was absorbed by people on the ground.

That drove her to seek election to council and, two years later, she became its president.

If her infrastructure journey has a starting point, it appears to be when her council pushed a re-engineering of the city’s layout, upsetting some of the longer-term residents who, in any case, were resistant to Karratha’s rapid growth.

A believer in the changes, Ms Lockwood discovered too late that fresh elections signalled a change at the top and meant she could not see them through as the city’s leader.

“That was a very interesting political lesson for me, because I was very much of the view that the system would determine the right answer,” Ms Lockwood said.

Ultimately, with the arrival of another child at the same time, Ms Lockwood said she had learned a big lesson on how to prioritise and manage her life.

“It’s taught me a lot personally about what’s important,” she said.

“You know how to manage these big roles, but it was a springboard for me for everything I did from there.

“So, it’s been a huge gift in terms of my career.”

Future ports

It is perhaps her role as chair of the Westport Taskforce that has brought Ms Lockwood the most attention in WA.

When Mark McGowan became premier in 2017, one of his first major policy positions was to push for the development of a major port in Cockburn Sound to replace the inner harbour at Fremantle at the mouth of the Swan River.

It is a monumental task to establish a greenfields port, both from the infrastructure and environment hurdles that must be overcome, as well as the entrenched position of many backers of the existing port.

It is the type of project that could easily lose its way, but Ms Lockwood believes the momentum is there.

Although she has been off that board for 18 months, Ms Lockwood remains integrally involved in Westport’s future due to her current role with the Future of Fremantle Planning Committee, which is a sub-committee of the WAPC.

That is charged with determining the economic impacts and opportunities of redeveloping the existing port, with the exit of container vessels and other industrial traffic.

This information will feed directly back into the business case for Westport.

Net zero

At a national level, aside from the NBN board, Ms Lockwood has been asked to help establish the Net Zero Infrastructure Alliance, a body that will bring together all the peak bodies, state and federal planning agencies and key private sector players to centralise much of the strategy around delivering the map required to move to net zero carbon emissions.

She describes the position as being the “cat herder”.

“I’ve been working with all the different peaks and groups around the country to work out what is the model that works,” Ms Lockwood told Business News.

“And again, to my earlier point, it’s all about finding relationships, where everyone can see their role and can have an influence and can still do their thing while still working together.

“So, it’s a bit of a journey.”

Ms Lockwood is passionate about the importance of net zero.

She said she had focused substantial energy on environmental law as a young lawyer and figured that was where her career might take her, before the lure of the north-west changed that trajectory.

Even her major private interest has a green hue.

She has joined the board of Airbridge, a Bibra Lake startup where her husband, Nick, works.

Airbridge has patented technology to capture carbon emissions in a solution that can be used as an input in numerous industrial processes.

Most importantly, the capture can be done without substantial energy.

The technology was invented by Airbridge founder Terry Reid, who has an industrial chemical background and resources experience.

WA+

Aside from Airbridge, Ms Lockwood has taken two other less infrastructure-driven roles.

One is to join former Lotterywest chief executive Jan Stewart on the board of the Steinberg-family’s Malka Foundation, which promotes education of entrepreneurship in WA and, at the same time, invests in startups.

It is a passion of Timezone founder Malcolm Steinberg, who funds the not-for-profit.

Ms Lockwood’s own passion piece is the WA Association for Mental Health, a peak body that represents the major charitable organisations in that space.

“That is a personal passion,” she said.

“Mental health has never had such a big profile.

“I have had a family history of a lot of mental health illness, although it is not something I have wrestled with so much.”

Another, less formal group she is involved with is called WA+, a coalition of like-minded Western Australians who want to highlight the strengths of the state’s economy, including the depth of business outside the resources sector.

Ms Lockwood said part of this concept was to understand that WA had many of the products, services and talents to help transition its economy as the world changed.

WA+ wants to assist with that change as a “transition broker”.

The idea, pushed by WA chief scientist Peter Klinken, has a core of 15 people who have been meeting for the past two years.

“It is the concept of having a really clear vision for the state, which is broken down into some of these competitive and comparative advantages,” Ms Lockwood said, adding that they had produced a WA+ policy document.

“That’s really about how we can make sure that we don’t lose our place in the global economy in some of these areas where we are strong, but we just haven’t been very good at talking ourselves up or claiming the position.”

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