ABN Group founder Dale Alcock said the state government's engagement with business has been excellent.

Investment drives optimism in CEO Survey

Friday, 18 January, 2019 - 15:12

Leaders interviewed for the annual Business News CEO survey suggest that forward-looking decisions on energy policy and tax will be vital for WA’s future prosperity.

All but one of the nine executives who participated in this year’s Business News CEO survey expect an improved economic performance in Western Australia in 2019.

Battery Minerals chief executive David Flanagan, who also serves as chancellor of Murdoch University, was positive, and said US-China trade tensions and Brexit would have a lessening impact on markets.

“The sustained investment in gas, iron ore and the battery mineral projects across the state will help things keep moving,” Mr Flanagan told Business News.

“Real estate in WA has come off so much over the last five years, it must be close to (the) bottom.”

Spacecubed founder Brodie McCulloch said work was already flowing through to members of the co-working hub.

He said significant hiring in the next year or two, and broader improvement in the WA economy, would be driven by new resources projects.

Brightwater Care Group chief executive Jennifer Lawrence said there would be enormous upheaval ahead in aged care and disability, with large investments in building and development under way.

Technology investment would be a priority in the sector, while the industry would continue its fast growth and its role as a major employer, she said.

While HBF chief executive John Van Der Wielen was more conservative than his peers in his expectations for the economy, he said WA would grow faster than other states, although monetary tightening in the US was one of numerous challenges.

“The impacts of east coast property on nationwide consumer spending may dampen the early enthusiasm that Western Australians had on the outlook,” Mr Van Der Wielen said.

 

To read survey responses, click the names.

Brodie McCulloch, Dale Alcock, David Flanagan, Deborah Terry, Fiona Drummond, Jennifer Lawrence, John Van Der Wielen, Phil Thick, Sandra Brewer, Bill Beament

Leadership

Both the state and federal governments earned broadly positive reviews from survey participants.

Property Council of Australia chief executive Sandra Brewer said the resolution of the GST distribution imbalance had taken years of advocacy by federal parliamentarians, while the state’s projected budget surplus and investment in Metronet were positive signs.

ABN Group founder Dale Alcock said the federal government took too long to fix the GST, while giving the state government the thumbs up.

“There is excellent (state government) engagement with business and community and we have a cabinet of hard working ministers getting on with the job,” Mr Alcock said.

“Recent announcements of direct flights to Japan were a great example of a ‘can-do, open-for-business approach’ by the state government.”

Tianqi Lithium chief executive Phil Thick also rated the state government’s performance as good, particularly for the improved budget position, although he said more needed to be done on encouraging tourism and international students.

Some leaders were concerned about what a change of federal government in the election due this year might mean for business.

Mr McCulloch said it was important services such as the Accelerating Commercialisation program were not shut down, and he expressed concern that other initiatives might be delayed or rebranded.

ABN’s Mr Alcock was unruffled about the election, saying it would have little impact on the state’s businesses.

“If anything, an election can cause people to hold off on decisions until the result is known, however, the outcome doesn’t fundamentally change things,” Mr Alcock said.

“I think we all expect a change of government to occur.”

But Curtin University vice-chancellor Deborah Terry hoped the election might bring change to higher education policy, with an unfreezing of both student and research funding.

“This has effectively limited the number of students that universities can support, which is akin to putting a cap on ambition,” Professor Terry said.

“Freezing student funding runs the real risk of reducing the number of skilled graduates, and hence reducing both labour market productivity and revenue for government.”

Vision

Tax reform was a top priority for survey participants, while clarity over energy policy and a state government focus on economic diversification also considered issues worthy of attention.

Northern Star Resources chief executive Bill Beament was an advocate for tax change.

“Australia’s tax competitiveness is a significant challenge and it is an area in which Labor’s policies could inflict further damage,” Mr Beament said.

“Northern Star’s purchase of a gold mine in the US this year has shown us that America is a much more attractive jurisdiction in which to deploy financial and human capital than Australia.”

He warned Australia was at risk of losing its mining workforce and human capital overseas because of high personal tax rates.

Property Council’s Ms Brewer wanted a tax overhaul to improve housing affordability, but noted the Labor opposition’s plans to change negative gearing and capital gains tax rules would be problematic.

Tianqi’s Mr Thick said both genuine tax reform and coherent energy policy needed to be prioritised, as did Mr Flanagan.

“(On energy), we don’t have a policy,” Mr Flanagan said.

“There is concern we will not see policy before the election and a possible incoming Labor government will (then) ambush business.”