Key industries fearing their voice will be lost

While the Gallop Government’s latest mega department may save some money, there are fears that vital industry sectors may get lost, as Julie-anne Sprague reports.

THE creation this week of mega department the Department of Industry Resources may plunge some of Western Australia’s key industries into obscurity, according to the Opposition and industry groups.

The tourism industry is one area that is concerned that it will be overlooked now that its minister Clive Brown is carrying a mega portfolio created to save costs and offer greater efficiencies.

Tourism, small business and information technology – all linked to examples of WA’s future industries highlighted in a special report in WA Business News last week – are examples of sectors that may lose the fight for attention against the resources heavyweights of mining, oil and gas.

However, it all may be just a case of back to the future.

The Labor Government’s policy of department mergers could be seen as returning to the Labor of 1992 before the Court Government came in and increased the number of departments.

In 1993, when the Liberals won office the huge Department of State Development was broken up into the Department of Resources and Development and the Department of Commerce and Trade. It was a move former Resources Minister (and now Opposition Leader) Colin Barnett said he championed to enhance individual industries and allow growth in areas that were often overlooked.

“The Department of State Development, under the Labor Government was a department that was not achieving any development,” he said.

“I said that there should be a specialist agency for mining and agriculture. They are important drivers for the State.

“Commerce and Trade was created to focus on small business areas such as technology, engineering, international trade, the IT sector. There were lots of these industries that were subsumed in the Department of State Development. “The big projects were mining and resources so the others just got lost.”

The Department of Industry and Technology’s industry, trade and physical components have now joined the Department of Mineral and Petroleum Resources to form the titanic DoIR.

DoIT’s e-Government policy related functions have been shifted to the newly created Office of e-government under the Department of Premier and Cabinet, and the procurement functions of the DoIT have been transferred to the Department of Treasury and Finance.

The DoIR creation is the result of a recommendation made by the Functional Review Taskforce and Premier Geoff Gallop said the merger meant a better deal for taxpayers.

“The review identified duplication and competition for re-sources within the public sector and its recommendations will improve service delivery to all key State development stakeholders.”

He said the restructure would save $24 million over four years.

DoIR comes under the responsibility of Mr Brown who is also responsible for State development, tourism, and small business.

Tourism Council president Manny Papadoulis said he was concerned that tourism would receive less attention under the new arrangements.

“Before the department was expanded Clive Brown had a handle on tourism but he was stretched to capacity,” he said.

“Now that it has expanded its definitely going to be the case [that Tourism loses ministerial time].

To have a minister at the Cabinet table who supports tourism is fantastic but his day to day time is stretched, it’s pushed to capacity.

“The super-ministry may save $20 million but if you have a $300 million deal for the State that falls through because of it are you really saving money?”

Mr Barnett said WA was already paying for the implementation of other mega departments.

“Creating mega departments and mega portfolios is failing,” he said.

“Planning approvals are behind and education is in turmoil. What will happen now is that tourism will lose out and mines and petroleum loses out. They should have a dedicated minister. Those industries are too important not to.”

However Chamber of Minerals and Energy chief executive Tim Shanahan said the chambers’ members had not indicated any concerns with the Department of Minerals and Petroleum Resources being swallowed up by DoIR.

“This shouldn’t have any impact on the mining sector,” he said.

“This is something the chamber is quite supportive of.”

Chamber of Commerce and Industry director industry policy Bill Sashegyi said the chamber supported the move.

“We think it will be quite a good arrangement all around,” Mr Sashegyi said.

However, he said he would like to see more involvement with other partners including the CCI.

While Mr Barnett agrees with amalgamating areas of government it is the extent and the haste of its implementation that has him concerned.

“There is great confusion in the public sector,” he said.

He said that due to the loss of a significant number of departmental leaders it was clear there was poor morale in some government agencies.

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