21/09/2004 - 22:00

Latham pledge falls on deaf ears

21/09/2004 - 22:00


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Mark Latham’s promise to give up to $75 million a year to Western Australia to attract major new gas and processing projects to the State largely went unnoticed at the weekend.

Mark Latham’s promise to give up to $75 million a year to Western Australia to attract major new gas and processing projects to the State largely went unnoticed at the weekend.

It’s a pity, because this sort of commitment is something that WA governments and business have been demanding for ages and its muted reception will hardly give John Howard’s Liberals cause to respond in kind.

While such news might be lost on the populace of Perth, I am sure a marginal electorate like Kalgoorlie might understand the implications of such a decision.

Regional areas with strong mining industries often have a strong streak of independence and already loathe the blood-sucking nature of Canberra-based government. Anything that assuages such feelings may well make a difference at the ballot box.

The money is to be funded from the $17 billion in revenues expected to be earned by the Federal Government from the Gorgon gas development on Barrow Island.

It comes in the wake of the Federal Government’s reticence to assist with infrastructure needed to develop this State’s resources.

According to the State Government, the Commonwealth takes about $23 billion a year in revenue from WA, yet we constantly get short-changed when it comes to Federal funding for infrastructure such as roads – an example where WA doesn’t even get its share on a pro rata population basis.

Local experts such as Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief economist Nicky Cusworth reckon the Federal Government’s practice of trying to pick winners by funding specific projects is the wrong approach and has already proven disastrous in some instances.

She believes common-use infrastructure funding, such as the Australian Marine Complex at Henderson, is far more practical and less risky.

Which brings us back to Mr Latham. While he may have stolen the march on the Liberals, he really hasn’t communicated much detail on this policy.

Firstly, the question of how much. The $75 million figure was not in the policy announcement I found on the Labor website and it is worth noting that Geoff Gallop’s follow up release had the critical words “up to” in front of $75 million. That could mean anything, really.

How will this money be spent and who will direct its use?

Does it become yet another pork-barrelling fund for election winning or will it be a carrot dangled in front of a stick to ensure other Federal policy is put in place, like competition policy.

Will it be tied to specific projects or common users?

Will the $75 million be CPI-linked or gradually diminish in value over the 20-plus years of the Gorgon project.

It’s about as hazy as an election policy can be.

Labor policy makes miners shudder

You can sniff the fear in the air when business talks about Federal Labor’s industrial relations policy.

The mining community representatives we had around the table last week visibly shuddered at the idea of Australian Workplace Agreements being ditched, a concept that somehow isn’t winding the clock back, according to Mark Latham.

It’s not just the mining industry that fears the change. Pin-up conglomerate Wesfarmers has also been outspoken in this regard.

Michael Chaney’s successor Richard Goyder is worried about any reregulation of industrial relations.

Such an atmosphere doesn’t create a good environment for business.

Surplus target

Speaking of elections, the State Government has created a rod for its own back by raising too much tax.

Some pretty big business lobby groups, are gunning for reductions, especially the dreaded payroll tax which punishes businesses for employing people.

Let’s hope it becomes an issue in one election or another.


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