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Latham’s northern exposure

THE education of Federal Opposition leader and Western Sydney resident Mark Latham about the importance of Western Australia’s resource industry got off to a shaky start last week.

Heavyweights Woodside, BHP Billiton, Hammersly Iron and Chevron Texaco, as well as key industry representatives, Premier Geoff Gallop and Kimberley Minister Tom Stephens, all turned out to give Mr Latham a guided tour of the big resource projects in the Pilbara.

The catchcry, or rather, mantra, had been set from the start as parochial Western Australians tried to convince Mr Latham, on his first trip north of Perth, that the Pilbara was the economic heartbeat of the country.

But shortly after arriving in Karratha and following a short tour of Hamersly Iron’s port facilities, a focused Mr Latham, dressed in a plain white work shirt, thick polo pants and RM Williams boots, didn’t mince his words, telling journalists he would scrap Australian Workplace Agreements if elected.

Mr Latham cited that only 2 per cent of workers operated under AWAs and that they were a way of getting around the award system.

The resource sector leaders were, understandably, not overjoyed at this prospect, given much of the industry is reliant on the flexibility of the Federal agreements.

But they held their tongues, perhaps hoping not to end a relationship that was in its infancy.

Travelling close to Mr Latham was number one host, fellow party member and WA premier, Geoff Gallop.

Dr Gallop also proceeded with caution around the AWA area.

His Government did away with individual State agreements last year, prompting many WA businesses to shift to Federal AWAs.

Rather, Dr Gallop stirred WA parochialism, asking Mr Latham to consider the State’s cry for a bigger share of royalties from the large resource projects here.

The premier also drew international security out of the bag as a possible threat to WA.

After a doorstop interview, the day moved ahead quickly, with Mr Latham being shuffled to and fro, from project to conference room, as the ‘big kids’ showed off their toys and dazzled with unfathomable facts on the size of the projects.

All the while Mr Latham went about his business, quietly observing and listening to details on a host of projects, among them Woodside’s North West Shelf Venture and BHP Billion’s Boodarie Iron plant.

It was not until Mr Latham arrived at the airport bar for a staged ‘meet and greet’ that he looked somewhat relaxed among the crowd, which was initially quite cautious.

Things changed when Mr Stephens declared the bar open on behalf of the Member for Werriwa.

Then the beer began to flow and Mr Latham, crowded with autograph and photo requests, looked more comfortable as his ‘man of the people’ image emerged.

Hopefully, he’ll remember how at home he felt in that North-West bar, if he ever has to make decisions about the region’s future.

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