10/01/2006 - 21:00

Let’s not be railroaded as growth continues

10/01/2006 - 21:00

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With Western Australia entering what promises to be another year of strong economic expansion, the major challenge facing the state continues to be managing its rapid growth.

With Western Australia entering what promises to be another year of strong economic expansion, the major challenge facing the state continues to be managing its rapid growth.

It’s a nice problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.

The property and mining booms have swelled Western Australia’s coffers and delivered record budget surpluses, but this has fuelled pressure for public sector wage increases and spending increases that would not be prudent or sustainable.

The rapid jobs growth has given the state record low unemployment, but has also produced an acute skills shortage.

And new mining and industrial projects are continuing to put pressure on the state’s infrastructure.

The Gallop government’s decision to develop a 20-year state infrastructure strategy is a step in the right direction, albeit belated in its delivery.

Last week’s announcement of an industry reference group, to be chaired by former Clough managing director Brian Hewitt, is also a positive step.

But the Gallop government needs to ensure it follows through with substantive action.

In many policy areas it can tick a box and assert that it is dealing with prevailing issues, but fail to follow through with forceful and lasting action.

Infrastructure will provide a test for the state.

Dr Hewitt told WA Business News that he comes to the new role with an open mind about setting priorities and finding the best way to deliver the infrastructure the state needs.

Let’s hope the same can be said for the government, in particular Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan.

She is well known for her vigorous advocacy of the Perth to Mandurah rail link.

Less well known is her strong push for rail in the state’s south, where the rapid expansion of the plantation timber industry has created transport pressure points.

Ms MacTiernan drove plantation managers to despair because she pushed so hard to get timber onto rail, even though the dispersed location of plantations made this impractical in all but a few instances.

The road-versus-rail debate is happening again in the Mid-West, where several aspiring iron ore miners see road transport as the only realistic short-term option for getting their ore to the port at Geraldton.

There is general acceptance that rail provides a better solution – economically and socially – in the longer term but it would be a shame to see emerging projects stifled by the minister’s failure to accept road transport as a pragmatic interim solution.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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