Life after the poll

20/11/2007 - 22:00


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One of the major roles of newspapers is to shine a light on the communities they serve and highlight some of the important trends and issues.

One of the major roles of newspapers is to shine a light on the communities they serve and highlight some of the important trends and issues.

In recent weeks, we have found it hard to steer away from the extraordinary prosperity in Western Australia.

Our fifth annual chief executives salary survey published in this week’s edition has revealed big increases in executive incomes, with nearly 80 WA executives earning more than $1 million in the past year – double the number 12 months earlier.

Two weeks ago, we reported on another dimension of the boom – the amazing wealth being generated by the owners of mining and mineral services companies, led by Jubilee Mines boss Kerry Harmanis after Swiss group Xstrata agreed to buy his company for just more than $3 billion.

Four weeks ago, we titled our annual economic review ‘A Golden Age’. It seemed a fitting title for a feature that chronicled WA’s consistently high growth and the prospect of continued high growth in future years as the China boom rolls on.

The ‘mining boom’ is an ever-present theme in WA but its not good news for everyone.

Last week, we reported on the challenges facing the not-for-profit sector. Many not-for-profit organisations are finding life even harder in the current economic environment, with staff and premises becoming more difficult to find.

The not-for-profit sector has also found that the economic boom has largely bypassed the bottom 10 per cent of our community – people without the social and commercial skills or the training and experience to take advantage of the many opportunities available.

These trends will need to be carefully managed by whichever party wins the federal election this weekend.

The challenge for the incoming government will be to continue the state’s strong economic growth while also dealing appropriately with the fall-out from the boom.


IR policies pivotal

Labor’s industrial relations policies have been one of the key issues during the election campaign – though Kevin Rudd’s ‘small target’ strategy has made it difficult for the coalition to prosecute its claims about the damage they believe will flow from Labor’s union links.

Mr Rudd has indicated, publicly at least, that he has listened to the concerns of business in WA, and in the mining industry in particular.

Labor is likely to reverse some of the coalition’s reforms but has indicated that it will not revert to a centralised system of wage fixing and dispute resolution.

It could actually help the business community if it addressed the ridiculous complexity the coalition has created through its belated attempts to salve community concern about WorkChoices.


Shake-up needed

A labor government in Canberra also creates an opportunity to improve the currently dysfunctional federation.

This might be wishful thinking, but any realistic attempt by Canberra and the states – which will all be run by Labor governments – to create a more effective working relationship would be welcomed.

Mr Rudd has flagged plans to improve health funding arrangements by giving the states extra money and incentives to improve their performance. If they don’t deliver, Canberra would take over.

That’s a principle that could be applied to many other aspects of federalism.

Universities, for instance, have been unhappy for years about micro-management from Canberra. They would like to run in a commercial manner but find themselves constrained by bureaucratic rules and onerous reporting requirements.

That brings us back to the not-for-profit sector, which faces exactly the same problem.

Operators in this sector would like to be able to focus on doing their job, but instead have to spend inordinate amounts of time meeting the needs of their funding partners, led by government.

Wouldn’t it be good if governments could provide help to those who need it and were able to leave others to get on with their lives, their businesses, their employer-employee relationships, their universities, their charitable needs.

Let’s hope for a fresh approach.


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