02/04/2008 - 22:00

Limerick pushes holistic approach

02/04/2008 - 22:00

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Two weeks on from his retirement, the state’s top industry policy adviser says the project approvals system and the development of the Pilbara are among the most pressing issues facing the Carpenter government.

Limerick pushes holistic approach

Two weeks on from his retirement, the state’s top industry policy adviser says the project approvals system and the development of the Pilbara are among the most pressing issues facing the Carpenter government.

Jim Limerick has also questioned the government’s failure to appoint a successor to his role as director general of the Department of Industry and Resources.

Nor has it finalised a response to a major review of the department completed last year by LandCorp chairman Terry Budge.

“That’s a bit unfortunate, yeah,” was Mr Limerick’s diplomatic response when asked about the leadership hiatus.

The 57-year-old Mr Limerick, who started his career at Western Mining Corporation, joined the department in 1986 and never expected to stay long term.

“That was intended to be for just two years, to have a look around, make networks, make contacts, and get back out,” Mr Limerick said.

Instead, Mr Limerick progressed rapidly and was exposed to issues that caught his interest.

He said the opportunity to achieve something constructive for the state was a key motivator for himself and many other public servants, especially since the state can’t match private sector salaries.

“What I’m finding is that sense of genuine public service, that people actually want to do something for WA, its not just about money,” Mr Limerick said.

“It’s about actually feeling that you are contributing to society; that makes a lot of our really good people stay.

“I don’t think that is sufficiently highly valued.

“The public at large just don’t realise how much commitment there really is.” Mr Limerick said the rapid growth of the past five years was a very exciting time, but had highlighted shortcomings with the project approvals system.

“What’s brought it into focus over the past few years is simply the volume of approvals and the loss of skills in government to deal with them,” he said.

“We would love to get approvals through as quickly as possible, but if you double the volume and halve the staff it just doesn’t work and that’s more or less the situation we’ve found ourselves in.” Mr Limerick said the onus was on government to develop a better solution.

“We are never going to be able to get enough people to rigorously and efficiently assess proposals,” he said.

“The government needs to develop new systems, in liaison with industry and the wider community.” Mr Limerick said a holistic approach was needed, encompassing environmental reviews and any other new requirements to be introduced.

“In the next couple of years I think we’ll be looking at health impact assessments as well.

“We need to come up with an efficient system for doing it in an integrated way, that is the key.

“Rather than having a whole lot of independent, disparate processes, how you pull it all together is the challenge.

That is something no government has succeeded at.” Mr Limerick said he was pleased by the level of cooperation among state and federal government agencies reviewing development options in the Kimberley.

However, the Pilbara was a more pressing issue.

“I think the most immediate challenge lies in the Pilbara, with the growth forecast there in the iron ore industry and the LNG industry, and the infrastructure and social amenity issues that throws up,” Mr Limerick said.

One of the big questions was working out how the region might develop, especially with moves to remote control mining.

“In 10 years’ time, what will the Pilbara look like, and what do we want it to look like, as distinct from what the ambitions are of the iron ore companies? “One of the things the government is turning its mind to now is, what do we actually want in the Pilbara? “There are some real challenges there.” When asked about the development of industries beyond mining and resources, Mr Limerick said WA needed to play to its strengths, especially at a time of skills shortages.

In particular, he said the state needed to leverage off the resources sector, especially in the area of technology He highlighted the big investment in research and development in the Bentley Technology Park area, which is home to the WA Energy Research Alliance, and has attracted major investments from the state government and resources giants such as Woodside, Chevron and BHP Billiton.

“That is creating the foundation for a very strong centre of excellence in Perth around resources technology, and our ability to market that, export it and attract other people here,” Mr Limerick told WA Business News.

He said the information technology sector needed to make the most of growth in other sectors, whether it be resources or the $2 billion Square Kilometre Array radio telescope.

“Personally I don’t see IT as an industry in itself, because it’s so allpervasive, its an enabler of so many things,” Mr Limerick said.

“The SKA is really a big IT project, “The IT industry says, what about us? “Well, a lot of what’s happening is about the IT industry, it’s just not portrayed in that way.

“If you look at IT in isolation you’ve missed the big picture.” Looking at his own future, Mr Limerick plans to spend a couple of months travelling overseas before deciding on career options.

“The plan is to go away and make up a plan; I can’t do that until I’ve cleared my head.” 

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