Measuring up the Barnett government

01/10/2009 - 00:00


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ITALIAN renaissance scientist Galileo Galilei is purported to have said "to count what is countable, measure what is measurable, and what is not measurable, make measurable".

ITALIAN renaissance scientist Galileo Galilei is purported to have said "to count what is countable, measure what is measurable, and what is not measurable, make measurable".

A modern-day derivation of this philosophy is the oft-quoted business mantra: you can't manage what you can't measure.

It is perhaps with this in mind that the Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA put out its scorecard on the state government's performance just a few days after the one-year anniversary of the deal that brought Colin Barnett (pictured bottom) the premiership on September 14 2008.

CCIWA gave the Liberal state government an average score of 6.2 out of 10, across the 11 categories it considered most important to business in WA.

According the report released by CCIWA chief executive James Pearson (pictured top), the state government achieved best in the area of regulatory reform, energy and tax competitiveness.

The business lobby group was also positive about the state's efforts in education and training, as well as public sector reform.

It is unclear how business will do the managing now it has the measurement, but perhaps a hint of that was addressed the next day when Treasurer Troy Buswell released the 2008-09 state finances results.
WA managed to record a $318 million operating surplus for the 2009 financial year.

In releasing the news, Mr Buswell was certainly singing from the same song sheet as CCIWA.

"I am pleased the state's books were in the black in 2008-09, however the results show the importance of the government's efforts to control unsustainable expenditure growth," Mr Buswell said in a statement.

"Today's report follows recent news of a rise in business confidence and the unanimous endorsement for our Triple-A credit rating from both Moody's and Standard and Poor's.

"These acknowledgments reflect our work implementing the Capital Works Audit, the 3 per cent efficiency dividend, the Economic Audit, Wages Policy and FTE ceiling."

However, Mr Buswell says he cannot guarantee the budget will not go into deficit this year.

The WA Property Council was also upbeat on the state's performance it its first 12 months, believing the efforts to prioritise approvals process changes, led by Planning Minister John Day, had hit the mark at a time when much had to be done.

The Labor opposition was, naturally, a little less positive about the Barnett government's first year performance.

Labor leader Eric Ripper said more than six months after its own self-imposed deadline, the government had failed to implement its 100-day plan.

"We are still waiting for the tax reform and reduction strategy that promised tax cuts of $250 million to Western Australian families and small businesses - instead the cost of electricity, gas, water and other household charges have soared," Mr Ripper said.

"Legislation has not yet been introduced for fixed parliamentary terms, a lobbyist register, an independent mental health and wellbeing commissioner, additional powers for courts to restrict antisocial behaviour and cannabis laws."

Economics spokesman Ben Wyatt focused on the record 13 per cent jump in government spending, which he said would leave a legacy of higher debt that would have to be paid for through higher taxes and charges.

Workplace safety

MINE accidents have been a big issue for the state government, with Mines and Petroleum Minister Norman Moore raising his concerns on several occasions, as well as making it a priority for the department under recently appointed new director general, Richard Sellers.

That issue has given some ammunition to the federal government in its bid to harmonise occupational health and safety laws across the country.

As the home of the country's lone Liberal government, WA came in for attack when it refused to join the unification initiative called Safe Work Australia.

Federal parliamentary secretary for Western and Northern Australia, Gary Gray, called for WA to reconsider this stance, citing the state's safety record, which is closely monitored and measured.

"WA is a state that needs to attend to its safety record - 482 workers have died at work in Western Australia over the past 10 years," Mr Gray said.

It is worth noting that state Labor was in government in WA for about eight of those 10 years.

Mr Gray pointed out that businesses and workers constantly move across state lines for new opportunities and a harmonised system would make things easier for everyone.

Mr Buswell has made it clear that the move to nationally adopt laws similar to those operating in WA had been cause for concern.

He said the safety record of the state was questionable and the laws shifted the onus of proof to employers as well as increasing union power.

Business groups agreed that harmonisation was important, but were clearly concerned about the potential for the proposed harmonisation to impact negatively on WA. CCIWA clearly stated that the mooted changes were a backward step in their current format.

"WA already has an effective OSH system that has been carefully developed by government, business, and unions over many years," Mr Pearson said in a statement. "It would not make sense to replace an effective local system with a national system that delivers inferior outcomes for WA.''

CCIWA said there remain a handful of sticking points which it believes would be detrimental to local business, including handing greater powers to unions and potentially imposing substantially higher costs for business.

Chamber of Minerals and Energy chief executive Reg Howard-Smith said that, without being provided with the detailed draft legislation, it was difficult to give proper consideration to the potential implications for the mining sector in WA.

"While the broad principle of harmonisation is supported, CME has previously expressed concern over a number of specific issues including those objected to by the state government," Mr Howard-Smith said.


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