03/06/2010 - 00:00

Miners’ influence undiminished, for now

03/06/2010 - 00:00


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THE power players in Western Australia remain largely unchanged, though the impact of the federal government’s resource super profits tax could change the future dynamics of this mix.

Miners’ influence undiminished, for now

THE power players in Western Australia remain largely unchanged, though the impact of the federal government’s resource super profits tax could change the future dynamics of this mix.

As usual, the list of business heavyweights depends on a mixture of factors: the size and scale of their companies and the projects they are undertaking; the public role they take and the credibility they have; and the behind-the-scenes influence they have due to political or cultural connections.

Given the unprecedented slap in the face many of these business leaders have been given by Canberra, there is little doubt there is a big threat to their influence on local business.

If investment in Australian minerals projects is seen as difficult, the likes of Sam Walsh, Ian Ashby and Alan Cransberg will have their positions of influence undermined.

Interestingly, some of the power shifting has already taken place. In the case of the resource super profits tax argument, it has been the global leaders like BHP Billiton’s Marius Kloppers and Rio Tinto’s Tom Albanese who have challenged the federal government, not so much the local executives who have, to date, been steering multi-billion expansions.

As Rio Tinto’s Australian chief, Mr Walsh is well placed to have influence beyond Perth as a member of his company’s executive committee. These are reasons why he is seen as one of the most influential people in the state.

But a slowdown in minerals development, with or without the proposed Rio-BHP iron ore joint venture, would dent the influence of those with a more parochial focus, such as Mr Ashby, who has much less of a public profile. Mr Ashby is slightly lower on the BHP totem pole than his cross-town rival Mr Walsh. He is also comfortable to leave lobbying in the hands of key staffers such as Ian Fletcher, whereas Mr Walsh is more at home in the important political space.

In contrast, Fortescue Metals Group chief executive Andrew Forrest and Woodside Petroleum chief executive Don Voelte have been prepared to take on the federal government as loud and vocal critics of the tax grab. Both have much to lose, but they have chosen to be at the forefront of debate.

Taking a similar stance has thrown Atlas Iron’s David Flanagan and BC Iron’s Mike Young into the political arena too.

Richard Goyder has also been outspoken on the tax. However, his influence is broader than his company’s coal interests. He is the locally born chief of WA’s biggest industrial company, a strong supporter of cultural initiatives and, most importantly, appears to have successfully pulled off Australia’s biggest takeover, which makes him the largest employer of private sector workers in the country.

Low-profile Chevron Australia chief Roy Krzywosinski also stays in the list as the guiding hand of the $43 billion Gorgon project.

Also placing on our list of significantly influential leaders are Michael Chaney and Kerry Stokes, yet both are very different.

Regarded as one of the best executive leaders the nation has known as the former head of Wesfarmers, Mr Chaney chairs two of the nation’s key companies and contributes to complex policy debates. He, of anyone, can claim to hold the high moral ground in business in Australia.

Mr Stokes wields power differently and more directly. He doesn’t shirk from the most bruising corporate fights. In 2008, he spilled the board of WA Newspapers Holdings – where he has since installed Mr Voelte and Mr Walsh as directors – and this year took the majority stake in Seven Group by merging it with his Westrac mining and construction services business.

Former Alcoa Australia chief Wayne Osborn remains influential in cultural circles from that time. More recently, Mr Osborn has emerged as an active director with some very serious board members.

Jenny Seabrook’s current board portfolio is of a lower profile than she’s had in the past. Her experience as both an adviser and former board member of companies such as WAN and Western Power enhance her influential position in corporate Perth.

Gindalbie director George Jones is much more than the board member of mid-tier mining company. With the Mid West province flourishing and strong links to China, Mr Jones has a unique position among the up-and-coming resources players. He has also joined the criticism of the resources tax.

Property is a big focus of the private sector’s most influential.

Back in good health, BGC Group founder Len Buckeridge is Australia’s biggest home builder and at the forefront of many big construction developments. However, it has been surprising to see his private port proposal wallow when many believed a change of state government would fix Mr Buckeridge’s problems.

Dale Alcock runs the second biggest Australian homebuilder. He is also influential in policy matters and has been prepared to be a spokesman for the industry.

Once considered a future Liberal leader, former state under-treasurer and ex-Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO, John Langoulant, has re-emerged in the public sphere as the head of the consortium building the port and rail infrastructure at Oakajee. This is Premier Colin Barnett’s pet project.

Former stockbroker John Poynton is as connected as you are likely to be in WA. As an investment adviser for decades, Mr Poynton has played a hand in some of the state’s biggest corporate deals in WA. His entrepreneurial bent damaged a transition into being a boardroom leader at Alinta but he’s shifted his energy into the philanthropic space, where he is driving change at a WA level.

Michael Malone has built Australia’s third biggest internet service provider and recently came to national prominence in a big legal fight with a consortium of Holywood studios and broadcasters.

Mark Barnaba, Michael Smith, Alan Cransberg and Nigel Satterley are all business leaders whose influence is explored on page 18 in a story about the West Coast Eagles.



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