05/03/2008 - 22:00

Motorola cut off

05/03/2008 - 22:00

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One of Western Australia’s major technology projects died a quiet death last week, two days before the Carpenter government cranked up support for the state’s next big technology project.

One of Western Australia’s major technology projects died a quiet death last week, two days before the Carpenter government cranked up support for the state’s next big technology project.

Global communications giant Motorola said last week it would be closing its Nedlands software development centre, which was launched with great fanfare nearly eight years ago but never matched the hype.

Softening the blow somewhat was the government’s decision to invest $20 million in an international radio astronomy research centre in WA.

The government also committed $10 million for five new research centres, including a centre of excellence in radio astronomy and engineering.

The initiatives are designed to boost WA’s chances of hosting the world’s largest radio astronomy project – the $2 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

A remote station in WA’s Mid West and a site in South Africa have been short-listed as preferred sites for the SKA, an international project to develop a next-generation radio telescope.

With a final decision due in 2011 or 2012, the state and federal governments are investing to maximise WA’s prospects.

“We want WA to provide not only the site, but also the infrastructure and the people doing the core science and engineering,” premier Alan Carpenter said.

The $20 million budget will be used to employ up top 100 scientists and technicians, purchase and develop new software and technologies, and develop relevant industry capability in WA.

Motorola’s software development centre was meant to be a shining light for high tech industry in WA.

The state government provided about $5 million in payroll tax concessions and the University of Western Australia spent $15 million building premises to lure Motorola.

The Nedlands centre was touted as potentially employing up to 400 people, but at its peak had only about 150 staff.

That number has already fallen. The closure will affect 70 staff and 30 contractors.

University of WA vice-chancellor Professor Alan Robson said the closure was disappointing.

“We thought it was going to be an opportunity to get closer to industry but it just didn’t work out,” he told WA Business News.

Motorola’s Australian management said the closure decision was made by the global senior leadership team after a company-wide review.

It followed a dramatic slump in the company’s fortunes. Motorola reported a $US49 million loss in 2007 compared with a profit of $US3.6 billion the previous year.

Professor Robson said Motorola had 80,000 employees globally when it set up in Nedlands, and now has only 65,000.

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