01/04/2010 - 00:00

Palmer plays to WA regional concerns

01/04/2010 - 00:00

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MINING magnate Clive Palmer might be from Queensland, but he doesn’t mind weighing into Western Australia’s political scene, as he did in Albany at the weekend with promises to spend up big in support of The Nationals WA campaigning at state level.

MINING magnate Clive Palmer might be from Queensland, but he doesn’t mind weighing into Western Australia’s political scene, as he did in Albany at the weekend with promises to spend up big in support of The Nationals WA campaigning at state level.

A long-term political player in the Queensland National Party, Mr Palmer’s original wealth came from property development, and then coal mining in that state.

But he has topped that up from his iron ore interests in the Pilbara, notably the Cape Preston area where one Chinese-funded mine is already going ahead.

He is, therefore, in a good position to fund The Nationals, who have exploited concerns in regional communities that people in Perth are spending the wealth from the ground.

According to reports from the Nationals conference in Albany at the weekend, which the magnate attended, Mr Palmer has promised to fund a high level of advertising for the party, making it tough for Labor to win back some of those regional seats in the north which it lost in the last election or from political defections.

The link across to the Nationals heartland in Queensland could also add to pressure on the party’s federal political players to mimic the success of the WA Royalties for Regions (R4R) scheme.

At the Albany conference, the WA party called on the federal government to back R4R by providing matched funding, a move which will no doubt prompt federal Labor to question if this is a policy of the federal coalition, which includes the Nationals.

“By the end of this financial year the Royalties for Regions program will have delivered more than $700 million in new community projects to regional WA,” The Nationals WA leader Brendon Grylls said.

“We have seen the significant impact Royalties for Regions is having in regional WA and we want to use this funding to leverage our fair share from current and future federal governments – asking them to partner with us on Royalties for Regions to double the pool of funding available.”

Mr Grylls called on the Nationals’ federal representatives to convince their coalition partners that a state-commonwealth agreement would be core opposition policy for the upcoming election.

“I want them to tell Western Australians that our Royalties for Regions pool will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the coalition if it wins government,” Mr Grylls said in a statement.

“Our WA candidates have a clear federal election agenda and they will want to see candidates and sitting members from all parties outline their position on this issue.”

Nationals federal leander Warren Truss rejected the idea.

Fair go, Canberra

CONCERNS about just how much Western Australia gets back from Treasury coffers in Canberra is increasing as the disparity between states on a per-capita basis continues to widen.

The key source of agitation is the allocation of funding by the Commonwealth Grants Commission, whose formula is expected to give WA just 5.7 per cent of the GST pie, compared to our population, which is above 10 per cent of the nation as a whole.

But a number of federal initiatives created by the current federal government have returned miserly amounts to WA, a state in which Labor did relatively poorly in the 2007 election and has the country’s only conservative state government.

The latest initiative to raise concerns about funding allocation has done so pre-emptively, highlighting the view in WA that it will always get short-changed by Canberra.

The peak organisation representing local business, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA took up the baton of calling for a fair go this week after a visit to Perth by Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Ms Gillard announced increased funding for the Enterprise Based Productivity Places Program, which is intended to boost Australia’s training effort and help ensure workers have the skills relevant to the needs of employers.

The government has doubled the scheme’s funding from $25 million to $50 million.

“With WA once again being relied upon to drive the nation forward, it is essential that local employers and job seekers receive their fair share of the additional funds,” CCI senior adviser, education and training policy, Les Goh, said in a statement.

“This must take into account latest job advertisement figures, which show that nearly 20 per cent of vacancies across country are in WA.”

The chamber’s research from 2007 shows that, over the next 10 years, the state will need an extra 400,000 workers. It says that, based on current population trends, WA will fall 150,000 short.

“All evidence points to the imminent return of severe labour shortages,” Mr Goh said.

Minimalist wages

IN other political news, CCI has lodged a detailed submission to Fair Work Australia (FWA) supporting a moderate increase of up to a $12 a week to the minimum wage in 2010.

The chamber said in a statement that anything more is unsustainable and unjustified, believing that caution is needed as many businesses are still feeling the impacts of the global economic slowdown, and our economic recovery is still in its infancy.

It said many employers could not afford to pay substantially higher wages.

In contrast, the Australian Council of Trade Unions is asking FWA, in its first review of the minimum wage, to increase the minimum wages by $27 a week.

The ACTU view on the economy is different from that of business.

“The Australian economy is recovering steadily from the downturn,” the ACTU said in its submission.

“On the evidence to date, decisive policy action here has averted catastrophe for the Australian economy, and for Australian workers and their families.”

The ACTU believes the 2009 decision of the former Fair Pay Commission to impose a wages freeze on low paid award-reliant Australian workers was unfair and unwarranted.

However, CCI argues that, in 2008-09, Australia’s productivity declined for the first time in a decade. “Therefore, it is essential that any increase to the minimum wage be linked to productivity,” the lobby group said.

“This will help employers grow their business and better reward their people.”

 

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