10/09/2008 - 22:00

Plenty for the new premier to ponder

10/09/2008 - 22:00

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WHOEVER forms government after last weekend's amazing state election, the challenges will remain the same; and one of the first the new administration will need to tackle is the perception that has been Alan Carpenter's undoing - that not enough has been

WHOEVER forms government after last weekend's amazing state election, the challenges will remain the same; and one of the first the new administration will need to tackle is the perception that has been Alan Carpenter's undoing - that not enough has been made of the boom and that, for some, it has sent them backwards.

The revelation in the final week of the campaign that WA primary school children are among the nation's poorest performers when it comes to reading, writing and numeracy is a case in point.

Many would have pondered how such a rich state could be left behind on education. If we are looking for a dividend from the boom then a sound education system, which ultimately helps meets the needs of our skilled workforce and gives us a competitive edge more generally, must come close.

It wasn't that long ago that we spoke of Australia's dual economies - WA and Queensland on the one hand, and then the other states. Now, we talk of two economies within WA - the resources sector and those that service it, and then everyone else.

People in and around the resources sector have enjoyed robust wages growth, insulating them from the surge in living costs that have left the rest either going backwards or peddling harder to stand still. Sharing the spoils of the boom or, at least, giving people a sense of benefiting from it will require a strong focus on human capital, as well as more infrastructure like the Perth to Mandurah railway. Let's call it the vision thing.

Perhaps it was the constant distraction of battling scandals involving various ministers and Brian Burke, but Premier Alan Carpenter should have mapped out his vision for the future a little better.

With the Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA predicting the creation of a further 400,000 jobs over the next decade, labour shortages will continue to be an issue for the new government; as will stopping the brain drain from the public service into better-paying private enterprise.

As this week's Major Projects feature highlights, there is a vast number of resource and infrastructure projects under way or planned WA, but for some the window of opportunity is not open for long, and a slow and complex approvals process - made worse by the loss of talent - needs urgent attention. Bringing the portfolios of state development, energy and resources under one minister might help.

Whoever takes power will also need to restore the faith of business and foreign investors unnerved by Mr Carpenter's campaign back-flip on uranium mining and the prospect of Inpex piping its Browse Basin gas to Darwin.

If Mr Carpenter is returned, he should drop the sudden change of policy on uranium and get Inpex back from the brink.

In both cases, local indigenous Australians stand to gain significant economic independence if properly managed.

Rightly or wrongly, there was a sense among some of the state's major corporate hitters that the Carpenter government was suspicious of business - that it never truly engaged with business.

Perhaps it was too cautious after the excesses of WA Inc or maybe it was a reflection of how so few in government had ever been in, or run, a business. If reinstated, Mr Carpenter will need to address this perception.

Liberal Party leader Colin Barnett will be more instinctively in tune with this constituency but he also risks putting some offside by micro-managing areas of interest.

His plan to cut a better royalties deal from a merged BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto may be good for the state but won't come without some angst.

The new government must get serious about energy security and treat any inquiry into the Varanus Island incident not so much as an inquisition but as an opportunity to develop alternative energy sources and a better 'plan B.' Let's call it an energy policy.

The new government must become more of a champion for WA industry on national issues such as the proposed emissions trading system and exploration tax incentives.

With WA's share of the national spend on minerals exploration down around 20 per cent during the past decade Mr Carpenter or Mr Barnett must keep the Rudd government to its pre-election promise on flow-through shares.

The interests and concerns of the local LNG industry over the design of the ETS, amid warnings that $60 billion worth of development is at risk, must be reinforced.

And, it seems, the new government will have no choice but to get serious about regional development. Nationals leader Brendon Grylls has put his four deciding seats on the table in return for a commitment of 25 per cent of the state's mineral royalties ($675 million) for the regions.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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