The dumping of the state government’s most capable minister puts the onus onto the rest of Colin Barnett’s team.
WHEN Colin Barnett won power at the last state election, one of the major issues he faced was the very thin talent pool among his parliamentary colleagues.
His response was to personally take a lot of the heavy lifting on major issues facing the state and to load up Troy Buswell with a prodigious workload.
To the surprise of many, particularly those who judged Mr Buswell by his personal indiscretions, he acquitted himself as a very capable minister, at least so far as the big issues in the treasury, commerce and housing portfolios were concerned.
His capability was stretched in some policy areas, including science and innovation, but overall he rated as a good contributor to the government.
Now that Mr Buswell has gone from the ministry, Mr Barnett has an even larger workload after taking on the role of treasurer, and ministerial newcomer Bill Marmion has been thrown in the proverbial deep end, inheriting commerce, housing and works, and science and innovation.
If the government is to properly manage the growth challenges facing the state, Mr Marmion will need to hit the ground running and many of his ministerial colleagues will need to lift their game.
One of the key challenges facing the ministry was eloquently put by Mr Marmion in his inaugural speech to parliament, delivered in November 2008.
A former engineer, ministerial policy adviser and planning consultant, Mr Marmion said: “I am passionate about developing a vision, plans and policies that will meet the needs of our state now and well into the future.
“One of my greatest frustrations is the reactionary planning and implementation of major infrastructure projects, particularly transport projects, in a vacuum of any overall master plan or visionary context.
“Where is our draft 2050 passenger rail network; our 2050 port network; our 2050 land-use plan for industry; and our 2050 road and rail freight networks linking major industry?”
Mr Marmion acknowledged that developing such plans is not easy, but believes the first step is easy.
“We just have to say we will do it, allocate the resources and start. It is nearly 50 years since the Stephenson-Hepburn plan was prepared,” he said.
“From this plan came the metropolitan region scheme and a planned road network. It gave the metropolitan area a developmental framework.
“It is well past the time for this plan to be looked at again and for a completely new start to be made.”
These are sentiments shared by many business people across Western Australia, who have told WA Business News on numerous occasions of their frustration at the lack of a clear, long-term vision for the state.
Where work of this kind starts, it often comes to naught.
For instance, this newspaper (and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA) have criticised Mr Barnett for refusing to release the state infrastructure strategy that was completed in the final months of the Labor government, with substantial input from an expert industry group chaired by respected engineer and company director, Brian Hewitt.
Where a long-term vision is developed, there needs to be a firm commitment to consistently implement supportive policies.
However, that is the least of our worries at the present time.
The biggest problem at the moment is the plethora of long-term industry reviews and the lack of clear policy guidance from ministers.
A couple of reports in this edition of WA Business News illustrate this point.
Our cover feature highlights the near universal concern in the land development industry about the looming shortage of developable lots across the metropolitan area.
The problem is widely understood, the policy options, including faster planning approvals, are clear, but progress is slow.
In the energy sector, the Economic Regulation Authority says there is confusion because there are so many reviews under way.
Training, transport, lands and indigenous affairs are other portfolios where major reviews are under way or have been handed to government.
They are a start; what is needed is ministerial guidance.