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Rowe bows out on top

AFTER almost 26 years representing Western Australian business Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Lyndon Rowe is leaving to become the State’s economic regulator.

While there have been suggestions that the appointment of Mr Rowe to head the new Economic Regulation Authority, was to silence one of its most influential critics, Mr Rowe told WA Business News that this was not the case.

"In some ways I think my appointment is a reflection on how the chamber is viewed," he said.

Mr Rowe said the next 12 months would be challenging.

"There are outstanding issues about the gas pipelines. I’ll be getting a reference from the Government about water."

Besides Mr Rowe, who will chair the ERA for a five-year term, Australian Consumer Association chief Chris Fields will have a five-year term on the authority in a part-time role and current Gas Access Regulator Ken Michael will have a 12-month part-time term.

The authority is the Government’s new regulator for four key areas – gas, water, electricity and rail freight.

It will also be able to inquire into industry sectors in WA. For example, at the Government’s request it could conduct an inquiry into liquor licensing laws.

Mr Rowe described that role as similar to the one fulfilled by the Federal Government’s Productivity Commission.

"We’d conduct an inquiry, produce a public draft report and public final report. However, the findings would only be for the advice of the Government," he said.

Mr Rowe’s path to the Confederation of Industry – the predecessor of the current chamber – was an unusual one.

He and his wife Chris were looking for opportunities outside Adelaide. Mr Rowe found a position at the Darwin Community College only to have that blown away by Cyclone Tracey.

After spending a year in Adelaide to complete an honours degree he became an economics teacher at the WA Institute of Technology – now Curtin. Three years later he was the economist at the confederation.

Mr Rowe became chief executive of the confederation in 1990 and oversaw its merger with the then Chamber of Commerce in 1992 to create the CCI.

He admited he would miss life at the chamber when his stint finished on March 5.

"It’s going to be strange getting up in the morning and not going to the chamber," Mr Rowe said.

"I think the chamber has been a very influential part of the WA scene. Having said that, the CCI is not just Lyndon Rowe and it will continue to argue the business case without fear or favour as it has done in the past."

Mr Rowe’s chamber deputy Ross McLean will take the chief executive’s role until a national search for a replacement is concluded. It is understood Mr McLean will not be a candidate. 

Mr Rowe said the high points for him with the chamber fell into two parts – the chamber’s lobbying role and its assistance to business.

"We’ve gone from seeing a lot of the policies we’ve advocated for 25 years being implemented. We saw a lot of economic reform implemented, especially in the 1990s," he said.

"The challenge for the chamber will be to keep that economic reform argument going."

On the business assistance side, the chamber has about 560 apprentices and has grown its turnover to about $37 million a year.

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