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Rowe steers employer group

IT IS nearly eight years since Lyndon Rowe took the top job at WA’s top employer organisation – the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Two years before that, Mr Rowe was the head of the Confederation of WA Industry. He was instrumental in the 1992 merger with the old WA Chamber of Commerce that created the CCI.

An economist with the National Australia Bank in South Australia, Mr Rowe ended up in WA largely as a result of Cyclone Tracy’s destruction of Darwin.

He had taken a lecturing position with Darwin Community College but “that job literally blew away”.

After spending another 12 months in Adelaide, he came to Perth and took a lecturing position with the WA Institute of Technology – now Curtin University.

From there Mr Rowe accepted the position as economist at the Confederation of Industry.

He worked in a number of roles with the organisation before replacing Bill Brown as its chief executive.

One of his most notable decisions as the Confederation’s manager of economic and financial services was to appoint a young economist named Colin Barnett to the chief economist’s position.

Mr Barnett went on to become executive director of the WACCI before entering State politics.

Mr Rowe believes the deregulation of WA’s labour industry,

particularly the creation of workplace agreements, has been instrumental to the State’s economic success.

In fact, he was writing about the need for workplace change in the early 1980s.

“That was the beginning of this organisation lobbying for industrial deregulation,” Mr Rowe said.

“In 1983 Bill Brown and I put together a paper on the need for industrial change.

“In those days, we were pretty much lone voices. I remember we had to put a disclaimer on it that those were our views and not those of our organisation.

“That changed pretty quickly though.”

Mr Rowe believes industrial relations issues, particularly threats to workplace agreements, could retard the State’s future economic development.

“Workplace agreements have been great for WA. Our reputation as a reliable supplier has been enhanced by those,” he said.

“If there is a change of Federal Government and Kim Beazley implements what he wants to do, it could neuter WA’s workplace agreements.

“Our agreements override Federal agreements but it is possible for a new Federal Government to withdraw that.”

The WA Labor Party is also proposing to abolish workplace agreements if it is elected.

This too could have catastrophic effects on WA’s economy. It threatens to open the labour market to pattern agreements.





Such agreements have already been seen in Victoria. In one case a small business was told that if its employees were not a member of a union, they would have to pay $500 to the union that covered their sector.

Mr Rowe said other economic challenges facing the State included native title and greenhouse gas emissions. He said Native Title was something that had to be fixed if WA was to progress.

However, Mr Rowe was optimistic about WA’s future.

“In the immediate future we are looking at a slower economy – probably for the next eight or nine months,” he said.

“We should return to economic growth rates of 5 per cent to 5.5 per cent in the very near future.”

Mr Rowe believes WA’s economy will still be reliant on resources.

“I think this old economy, new economy stuff is nonsense,” he said.

“WA has leading edge technologies in its resources industries. And those industries are feeding WA’s manufacturing and other industries.”

It is probably fair to say Mr Rowe’s rural background has had some bearing on his economic approach.

He was raised on a pastoral property in South Australia, which is still managed by his brother. Mr Rowe and his wife run a 130 acre property south of Margaret River.

“In the country you have two main schools of thought – agrarian socialists and those that believe in free enterprise. I’m definitely of the latter view,” he said.

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