06/02/2007 - 22:00

Solution needed for Mid West turf war

06/02/2007 - 22:00


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It never rains but it pours, so they say.

It never rains but it pours, so they say.

What appears to be a debacle is unfolding in the Mid West, where the creation of a  sizeable minerals province has just run head-on into a major scientific enterprise – the planned radio telescope.

In hindsight, as always, this mess looks like it was obvious.

WA Business News has been writing about both the telescope and the Mid West iron ore rush for several years.

You’d assume that, if we were writing about these things, someone else, such as the government and project proponents, might have considered the consequences of these two incompatible ideas.

It is all very ironic. Whoever let this unfold is mischievous, indeed.

A radio telescope is planned for a region that can guarantee minimal disturbance of the atmosphere and immediate vicinity.

The site, in the vast stretches of the Mid West, was named as one of two short-listed locations for this project because nothing was going on there.

Yet, clearly, things were going on.

The minerals that several companies want to extract are not new, they have simply become more valued.

That has led to a rush of junior resources companies seeking to develop the area.

New mining activity and more planned for the near future now threaten the scientific endeavours planned for the area.

But here we are with both the minerals sector and the scientific community having committed vast amounts of energy and funds to achieving their goals.

Both are important.

Western Australia has a vast remote interior serviced by cities that are hungry to grow their quota of knowledge workers, and therefore compete in the global community.

Few places in the world offer two such things in close proximity.

But in a world hungry for iron ore, our clever junior miners have found a new source of affordable raw material.

They will also help develop regional WA, as well as provide jobs for smart people in the cities.

They could argue that, as an industry, they were here first.

The scientists could argue that they bring diversification into the economy and could put WA on the map.

This kind of tit-for-tat logic could go on forever.

The key issue at stake here is getting the best result for the state, and that makes it imperative the government find a solution.

Hopefully, there is an answer that allows all parties to continue in a cost-effective manner – so the Mid West can benefit from both the resources and scientific sectors, rather than having to choose.


Multiplex seeks to avoid controversy

It’s early days as I write this, but the confirmation of earlier speculation that the Roberts family is engaged in discussions about privatising construction giant Multiplex Group raises the prospect of more bad headlines for Western Australia.

Let’s hope that everything about this possible deal is done with good governance in mind.

In its brief period as a listed company, Multiplex has had a chequered history when it comes to disclosure and transparency.

But its early commentary last week about the possibility of a takeover suggests it has learned something from its own mistakes and those made at Alinta Ltd.

Alinta is in the midst of a management buy-out driven, in part, by its former chairman John Poynton, who has found himself a controversial figure.

Mr Poynton sits on the Multiplex board, has been a long-term confidante of the Roberts family, and has added incentive to make sure this deal goes down well with the investment community.

While Multiplex is no longer technically a WA company, there are enough close connections to our state – through its history, people and current workload – that it would be disappointing to see this deal become another headline act for the wrong reasons.

Perhaps the company can lead the way in the navigating the challenging waters of private buy-outs in an age when private capital is outbidding public money in the race to get control of assets.

This is the new reality. Whether it is short-lived or a major new phenomenon, everyone in the investment community would like to see mechanisms put in place that provided certainty in how to act when these types of transactions take place.


Some perspective on Peel by-election

The Peel by-election result will no doubt further the view of many in Labor’s ranks that, not only is Western Australia solidly behind the state government, but Kevin Rudd might well be a strong candidate at the upcoming federal election.

I wouldn’t blame them for thinking that.

It certainly was remarkable to see the by-election so comprehensively won after the calamity of former member Norm Marlborough’s self-immolation, but some context is needed, I believe.

Firstly, Labor put in considerably more resources than it could on a seat-by-seat basis in a general election, including doorknocking a large part of the district in the day before or morning of the vote to remind people it was on.

Secondly, it seems clear that local issues have over-ridden state and federal ones.

Maybe stamp duty doesn’t resonate like a shiny new railway line and a proposed bypass?

That changes when general elections take place and political discussion is focused on wider issues.


Stateside study tour an opportunity

I will be away for the next few weeks on a study tour of the US to look at small business.

The fellowship is sponsored and organised by the US State Department and will, I hope, allow me to learn about small business development in an economy that is traditionally two to five years ahead of ours.

I hope to come back with a new perspective on this field and other matters concerning business that I will be able to pass on to readers.

WA Business News’ editorial content – including this column – will be directed by Mark Beyer in my absence.


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