The green push

LAST year WA’s politicians started to grasp the importance of the environment among voters.

The forest debate became very public and it wasn’t just people who preferred communal living who were getting agitated by logging in the South West.

City folk were up in arms about smog created by burning off, while suits at cocktail parties griped about clear felling.

Whether they had their facts right didn’t matter, the environment was on the political agenda in a way we haven’t seen since Bob Hawke used the green issue to overwhelm the Liberals more than a decade ago.

Perhaps all those young voters Hawke won over have now got jobs, responsibility and influence.

Even Wesfarmers was forced to clean up its image rather than risk harming its Bunnings retail hardware chain.

With this in mind, the Kyoto issue and the stance by the Federal Government has been an interesting development to watch.

John Howard has walked a tightrope on this one and quite possibly succeeded in achieving a result favouring WA business.

Initially, the Government appeared simply to be stubborn or following the American line or both. To the conservationists in our society, and they are a growing bunch (see stories on pages 10 and 11), this is probably as bad as it gets.

Yet the Kyoto agreement would have had a serious effect on our resources industry because it was comparatively tougher on our producers, who already deal with some of the most rigorous environmental standards known.

Of course everyone can do better, but as the figures show, the resources sector outspends everyone else in Australia in conservation measures while remaining

the mainstay of the economy.

The results from Bonn are good compromise for Australia and WA’s industry, while recognising that the environment is becoming a more important issue.

Economic designs

LATER this week I have been invited to address the local chapter of the Design Institute of Australia on the issue of the branch economy.

Their invitation was prompted by Business News’ recent front-page article on the issue, which was backed up by a two-page spread on the views of our Business Panel on this very delicate issue.

Industrial designers, like those who do the interiors of big buildings, are at the coal face of the branch economy, where national companies wanting to refit their offices do their deals between mates in Sydney and leave the locals without a look in.

In preparing for the speech I have been looking for classic examples on this syndrome, particularly the effect it has on business in WA.

But all the preparation in the world could not have envisaged this week’s move by national debt collector RMG.

Its move to shut down the Perth administration at a cost of about 60 jobs just fell in my lap. If it wasn’t such a sorry tale, I’d almost be thankful it happened.

It might make my presentation easier but it is unfortunate that examples of the branch economy at work are this easy to find.

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