16/12/2010 - 00:00

There were a few other things, really!

16/12/2010 - 00:00


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The mining tax and the accompanying political shenanigans were not the only events of 2010, even though it might have felt like that for many business leaders in Western Australia.

There were a few other things, really!

The mining tax and the accompanying political shenanigans were not the only events of 2010, even though it might have felt like that for many business leaders in Western Australia.

The state started the year with a mixed bag of news – the economic data was generally on an upward trend, house prices were high, unemployment was falling and interest rates remained steady.

Perhaps another sign of buoyancy was UK legal giant Allen & Overy setting up in Perth, poaching some prominent local lawyers. Speaking of legal matters, internet service provider iiNet saw off the Hollywood studios in an intellectual property battle.

But the collapse of parts of Rick Stowe’s Griffin Group showed that not all was well as debt markets remained tight more than a year after the global financial crisis started in earnest.

And then Luke Saraceni’s massive Raine Square CBD high-rise project was brought to a standstill when builder Salta downed tools. The site was dormant for months and has since restarted. Legal action is ongoing.

The corporate watchdog appealed a win by Andrew Forrest and his Fortescue Metals Group over market announcements – another matter that has dragged through the courts all year.

Kerry Stokes surprised the market by announcing a merger between his Westrac Caterpillar franchise and media group Seven Network, which he controls. Despite scepticism, investors approved the deal.

The first quarter also brought bad news in the form of a hailstorm that caused damage thought to be around $1 billion. And there was a cost blowout at the Oakajee port development, one of many projects to experience that during the year.

April was marred by doubts emanating from the European Union, especially Greece, which could not pay its debts. Despite this, miners felt truly unshackled for the first time in 18 months as commodity prices surged and investors returned to the markets. Troy Buswell resigned from state cabinet over accounting irregularities linked to an extra-marital affair. Too late, he realised he had actually done nothing wrong. He was sentenced to more than six months on the backbench.

The mining tax row erupted in early May and literally drowned out any other news for nearly two months, until Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was dumped by his own party and his replacement Julia Gillard cut a deal with the big mining companies.

The miners won the battle for the hearts and minds of many Australians, especially in the resources states such as WA and Queensland. That resulted in a super-charged election campaign narrowly won by Labor with the help of several independents.

During that period there was also the tragic loss of several Sundance Resources directors in a plane crash in Africa.

After the election, the mining tax debate continued more as background noise and the resources giants got on with the business they know best.

Chevron and Woodside both announced major gas finds, BHP Billiton decided to go ahead with its Macedon domgas project, Rio Tinto gave the green light to a massive Pilbara expansion and BHP followed suit with something a little more respectable.

The hopes for an easy passage for the James Price Point gas hub north of Broome were dashed when a falling out between indigenous groups prompted the state to move to compulsory acquisition.

Shell bit the bullet on its Prelude project and decided to sell down its stake in Woodside, which joined CITIC Pacific in announcing a cost blowout this year.

During the last few months of the year economics again came to fore. Ireland succumbed to its own debt woes while Perth house prices slid on the back of increased interest rates and the end of a stimulus package for first homeowners.

And the mining tax again reared its ugly head.

The federal government showed that political deals are different to corporate ones when it chose to interpret the detail in its agreement with the big miners differently than they did. The miners complained bitterly and, it would seem, the tax is likely to make a news comeback in 2011.


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