After two years in power and a major ministerial reshuffle, it’s time for Colin Barnett’s government to deliver.
Over the past month, as rumours of Troy Buswell’s return to the ministry gained strength, the merits of this move have been hotly debated in boardrooms and business meetings around Western Australia.
Many people told WA Business News that the state government – clearly thin on ministerial talent – needs his intellect, energy and reformist drive in Cabinet.
Many others argued that Mr Buswell had made too many errors of judgement, that his reputation was beyond repair, and that Western Australia’s reputation would suffer by association if he did return.
Premier Colin Barnett has weighed those arguments and taken the pragmatic path, welcoming back an individual with enormous personal baggage and equally large talent and ambition to the transport and housing portfolios.
Mr Barnett has also implemented a surprisingly large ministerial reshuffle, elevating Attorney-General Christian Porter – who has had to carry the burden from the very start of his parliamentary career of being earmarked as a future leader – to Treasurer.
Other key moves include relative newcomer Bill Marmion to environment and water, and Simon O’Brien to finance (a new ministry to help the Treasurer), commerce and small business.
Two senior ministers have added relatively small but strategically important portfolios, Kim Hames adding tourism and John Day adding science & innovation.
Having made these changes, and having launched multiple reviews, reports and strategic plans, often with great fanfare, over the past two years, now it’s time to produce results.
The intent and broad thrust of nearly all these reviews have been commendable but the amount of concrete follow-up action has been modest.
Concern about the lack of follow through action is shared by Chamber of Commerce and Industry of WA chief executive James Pearson, who spoke this week about the CCI’s expectations for 2011 and 2012.
Mr Pearson said the business community expected a lot from reviews like the Economic Audit Committee – which was meant to lay the groundwork for a fundamental restructure of the public sector in WA – and the Red Tape Reduction taskforce, but their reports have not been fully implemented.
In fact, a recent Business Council review found that, while WA has lifted its game on red tape reform, it is still a poor performer.
Another major report released this month was Skilling WA, a workforce development plan for the state that was designed to map out strategies for dealing with labour shortages.
CCI believes this will be a “critical document”, but it seems surprisingly thin on specific proposals.
The government spent a year working on the report, but was able to draw on numerous earlier reviews and more than five years of community debate about the issue of labour shortages.
Despite that advantage, the report was populated with phrases like: developing proposals, establishing alliances, fostering collaborative engagement, reviewing administrative processes, investigating alternative models for processing, advocating policy changes, and establishing working groups.
There wasn’t a lot to fill an outsider with confidence.
A related area marked by lack of tangible progress is the skilled migration strategy, which was completed by the CCI and the Chamber of Minerals & Energy on behalf of the state government in May 2010.
“It is disappointing that this report has not been publicly released and the recommendations have not been implemented,” CCI said in its pre-budget submission out this week.
CCI also expressed its disappointment at the lack of progress on WA’s strategic energy initiative, including the failure to release a Directions Paper due this year and the lack of progress on detailed economic modeling.
Another topical issue raised by CCI is the lack of an over-arching infrastructure plan for the state, and the lack of clarity and/or funding for the some of the state’s top infrastructure priorities, such as Pilbara Cities, the Northbridge Link and the Perth Waterfront.
There is an emerging pattern here: a government that shows promise, says the right things, and puts in place a review process, but is thin on delivery.
With two years to the next election, the onus will be on Mr Barnett and his senior ministers to change that pattern.