21/04/2015 - 06:55

Victim act a pointless play

21/04/2015 - 06:55


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Leadership is what’s needed in a downturn, not a panicked blame game.

Leadership is what’s needed in a downturn, not a panicked blame game.

On the same day as Premier Colin Barnett launched a new broadside at his state counterparts and the federal government over Western Australia’s dwindling share of the GST, he was also speaking in Singapore at an event where the University of Western Australia was launching its ‘State of Mind’ publication.

© Knowledge Society and The University of Western Australia, 2015. It was an odd coupling of events because one was a pointless tirade about how unfair everything is, while the other focused on all the genuinely good things the resources boom has brought to this state.

If we are going to maintain any sort of momentum from the huge economic boost provided by the boom, we can’t get mired into a blame-shifting war over whose fault everything is.

This state’s agreement to the GST was engineered and signed off by a conservative government, of which Mr Barnett was a senior member.

As he likes to remind us, Mr Barnett is an economist, so he was well aware that booms are cyclical and the GST revenues lag the economy. WA benefited from this when the flow was the other way.

Of course WA needed to spend extra on all manner of capital works and services, because we had a rising population and an economy at full throttle demanding approvals and the like; but that is no excuse.

This government did nothing for years to really rein in costs. It did nothing to save something for a rainy day.

In some ways, federal Treasurer Joe Hockey is right – we certainly could do more to rectify our fiscal position.

The current sell off of state assets is pitifully inadequate and WA ought to have gone down that route years ago. The change in ownership privatisation brings is usually followed by an injection of fresh management ideas and new investment. That has a positive impact.

Meantime, Mr Barnett ought to look at UWA’s visually appealing document entitled ‘State of Mind: Western Australia’s new landscape of innovation and opportunity’, created by Knowledge Society.

As this simple bit of research suggests, we have come a long way in the past 10 years and there are plenty of positive things to celebrate.

The boom has created a vast pool of professional talent, which is a big asset for the state.

WA is a great place to live and has improved significantly through changes made by this government and its Labor predecessor. We need to keep making those types of reforms.

While such changes are the things that will help retain the people who came here, it won’t be enough on its own. Smart people have options and they need jobs.

The state needs to create a positive atmosphere that keeps the wheels turning, helps create a buzz, and prepares us for the next upward phase in the cycle.

And it can also get out of the way of those who want to do things. For example, even as it was obvious that mining was slowing rapidly, the state government was holding up small mining development projects due to environmental regulations. This process could be improved.

There is a lot of talk about the shift from the mining boom to the dining boom, but red tape prevents pastoral station leaseholders, for example, from doing anything that really adds value to the land. There are plenty of ways to make some parts of the dry interior bloom and to harness the seasonal rains of the north. Let those who work the land get on with it.

This state has wonderful education facilities and institutions. The state government ought to be leading the charge to get more overseas students here to study and, in the process, help create even better connections with our neighbours. 

All in all, the UWA report provides plenty of positive news about the state we live in and its prospects, where WA is in control of its destiny and not playing the victim.


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