By Reg Howard-Smith, chief executive of the Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA
While watching the recent Ashes Test series I started to understand how the Australian batsman felt on a bouncy and green wicket. At The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia (CME) it sometimes feels like we have construction unions bowling from one end and the National Party bowling at the other.
For the WA resources sector unions agitating for improved conditions is nothing new, it’s what they’ve done for decades. The real surprise is the development of damaging policy positions being pursued by some in the National Party.
When you consider its resources sector royalties which provide the almost $1 billion for the Royalties for Regions program, it’s strange the National Party would risk the sector’s future growth with damaging policies.
Recently we’ve had National Party Members of Parliament calling for resources companies to pay more rates to local shires – ignoring the significant increases companies have paid in previous years and the tremendous investment made in local communities.
The Minister for Local Government, Tony Simpson should be applauded for focusing on unsustainable rate increases. Business and government agencies at other levels have been pursuing improvement in organisation efficiencies and reductions in budgeted expenditure to meet the current economic circumstances, and local governments should be no different.
We’ve had calls to end fly in-fly out (FIFO) work practices – ignoring the fact that FIFO is a popular and growing choice for thousands of employees across the resources sector. It is vital the sector offers both residential and FIFO employment options to employees, with today’s workforce valuing flexibility and choice more than ever before.
And at last month’s National Party Conference delegates passed a motion calling for a review and update of State Agreements in the resources sector. Delegates may not have been aware State Agreements are updated regularly and have been amended in recent years. Amendments have covered issues such as local business participation, community development and environmental reporting amongst others.
As the owner of the resources the WA Government has provided a stable regulatory framework under which industry operates for many decades. This framework, which includes long-term State Agreements, has played a significant role in ensuring the development of WA’s world-class resources industry.
Long-term State Agreements have delivered enormous prosperity to the community, whilst providing stability to companies and investors.
With volatile commodity prices and the high cost of doing business putting pressure on the future pipeline of resources sector projects, the last thing industry needs are more imposed costs, less flexibility and greater uncertainty.
The responsible and most effective way to increase royalty revenue and grow regional communities is to have policies which grow the size of the resources sector. Initiatives which keep the sector strong and prosperous will be welcomed by those directly employed in the industry and our resources communities.