Perth – isolated outpost or Australia’s gateway?

Chandran Nair delivered the Keynote Address at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia Luncheon in October. This article appeared in the October 2007 issue of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia Newsletter.

I visited Perth again recently for a series of meetings with government and industry representatives. I was hosted by the Committee for Perth and provided the keynote address at a Committee for Economic Development Australia luncheon on the above topic.

I was delighted that the Hon. Alannah MacTiernan, Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, who is clearly a champion for a more sustainable approach to development, shared the Q&A session with me.

This article summarises my observations and suggestions for Perth to become the gateway to Australia.

The ‘Boom’

Talk of the ‘boom’ is prolific and it is evident that Perth is experiencing a time of enormous prosperity. There seems to be a lot of discussion about the need to plan for the post-boom era but it would appear that there is not a lot of policy formulation taking place for that future. This is often difficult during times of optimism and great wealth creation, but it is an imperative.


The opportunity for Perth is now but it appears that the institutions needed to manage the long-term implications of growth driven by the resource boom are not as strong or contemporary as they could be. An area for reform is in the vertically integrated silos of government decision making: these should be horizontally integrated, with a view to promoting better crosssectoral planning and engagement with industry.

Embracing Others

To be a true gateway there needs to be greater discussion and action in relation to the big questions such as:-

  • Perth’s/Western Australia’s future with Asia
  • Actions to embracing Asia
  • Ethnically becoming part of Asia

To fill that gap it will be worthwhile gaining input from key thinkers in Asia.

Skilled Resources

Perth is no different from many cities around the world in struggling to maintain its talent pool and to grow expertise by attracting the very best from around the globe. Government and industry need to work together to provide the leadership that demonstrates a long-term commitment to developing world-class talent.


There is clearly a strong understanding at the theoretical level and many of the meetings that I attended were focused on the actions required to operationalise sustainability. But it is less clear how much it is appreciated that these must be integrated with political objectives.

Much of the discussion and many reports seemed to be about the environmental elements of sustainability; social considerations only come later. There needs to be a much better grasp of the realities of the political economy and how that ultimately is the main thing that shapes the sustainability agenda.

I would suggest that some capacity building in this area needs to be initiated soon and one way is to start building the needed experience by taking on one or two high-profile sustainability-related issues and testing the ability of the institutions to work through the sustainability aspects.

Perth’s ecological footprint is the largest in Australia, maybe even the world. This can perhaps serve as a rallying call to mobilise the community, which includes politicians, business, government, civil society, and the media as well as the general public. There is a need to nudge people away from complacency.

The city should look to set a target to lower the 9 hectares/person footprint to more of a best-practice benchmark, such as 6 hectares/person, by the year 2020. This could start the process of creating the new institutions, getting the community to think beyond the boom, the universities to get involved in a more than academic way, alerting politicians and getting them to take action and, importantly, allowing the business sector to respond.

My challenge to the Committee for Perth is to build a robust, inclusive engagement framework and process that shows the Committee at work and getting results tackling the hurdles facing Perth. Then it can be recognised as an integral part of the vast Asian region.

Editor’s note:
Our appreciation to fellow sponsors Rio Tinto, LandCorp and the Western Australian Planning Commission for assisting with funding Chandran’s visit.