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Major works made way for a new building block at the WA Major Projects Conference.

Major works make way for another big building block in WA

An interesting thought struck me when I attended the 10th annual WA Major Projects Conference in Perth last week.

In the nine previous editions of the conference it was the projects themselves and the process of building them that took centre stage. Over the years this covered everything from the biggest iron ore and LNG projects to major government undertakings like Optus Stadium and Elizabeth Quay.

It’s not as if WA doesn’t have large-scale projects currently underway. BHP’s South Flank development was the topic of one session last week and the likes of METRONET, the Perth Airport upgrade, Northlink and the Westport strategy were also strongly featured.

But my key takeaway – and a definite topic of discussion among the 300 or so delegates – was that the 2019 Major Projects Conference was less about physical project work and more about making sure WA’s next wave of investment in major infrastructure is done properly and done well.

As Mines and Petroleum and Energy Minister Bill Johnston referenced at the conference, the first thing the government is likely to ask you about any future project is whether stakeholder engagement has been undertaken and community support obtained.

To put it another way “get your social licence sorted before you come to us.”

Our former Cannings Purple colleague William Witham presented a fascinating session built entirely around the concept of “social licence.”

Using the example of the work FMG is doing in Africa, “Chubb” highlighted a potentially profound shift in the way mining companies might go about their business. Rather than looking for deposits, then sending in the geologists to check it out and finally talking to communities, FMG is instead starting by talking to communities and NGOs – understanding who they are and engaging them before anything else happens.

The potential flow-on effects of that process are obvious: communities that are engaged with from the very start have a genuine feeling of involvement with a project.

The other big theme of the conference was Future Perth and it’s potential to have a population of 3.5 million by the year 2050.

It’s no secret that there will need to be some fundamental changes in the way we go about things to make our city “liveable” for that many people.

That’s why METRONET featured in two of the sessions, while another presentation profiled our cycling infrastructure and there was an update on the WA government’s Connect Joondalup and Bentley 360 developments (our biggest ever infill undertakings).

The opportunity for the state to develop a ‘Lithium Valley’ was also in the spotlight, with no fewer than three sessions concentrating on the potential for a battery-fuelled boom in WA.

My own presentation also revolved around the subject of change – specifically those required in the energy policy space.

Energy generated in WA will underpin the next wave of major projects in the state. The question of how it will be generated is still not clear.

It’s hoped that the state government’s Whole of System Plan and Distributed Energy Resources (DER) Roadmap announced recently by Energy Minister Bill Johnston will take WA down the path of a cleaner energy future while maintaining reliability.

But to achieve that there needs to be a clear delineation of the role of government-owned participants, better integration between state and federal policy (particularly in addressing climate change) and an understanding of, and focus on, incentives that will drive private sector investment.

It goes without saying that of course, industry needs to be consulted at every step of the way.

Our future, in part, depends on it.

Richard Harris is the chairperson of the WA Independent Power Association, spokesperson for DomGas Alliance and Special Counsel at Cannings Purple, specialising in energy and resources and government relations. Contact Richard.

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