By Andrew Hobbs
WESTERN Australia’s innovation and educational offerings have become a new trade focus for the state’s Agent General Kevin Skipworth – the state’s representative in London.
Mr Skipworth, previously the official secretary to five governors of the state and before that chief of protocol in the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, has the responsibility of raising the profile of WA products and expertise across Europe.
But in recent years, this role has also seen him work to build links with African nations, particularly those with major diplomatic posts in London, and the resources companies that work there.
“I think the state was very smart in recognising 30 years ago that although we can drill it up and ship it out … we have also developed these other innovations that we have had follow with engineering design and logistics,” he said.
“We have developed this over many decades now, becoming a leading knowledge hub, and we have definitely got the leading edge with some of the innovations we have come up with.”
In a November interview with Oil & Gas Australia, Mr Skipworth said a portion of his office’s role was to attract skilled migrants to the state – particularly for work in the resources sector.
“We still encourage Europe to come down and bring their expertise to WA, but when our WA companies have gotten involved, we have then developed it to our own climatic differences and so on,” he said.
“Now our companies come back to Europe and say ‘We have now developed expertise even further from what we have learned from you guys’. It is very much a two-way thing. It is working very well.”
Helping to lead the charge with taking these innovations to the world is Stuart Russell, the senior trade and investment manager with the state’s European office.
“What we tend to find, with the WA companies, they tend to be more of the high tech, innovation end of the business rather than the blue collar,” he said.
“We tend to get companies that are looking at Africa but are also looking to do it from this part of the globe – we are happy to help then and we do, where we can.”
Mr Russell said groups involved with the provision of services to the oil and gas industry continued to look to Western Australia with interest, particularly as the launch of Shell’s Prelude Floating LNG facility came closer.
“I think once Prelude comes into being, you will see the gravitation towards Western Australia for some of that research and development and improvements,” he said.
“Because obviously the second vessel that comes along will have subsequent modifications, and they will come as a result of technological development and an assessment of the technologies associated.”
Mr Russell said that as interest rose in offshore activity, the European office was looking to find new ways to shorten offshore supply chains.
“If there is expertise here in Europe that is needed, and the developers in Australia have to go offshore to get that, then the costs associated with that are much higher,” he said.
“If you can bring that capability into WA then you are introducing competition which helps to bring some of those costs down, and they have got more to choose from. There are options.”
Mr Russell said that one of the best ways for foreign groups to understand the Western Australian market was to work with the state government and with local companies – citing joint ventures as an example.
“If you are going to make the effort to go all the way to WA, we want to make sure that we are there to put out the welcome mat,” he said, citing the visitor programs devised by the state for missions from Norway, Germany, France, the Netherlands and the UK.
“There is that recognition that we have got something going and what we endeavour to do is say ‘OK, and here is how you can become involved.’”
Mr Skipworth agreed, saying the establishment of a joint venture would help companies become aware of local advantages and to avoid some pitfalls.
“It saves a lot of time and money for the companies coming in – then they often take over a company and it becomes a win-win all around,” he said.