Corporate Accountants senior partner Bob Lamont.
Corporate Accountants senior partner Bob Lamont. David Sparkes

Time to pull finger out and focus on productivity

LAST week was an interesting one.

Highly respected economist Bill Evans, these days chief poo-bah at the Westpac think-tank, once of 1980s investment darling Schroeder, reportedly told the assemblage at the Golding Industry Conference knees-up that the alumina and aluminium industry is cactus unless management can break away from emotional dependence on an Australian dollar settled on 80 cents US.

The importance of QAL and the Boyne smelter to Gladstone can't be underestimated.

Ninety have been put off at Boyne and QAL gave notice on Wednesday that retrenchments are imminent there.

It was a similar message to that told to the audience on Wednesday by Golding boss Geoff Caton.

Gladstone's Observer reported him as saying that the high prices of the 2011 commodities boom may well be over, but "instead of panicking about the end of the boom, (industry managers) needed to get better at what they do".

Really what these guys are on about is the need for a pact between management and workers to get the best bang out of every invested buck.

That means acceptance by workers that every bit of improvement they can make in their productivity will mean more chance of the boss prospering.

If bosses prosper, workers prosper. To Geoff Caton: "Future economic growth is very much dependent on us improving our productivity … Leadership, technology, skills seem to me like the best place to start."

Hear! Hear! But I'd add clock watching! Watching the cost of utilising those leadership, technology and skills against a dollar per hour, day, month benchmark.

Profit is not of itself necessarily a good benchmark, as I have said in these columns before.

That seems to be the point behind the State Government's criticism of the Gladstone Ports Corporation's financial management - if not just political point-scoring.

The GPC's fabulous profit result, the argument goes, is down to increased traffic in the boom and the more important consideration is that it missed many of its own published targets in 2011-12.

I guess the bad news Bill Evans had for Gladstone's alumina workers is that the Australian dollar will not get below parity with the US currency any time soon.

The good news he had for us was that the commodities industry is not dead in the water and the future remains bright.

And he and others might just have got the message across that leaders and workers alike must extract their digits and concentrate on improving their own productivity and that of those around them.

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