‘Virtually impossible’: Perth’s top businessmen abscond amid border reversal

Wesfarmers leadership team wa border

Richard Goyder (left) and Rob Scott (middle) have both decided to abscond from Perth amid tight border restrictions. Source: AAP/Wesfarmers

Wesfarmers boss Rob Scott is the latest to abscond from Western Australia as Premier Mark McGowan is accused of draconian border policies that are making conducting business in WA “virtually impossible”.

The CEO made the comment at the weekend as he prepares to move to the east coast — meaning for the first time in Wesfarmer’s 108-year history, its boss will not operate out of the tight-knit Perth business community.

Scott will be followed east by a handful of top executives including his chief financial officer Anthony Gianotti in a clear snub to the border — earlier this month, McGowan flipped on raising the iron curtain blocking the rest of Australia from the mostly COVID-free west.

The February 5 opening date was declared untenable by McGowan amid the highly viral Omicron strain, but his decision was roundly condemned as overreach, even among the medical community, with Western Australian and AMA president Omar Khorshid slamming McGowan as a “one trick pony”.

“This decision should be acknowledged as a failure by the WA [government] to prepare and a broken promise,” Khorshid continued.

Scott’s frustrations were shared by Richard Goyder who told The Australian ($) that “everyone feels that they’ve kept their side of the bargain, including business that has set itself up to get going again”.

Goyder, who is chairman of Qantas, AFL and Perth-based Woodside has confirmed he’s leaving his hometown “indefinitely” this morning, describing the decision as driven by an imperative to “take control of my life” and continuing that he can’t do so under WA’s “unnecessary” border restrictions.

“All my business colleagues in the east, other than restrictions that we also have here, their life is returning to normality,” the influential Perth businessman told the Australian Financial Review.

Goyder says video calls proved an adequate short-term fix, but found his performance was strangled by the virtual-or-nothing options when meeting with management and directors.

“It’s very hard to run a national company if you can’t travel,” he says.

It’s travel that has proven the sticking point for Scott too — he says Wesfarmers has so far managed business-as-usual while working remotely, but the interstate travel restrictions were now limiting the company’s room to grow.

Scott says he understands short-term restrictions, but McGowan’s decision to keep the border bolted down for nearly two years “is out of step with the rest of the country, and most of the world”.

“The lack of consideration for national businesses and extended delays is also damaging WA’s reputation with talent,” he continued.

“We’ve benefited in the past from attracting some great talent to WA, with families relocating to create a life here. This is becoming increasingly difficult and is currently almost impossible, and I am concerned that this sentiment will linger.”

Wesfarmers — who own Bunnings, Kmart, and Officeworks, plus industrial and chemical units — mostly let each run their own shop, with oversight from Perth’s corporate head office across banking, finance, governance, strategy and culture.

Wesfarmers also recently acquired Priceline, a $76 million deal that should be cemented by the end of March, as long as the ACCC gives the green light.

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