Megan Anwyl: Finding the right balance

Published: 18/04/2013


By Emily Roberts, HighGrade

As a former lawyer and member for Kalgoorlie and now a registered lobbyist, Megan Anwyl knows a thing or two about political and government agendas.

As well as running her own consultancy and sitting on the board of the Esperance Port Authority, Anwyl spends more than half her time in her role as chair of the North West Iron Ore Alliance where her skills are well utilised.

Nearly a year old, the alliance was formed to help grow the junior iron ore industry in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, which sits in the shadow of mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. Working collectively towards developing the necessary infrastructure and access, statutory approvals and community development to meet their individual project needs, the four members – Atlas Iron, BC Iron, Brockman Resources and FerrAus – plan to deliver 52 million tonnes per annum of iron ore by 2014. (Australia’s forecast iron ore production in 2007-08 is 322Mt.)

Anwyl said balancing the commercial needs of the emerging Pilbara-based miners with social and community responsibilities was a constant challenge. But the dynamic nature of the company chiefs and their individual success stories made her role – a privilege -, she told HighGrade.

“There is a lot of enthusiasm for the alliance by our members so that is what has led to our success,” she said. “The enthusiasm will continue: they are a dynamic group of companies and I have really enjoyed the energy and success that those companies have achieved. I think Atlas [Iron] gets a lot of attention because they were the first to mine, but all the members have incredible stories to tell.”

The major achievements of the alliance have been the securing two new multi-user berths in the Port Hedland inner harbour which will enable the alliance members to export up to 50Mtpa of iron ore. This reservation was crucial to the success of the alliance members, Anwyl said. She is now focused on gaining third party access to existing rail lines owned by BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.

“We believe that BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto have a legal obligation to allow rail haulage to third parties under their various state agreements, and that this would lead to a healthy diversification of the iron ore industry in the Pilbara and better social and economic outcomes for its residents and the nation as a whole,” Anwyl said. “If fair and equitable infrastructure access is not granted, some mine sites would not be financially viable, or production could be severely limited due to the environmental, social, financial and potential licensing restrictions relative to the trucking of iron ore.”

Working with the local communities was also a big part of the alliance’s ambitions, including fostering employment opportunities for the Pilbara residents and helping to meet the future development and infrastructure needs of the region.

“The mining industry is keen to offer sustainable career paths and employment for everyone, and there is a bit of focus currently on those people living in Port Hedland that are not working in the mining industry and how difficult it is for them to continue to live there,” Anwyl said. “I think that on a broader perspective it would be great to see some of the obligations that are set out in state agreements for downstream processing and value adding to eventuate. I do think that is an important issue, and I think everyone in the mining industry recognises that it’s good to have sustainable and vibrant regional communities.

Transient communities make it tough to get good outcomes in terms of community development and social infrastructure. I personally think education is the key to the regional development issue, and partnership is clearly the way forward (between public and private sector). That’s our mantra.”

Anwyl studied law in Melbourne before moving to Western Australia in 1986. She lived in Kalgoorlie for 11 years, practising law before moving into the political spectrum. “I guess that was the beginning of my exposure to mining companies in that I did a lot of work with injured workers and widows, and then was elected for five years from 1996-2001 as the state member for Kalgoorlie and shadow minister including the Goldfields so again mining was a very important part of my duties,” Anwyl said.

After losing the 2001 election to Matt Birney, Anwyl opened an office for national lobbying outfit Hawker Britton in Perth, which she ran for six and a half years. “A significant number of my clients were mining companies, and I have worked on a range of projects so I guess I have had a lot of different exposure to the mining industry,” Anwyl said. “I am also a director of the Esperance Port Authority which I have been doing for five years, and, again, the growth that has occurred at Esperance is largely the consequence of the resources industry.”

Anwyl was the first woman elected in the Goldfields, “and sometimes I think I might be the last”, she quips.

“The biggest challenge for me [as a politician] was native title and that became a very controversial issue because there was a downturn in the industry in late 1990s and a lot of people blame native title for that,” she said. “The other challenges were balancing a country electorate with all the demands of being a shadow minister and getting the resources needed to fix up some of the difficult issues in Kalgoorlie that needed attention. I did put a lot of my efforts into making Kalgoorlie a better place to live. I was conscious – because of being a lawyer – that there was no legal aid office or community legal centre, so I was able to get those two things. In general terms, I did a lot of work around issues such as family violence and lack of youth services.”

Anwyl’s belief in collaboration, even among competitors, has followed her throughout her different careers, from politics to the mining industry. “I was trying to get the Goldfields and Esperance regions to unite and lobby for infrastructure, and in some ways I have continued along that path with my role with the [Esperance] port,” Anwyl said. “All the different regions in Australia are in competition [for infrastructure funding] with each other, and the ports are a great example of this.

“Living in a mining town for 11 years I saw there was a large transient population and it makes it hard to have community development that a lot of other places take for granted, like the south west where you have a very static population, so people are a lot more inclined to get involved [in community issues].

“It’s this exact issue I can relate to in Port Hedland. I think there is a real challenge there for members of the alliance and for both the public and private sectors to do a better job for the residents of the Pilbara. I feel privileged that I have the opportunity to have some input into those outcomes and I guess we will see what happens after the election. We are keen to work with the government and the other miners. We have a strong focus on collaboration and I do recognise that the people who live in the Pilbara, especially those that have been there for their whole lives or decades are frustrated.”

Anwyl says her greatest mentors have been her contemporaries. “I have tended to get most of my support from my peers, whether that was in politics, law or lobbying. I have always thought it was very important to have close relationships with your competitors in whatever field that is.”

Does she ever think she will return to law or politics? “Never say never,” she says, “but I don’t think so.” However, politics still remains an interest. “My work-life balance may not be my strong point,” Anwyl said. “I do enjoy water sports now –  in fact, I like anything to do with water –  I love swimming. My ideal of a perfect holiday is water and a book.”

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