The State Government's new economic strategy has been given its first test by a request from a top Japanese company for special assistance to establish a new multi-million dollar export industry near Fremantle.
Deputy Premier Ian Taylor, who is now in Japan promoting the strategy with Fuel and Energy Minister Geoff Gallop, said the company wanted technical help for a worldwide study into the future market potential of fused zirconia - one of the strongest of the new high-tech materials.
"The company, Japan Abrasive, has already invested heavily in Western Australia and now wants to expand its operations - provided the international market for fused zirconia looks good," Mr Taylor said today.
The request for assistance came during a meeting with the company's president, Mr Fujitaro Yatsuki.
"Of course, energy costs are also a factor in establishing this type of production plant," Dr Gallop said.
"Producing fused zirconia falls neatly into our policy for attracting more processing of our raw materials in WA.
"As such, there are provisions which will permit negotiation of a suitable tariff."
The Department of State Development will be asked to help the company conduct the market research program, while SECA will be asked to investigate energy pricing arrangements.
Japan Abrasive and Australian interests recently formed a joint venture group - Australian Fused Materials Pty Ltd - to develop the recently opened fused alumina plant near Rockingham.
Fused alumina, which is almost as tough as diamond, is designed to withstand extreme temperatures. As such, it is used in fire bricks, crucibles and refractories, as well as an industrial abrasive and in the manufacture of ceramic materials and electronic components.
Fused zirconia is used in similar applications.
The Rockingham plant was opened earlier this year by Premier Carmen Lawrence.
Mr Taylor said during his talks, Mr Yatsuki had supported the State Government's desire to attract more processing to WA.
"Mr Yatsuki is very satisfied with the fused alumina plant and would like to see it expanded - but not before there has been adequate research," Mr Taylor said.
"He believes, as we do, there is a fine future for mineral processing within WA, provided we get our energy costs down.
"Our prices are, of course, considerably lower than those charged by Japanese power companies.
"But in mineral processing we are having to compete with other countries in Asia which have considerably lower labour costs.
"Nevertheless, the new strategy has given us the framework to compete and I have made it very clear to Mr Yatsuki that the WA Government is determined to see the State come out on top in attracting new industrial investment."