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Interview with Nicole Lockwood – August 2019

In August, InfraNomics interviewed Nicole Lockwood for her views on recent infrastructure developments, the WA economy, women in the workforce and advice for school kids.

Nicole Lockwood is an experienced non-executive director with a track record on regional, state and national boards focused on infrastructure, planning and regional development. Nicole is principal of Lockwood Advisory, Chair of the Westport Taskforce Steering Committee, Chair of the Freight and Logistics Council of WA, Chair of MNG Mining, Deputy Chair of Infrastructure WA, and Deputy Chair of Leadership WA. Nicole serves as a Board member for Water Corporation, Tourism WA, Infrastructure Australia and the Internet of Things Alliance Australia. Nicole’s career has spanned a range of fields including local government, regional economic development, law, events and corporate governance.

As the Westport planning project is reaching the end, what are the main things you have learnt about the project?

The power of engagement, the value of human relationships and the need for really good quality technical expertise. Every level is important, from engagement within our team to our entire governance structure, to engagement with our Ministers and the community/ industry and other experts, to other ports around the world. It really is everything. It is all about human interaction. Process is important and how you design the project and how you obtain information and testing and socialising it. It is also about how the people are involved and how every individual in the team needs to deliver on the promise of their approach to make it successful, otherwise the whole project is false and has no substance. I’ve been very, very proud of the Westport team internally, that every single person has taken the process and engagement seriously and I have received so much positive feedback about the willingness and the professionalism in what we do. The scope provided by the government was very holistic in nature and included port, road and rail, and allowed the Westport team to have a very different conversation. Learning from Infrastructure Australia and how poorly community engagement has been done in the past in projects around the country. It’s also been important to learn what a lack of holistic planning there has been and particularly the impact and social license, how little is done in that space, certainly from a long term strategic planning perspective. Locally, I’ve learned from having led and delivered projects in the Pilbara and seen what happens when you rush ahead. We had a window of time to deliver projects when there was money so we pushed through a lot to get things done. There is a time and place for that but less and less are we permitted to run that way. I have benefited from learning from these experiences about how we can do things differently, and brought this to the Westport project.

What would you do differently if you were to do the Westport project again?

I think we would firstly need to think about the timing. Everybody complained that two years was too long to answer this question. In our view, the only difficulty has been how quickly we have had to move. It does take a lot of time for a project like this to get up and running. You do lose a lot of your initial year just in setting it up. Only after one year did the project really get going and so more time. Thinking about the expertise available to us would be another big things and access to panels or governmental expertise. There are a lot of procedures and processes that took time to set up and made things smoother and quicker once active. Being more realistic up front about what we can and can’t do.

If Roe 8 & 9 don’t make sense commercially why do you think this issue is in the press recently?

People want to see action and a commitment to a long term plan. While we are getting there, that plan is still not complete. While uncertainty remains, industry and the community will push for action. There are numerous groups that have different perspectives on the issues of freight and congestion and there are a number of problems to be solved. It is unlikely that one project can solve multiple issues, instead it needs a network response which is what the Westport Taskforce recommendations will deliver.

What advice would you give to leaders of future major infrastructure projects in WA?

Long term planning is critical, particularly as infrastructure projects are increasingly required in established urban areas. Gone are the days of infrastructure planning being engineering-led. Economic, environmental and social factors must all be balanced in order to determine the best solution. Do not underestimate the importance of community engagement and establishing social license. Social values and expectations are constantly changing and the ability to deliver new infrastructure is built off the back of a partnership with the community and industry.

What suggestions would you give for the redevelopment of Fremantle Port?

Think beyond Australia. That location is unique and needs to have a role and function that is distinct from any other in WA. The opportunities to create something world leading are significant, to celebrate the history and recreate the future of an iconic site.

Do you think the WA economy is sustainable? Why or why not?

I think we have the potential to be sustainable but we need to stretch ourselves beyond our natural strengths of resources and leveraging off them. Nature has been kind to us, and human spirit and drive has allowed us to benefit from this abundance of assets. Now it is time to be bold and starting talking up all of the other strengths we have. Tourism, knowledge economy, innovation in automation and boutique foods just to name a few. We have the capability to lead the world in some of these, we just need to start backing ourselves.

As women are playing a greater role in transforming the workplace from a male dominated/focused environment to a more gender balanced environment, what do you think needs to change in WA to speed up this process?

We need to stop seeing it as an act of goodwill but rather as good business practice. In fact, it is broader than that. It’s not just about gender diversity, it’s about diversity full stop. I have often been the only woman and the youngest person in the room by at least 15 years for the last decade. Diversity in all its guises is critical for good decision making and successful businesses going forward. The pace of change in terms of social expectations and technology is both an opportunity and a threat for businesses and government. Misunderstood, it can be fatal to an organisation’s success. More specifically, on attracting women, we need to re-think the structure of work. Many roles are still very traditional in terms of hours and operating practice. For me it’s all about value proposition. There are numerous things I consider when looking at a role. Is it aligned to my values; what contribution can I make and what influence can I have over the outcomes; does it complement the other parts of my life that are critical to my happiness like my family and other personal commitments? I think workplaces are going to need to re-think how they attract people. It’s not just women who are looking for flexibility- technology allows us to be far more creative with the way we do work. That is an opportunity for everyone- male, female, old and young.

To have a decent career in WA in the future, what advice would you give school kids about the skills or disciplines to focus on?

I see a huge opportunity with the advent of technology for the future of work to be far more meaningful and productive. What we know is that the jobs that are about the head or hands are more likely to be improved through technology. Those jobs that require heart are here to stay! Leadership skills, organisational skills, technology skills and social skills are the way of the future. So, it’s about learning resilience, having an enquiring mind and being open to continuous learning.

Everyone is busy however, you seem to have more demands on your time than most, especially being a working mum. How do you organise your time?

I am naturally an organised person so that makes it a little easier, but ultimately it is about having a team behind you, at work and at home and taking care of yourself. I have a wonderful husband who has supported my every move. I have two amazing daughters and the four of us are a team, to run the house and manage the day to day. In addition to that I am very happy to outsource. Anything that I can get help to do, I do. Sleep, exercise, eating well and mental health are all fundamental for me and they all take effort, but they pay you back in spades. Surrounding yourself with capable people who share your values, in your personal life and at work. They give you energy and keep you safe. Then it’s about priorities and deciding what drives you. There are numerous choices every day about how you run your day, it’s about knowing what and who matters and where to spend your most valuable commodity- time.

Do you have any other comments about developing infrastructure in WA?

There is rarely a purely win-win solution to any infrastructure project- usually there are a range of problems you are trying to solve and balance against a range of impacts. The important thing is that doing nothing is not a better option and it requires leadership and vision and a willingness to take people on the journey to ensure we can maintain, and maybe even improve, our standard of living into the future.

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