GST gets personal

THERE is a simple reason why politicians are held in lower regard than ever before. It is simply that the reporting of politics is now more thoroughly and relentlessly negative than it has ever been.

The disproportionateness of the way failures and successes are reported is enormous.

Mistakes, shortcomings and underachievement are big news with headlines prominently placed usually with sensational colour graphics.

Incremental improvements and successes from reforms that often take time can make it into print, but because they don’t give rise to conflict and outrage they are usually buried deep in the paper and therefore, often don’t reach the people most affected.

There will always be failures in politics and, of course, they should always be scrutinised and documented. But disproportionate attention on failures and scant reporting of positive outcomes leads to people perceiving that nothing good ever really comes of democratic government.

In my opinion, an example of this was last week’s opinion piece by Peter Van Onselen that framed six Federal liberals as ‘guilty’ of not achieving any real outcome on WA’s GST share.

Having been working on this issue for eight years, no one is more frustrated with how hard it is to get real improvement in this area. All of my Federal colleagues accept there is much more work to do to grind out further improvements. But surely before you pronounce complete guilt of failure, at least some reasonable effort needs to be made to document the partial successes.

While there is no question the successes have been only partial and they have been far from a total fix, partial successes are not failures and the partial successes achieved by my colleagues are still real and still more than has been achieved by any other group.

For the four years I was in State politics I achieved the same return of GST monies that Alan Carpenter and Eric Ripper did and that Colin Barnet and Mike Nahan achieved after them, which is to say, as State Treasurer, while outside Federal politics, all the advocacy and all the highlighting the issue came to nothing real.

Inside Federal politics I have been part of a team that has actually achieved something real.

With Mathias Cormann we lobbied Joe Hockey and secured his help to advocate to the Commonwealth Grants Commission for a changed way of calculating the GST returns that meant WA gained $800 million more through to 2019 and more each year after that (Wayne Swan promised he would not intervene in any way to help WA in this critical methodology review). With Julie Bishop we achieved not one compensation package, but two. We are fighting for the third. The first two compensation packages total about $1 billion dollars.

This money has contributed to such projects as the Mitchell Freeway extension to Hester Avenue, the Northlink WA project, the Reid Highway upgrade at Malaga Drive, the Kwinana Freeway-Roe Highway to Russell Road widening, the Roe Highway-Berkshire Road Grade Separation, the Aubin Grove train station precinct, the Traffic Congestion Management Program and the Great Eastern Highway-Bilgoman Road to Mundaring project. 

With Malcolm Turnbull we have support for a policy that would put a floor in the system in the near future that would mean WA’s share could never again fall below 70 per cent. 

As was the case with the 2015 change to the CGC methodology, the future system change to bring in a floor will still require intense hard work with other States and the Labor Opposition — a process that would be greatly helped if Bill Shorten also supported the policy of a future floor. But when he was in town he ducked and weaved and, as one journalist put it, showed empathy but basically said WA should suck it up. 

In fact none of the WA Federal Labor members have dared break ranks with Bill Shorten and come out and supported a floor. Silence from Matt Keogh and Tim Hammond has just evaded the question.

Before asking the public to pronounce Liberal ministers guilty of not having achieved enough, surely it is important for a writer to put accurately the evidence of what actually has been achieved so far. What has been achieved by WA Federal Liberals so far is $1.8 billion to 2019 and likely more each year thereafter.

And we have achieved a path forward to ensure the losses suffered by WA never happen again. That is not as much as we would like, but it is far more than anything any Greens, Labor or One Nation MP has achieved.