EXACTLY four years ago this newspaper reported that not one Abbott government frontbencher was prepared to stick their neck out for this State. Worse, not a single frontbencher from WA was prepared to publicly support our Fair Go for the West campaign, launched two weeks earlier to remedy the ludicrously unfair GST distribution system.
That’s how bleak the prospects appeared, despite the then-Barnett government pleading with its Liberal and National counterparts in Canberra for a fix.
Fast-forward four years and West Australians are celebrating victory. The reform package that passed through Parliament on Wednesday will end the plundering of our revenues and punishment for the heinous crime of being more productive than the other States.
When it comes to handing out bouquets, we think the WA public deserves the greatest credit. Canberra could withstand lobbying from WA-based politicians, economists and influential members of our business community. But it couldn’t ignore the rising and seething tide of resentment among voters on this side of the country.
This groundswell of anger hadn’t been foreseen. It was felt the issue was overly complex and dry — voters wouldn’t get hot under the collar about horizontal fiscal equalisation and time lags. And there was a view that ordinary West Australians wouldn’t miss what they didn’t have. It wasn’t like ripping money out of their wallets in the way utility price rises do.
But they guessed wrong. People here understood that short-changing the State Government was an indirect slap in the face to each of them. Our schools, health system and other services were under threat.
People grasped that getting back 30¢ for every dollar was taking the proverbial.
The WA media played a key role in the way it explained the issue and kept up the pressure. The Sunday Times is proud of its own role. Our advocacy on the issue pre-dated the launch of our campaign.
Indeed, in this space four years ago, we acknowledged the problem wasn’t new.
“But for too long the most important voice in the argument has been silent — the people of WA,” we wrote. Let there be no doubt — the people of WA secured a result that will deliver WA an extra $4.7 billion in GST revenue in the next decade.
It has been a difficult road, with lots of hurdles and potholes. Emboldened by growing public anger at home, WA frontbenchers found their voices, while WA backbenchers antagonised for action.
Special mentions go to Senator Dean Smith and Christian Porter, who backed our campaign from the outset. Premiers Colin Barnett and Mark McGowan wasted no opportunity to fight the State’s corner. Mr Barnett specifically called for a 75¢ floor in 2014 and it transpires that’s what all States will get under this deal. Several prominent WA businessmen get credit for pushing very hard, as did the WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Finally, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann delivered the reforms that many said would never happen. It did happen, and the mirage is no more. They have righted a wrong and made the Federation stronger.
Responsibility for editorial comment is taken by the editor, Michael Beach, 50 Hasler Road, Osborne Park, WA 6017. Postal address: PO Box 1769, Osborne Park DC, WA 6916.