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Late Debate: Anne Aly and Linda Reynolds -

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DAVID LIPSON, PRESENTER: First tonight to Western Australia, on the eve of polling day. And after two terms in government, all indications suggest Premier Colin Barnett's time is up.

The boom years are over and now the state has the highest unemployment in the country, along with billions of dollars in government debt. Sources suggest Labor is likely to get the whopping 10 per cent swing needed to win government.

One senior WA Liberal summed up the party's situation in a world to me tonight: "bad".

Earlier today, the leaders made their final pitches.

COLIN BARNETT, PREMIER: We have been a good Government. This state has been well run and it's prospered through difficult times. And yes, people have lost their jobs. There's some unemployment. That's the nature of this cycle. Our economy is now coming back and strong. It will stagnate under Labor. And please, please: don't vote for a return to dullsville, because that's what you will get under Labor.

MARK MCGOWAN, WA LABOR LEADER: It's time for a fresh start. It's time for a change. I've got the team, I've got the experience. I know what we need to do. We've got the plans and policies. I want to make sure Western Australia becomes a stronger, fairer, better place. That's WA Labor's plan.

DAVID LIPSON: Meanwhile, One Nation has had an awful week in the west on vaccinations, the GST and more infighting. A poll out tomorrow in the Weekend West Australian newspaper will show a significant drop in the party's vote from 9 per cent just a week ago. Remember, the high point was 13 per cent.

If things do play out as expected, there'll be big questions about the wisdom of the Liberals' preference deal with One Nation and the Turnbull Government's implicit endorsement of the arrangement.

To discuss all of this, I was joined earlier by WA Liberal Senator Linda Reynolds and WA Labor MP Anne Aly, both speaking to me from Perth.

Linda Reynolds, Anne Aly, thanks so much for your time this evening.

Linda Reynolds, first to you. Colin Barnett was something of an accidental Premier when he was elected in 2008. He's now held government for two terms through the boom. Now the economy is struggling somewhat and Colin Barnett is not even committing to run a full term, should he win.

Why should people vote for Premier Barnett?

LINDA REYNOLDS, WA LIBERAL SENATOR: Well, look, by any measure Colin Barnett has been an amazingly good Premier for this state. Over his 8.5 years the state has become now the 45th largest economy in the world, if we were a separate country.

And despite all the pessimists, the economy here in West Australia is still growing. We're still exporting over $100 billion worth: 41 per cent of all national exports. And, as I said, the economy is still growing.

So that has not happened by accident. We have to remember: when Colin Barnett was elected, when the Liberals were elected, it was a very different place. We had electrical blackouts here, we had brownouts. We didn't have enough teachers. We didn't have enough policemen.

So he and his Government have absolutely transformed this state and I think he will - whatever happens on Saturday, his term as Premier will be recognised by history as one of the greatest periods here in Western Australia.

DAVID LIPSON: Well, it looks like the Liberals are behind in the polls, and ABC reporter Eliza Borello went and asked some voters over the past couple of days what they thought of the two leaders. Let's take a look:

(Eliza Borello holds a photo of Colin Barnett)

ELIZA BORELLO, REPORTER: Can you tell me who this man is?

MAN 1: Yeah, Colin Barnett.

WOMAN 1: Yep, that's Colin Barnett.

WOMAN 2: Colin Barnett.

ELIZA BORELLO: Three words to describe him?

MAN 2: Ah... probably: ready to go.

ELIZA BORELLO: Three words that come to mind, looking at that face?

WOMAN 1: Disliked, controversial. And I think he's a decent person.

(Eliza Borello holds a photo of Mark McGowan)

WOMAN 3: The name keeps mixing. Hang on, McKay is it or something?

ELIZA BORELLO: Can you tell me who this man is?

MAN 3: Oh, he's Barnett, I think. He's the leader of the Labor.

WOMAN 3: That's him. McGowan, yeah.

ELIZA BORELLO: And three words to describe him?

MAN 2: Ah... young, keen, willing.

ELIZA BORELLO: Can you tell me three words to describe him, or that come to mind when you look at that picture?

WOMAN 4 (pause): No.

DAVID LIPSON: So it looks like a battle of "It's Time" versus "Who's that?"

Anne Aly, Mark McGowan's been Opposition Leader for five years. Is it a problem that people don't know who he is?

ANNE ALY, WA LABOR MP: Oh, look, I don't really think so, David. You know, I used to teach political marketing and one of the things that I used to say to my students was that people will always vote based on one of three things: on the leader, on the policies or on their absolute commitment to the party and the value of the party.

So it doesn't really surprise me. But I also think that it might also be symptomatic of people's disaffection with politics and with major parties at this point.
I would have been interested to see if you had shown them some other pictures in that little spiel: if they'd shown some other pictures, who people did recognise and who people didn't recognise.

You know, I think being a leader is not about being a celebrity. I think being a leader is about having integrity and having trust. And I also think that a lot of people will be voting based on their local member and getting to know their local member. And I think that's a good thing.

DAVID LIPSON: Linda Reynolds, the internal scrap between the Liberals and the Nationals that's been going on for some time has blown up in the final hours of the campaign, really, over the plan to slash the Royalties for Regions program: Brendon Grylls, the leader of the Nationals in WA, saying it's a final betrayal.

Is this a problem? Surely that is not helping, even though it is just an alliance rather than a formal coalition. It doesn't look good, does it?

LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, David, the first thing I think your eastern states viewers have to remember is we do things quite differently here in Western Australia: and the alliance and the relationship between the Liberal and the Nationals is no exception.

And as you point out, it is an alliance. We have had, I know, sometimes a fractious relationship but it has been a very successful alliance over the last eight years.

And yes, there is an issue today about the Royalties for Regions, but I think that again highlights the differences between the two parties: is that what the Liberal Party is saying is that it's all right to provide and to build these new facilities - new swimming pools, rec centres - but they've got to be maintained and they've got to have money to operate.

And that's been the problem: is that under the program these facilities have been thrust upon local shires and town councils but without the budget to operate them.

So for example, the Port Hedland pool has had to be closed for the last two summers because they haven't had sufficient resources. So what the Barnett Government is proposing I think is eminently sensible: use some of that money to make sure that these facilities can be maintained and operated and not just white elephants out in rural and regional areas.

DAVID LIPSON: Well, speaking of the budget, Anne Aly: we saw Labor's costings yesterday and they included a slashing to the public service: $750 million worth. But we don't know how many jobs that is. It sounds like a lot?

ANNE ALY: It does sound like a lot, but primarily it's about slashing the salaries of senior executives and cutting down on the bureaucracy and the top-heavy bureaucracy that's currently in the public service.

So it's really about cost saving measures in that and I don't think there are any West Australians out there who would disagree that a cumbersome bureaucracy is actually a detriment to being a government that can be responsive and can be agile and can meet the needs of the people in a much more effective manner.

DAVID LIPSON: What do the unions think of that?

ANNE ALY: Oh, look, I don't really know what the unions think of it, to be honest with you. I haven't had a chance to discuss it with them. But, you know, the unions are there to protect working Australians. And I think at the moment the biggest issue for the unions, that all the unions that I have spoken to are dealing with, is the cuts to penalty rates.

DAVID LIPSON: The other big issue, the GST - and I think many people on the east coast don't appreciate how big an issue this is in the west: that WA gets 32 cents in every dollar back that it Puts in for the GST.

Why would, Anne Aly, a Labor premier be better able to negotiate a GST carve-up than a Liberal premier dealing with a Liberal government?

ANNE ALY: Well, we have already seen that a Liberal Premier dealing with a Liberal Government has been absolutely unable to negotiate anything. And quite honestly, I think it's absolutely appalling that we have Liberal federal parliamentarians who are very senior, who are on the frontbench and who haven't been speaking out for Western Australia and who haven't been fighting for a fairer deal for Western Australia.

I think it's an absolute shame and I think that Western Australians very rightly feel neglected by their Liberal representatives at the federal level.

DAVID LIPSON: Linda Reynolds, I'll get a response to that. Malcolm Turnbull didn't make many trips to WA over the past few weeks, but when he did he said that changes to the GST formula were a few years away. How helpful was that?

LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, David, the first thing I'd say is: I think, while Anne very successfully managed not to answer your question there, I think it's very simple: is that it is not an issue for the Commonwealth Government. And Anne has to know that.

It is an issue that has to be thrashed out and agreed between the Prime Minister and also all the state leaders. So unless Mark McGowan has already talked to his Labor counterparts, leaders, in Queensland, in Victoria, in South Australia, in the Northern Territory and hammered some sort of deal, he cannot change the system either.

And it is - I think the Prime Minister has come up with a very sensible way forward. Sadly, it does leave Western Australia disadvantaged under the formula. But it is a sensible solution to put a cap in as our GST revenues increase, so that it can never happen again to any other state.

But David, what Labor don't also tell you is that, in recognition of that, the Federal Government has already over the last two years given another $1 billion to Western Australia for critical infrastructure projects. It doesn't fully compensate but to go some way towards compensating that.

DAVID LIPSON: OK. Well, Pauline Hanson hasn't had the greatest week, you'd have to say. Here's what she had to say on the GST:

PAULINE HANSON, LEADER, ONE NATION PARTY: At no time have I ever, ever said that it must come out of Queensland.

(Excerpt from interview with 6PR radio, January)

GARETH PARKER, PRESENTER, 6PR (Jan.): Would you be willing to see the GST share of your home state, Queensland, reduced so that WA can get a better deal?

PAULINE HANSON (Jan.): Course I will. No problem.

(Excerpt ends)

DAVID LIPSON: Linda Reynolds, was it a mistake for the Liberals to do this preference deal with One Nation?

LINDA REYNOLDS: Look, David, why wouldn't they do a preference deal with One Nation? One Nation are a legitimate political party. They have significant electoral support.

And quite frankly, I cannot see a difference between negotiating with One Nation than what Labor does with the Greens. They are both...

DAVID LIPSON: Even Colin Barnett this morning has suggested, though, that he was fairly uncomfortable about it?

LINDA REYNOLDS: But, David, that is the reality of politics. Both the Greens and One Nation are legitimate political parties who have got every right to engage and represent the people who support them. So, I think: ultimately, preference deals are only recommendation and it is up to the voter and how they actually mark their ballot papers.

So I've got no problem with it and I think that, just as Labor does deals with the Greens - who they don't always agree with - both the Greens and One Nation have a right to be heard and to do deals with other parties.

DAVID LIPSON: Anne Aly, we'll see how this plays out tomorrow night. But how do you think One Nation will go in this election?

ANNE ALY: Oh, look, I think... I don't know. Look, I think it's really unpredictable with these minor parties and I don't like to try and predict something that... Yeah, I think tomorrow will tell.

But I must say I think it was poison for the Liberal Party to make that alliance with One Nation. I think it shows that, as much as Colin Barnett says that he doesn't support what they say or their values and has come out against them so many times, then why make an alliance with them? Why get into it with them?

DAVID LIPSON: Would Labor make an alliance with the Greens?

ANNE ALY: Yeah, that's a different case. I think you can't really compare the Greens to One Nation, now, can you? I think in terms of the kinds of candidates that One Nation have come out with...

DAVID LIPSON: So that's a yes?

ANNE ALY: ...the deal with One Nation... Well, we have in the past had preferences flowed on to the Greens. I'm not denying that.

But I think here we're talking about One Nation and we're talking about the Liberal Party and we're talking about a deal that shows the desperation of Colin Barnett to keep his position, by sacrificing an alliance, a long-standing alliance they've had with the Nationals, sacrificing Lower House for the Upper House to allow Pauline Hanson and One Nation to have representation in the Upper House.

You can call it strategic; you can call it whatever you like. But I think it has sent a resounding message to Western Australians and you can see it when you get out there and you talk to people. People are not happy with it and they've lost a lot of votes because of this alliance that they've made.

LINDA REYNOLDS: The deal that we've done with the National Party on preferences is exactly the same as we did at the last state election. And the Nationals themselves preferenced One Nation over us in 2008.

So there is nothing new in this. We're doing exactly the same thing with the National Party, and as the National Party did with One Nation. So I can't let that go uncorrected there from Anne's comments.

ANNE ALY: OK. To finish our conversation, I want to look back at my moment of the campaign, for better or worse. Let's take a look.

(Footage of the Western Australia Liberal Party campaign launch, February. Politicians clap and dance to 'One More Time' by Daft Punk)

DAVID LIPSON (laughing): Linda Reynolds, have you worked out whose idea that was?

LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, it was actually quite spontaneous. I was there and the mood was buoyant. And I almost ended up on the floor: probably very glad that I didn't end up dancing there with them. But I can tell you what: it was a brilliant campaign launch. The spirits were high. The team was united.

And while it clearly demonstrated that some of my state colleagues cannot dance, it doesn't preclude them from being great, you know, in government.

DAVID LIPSON: Anne, do you think you could have done any better on the DF, carving it up?

ANNE ALY (pointing to her face): Oh. I mean, come on. Look at this, David. I mean, I'm sure that, you know, just by virtue of my colour I can say that we definitely have more rhythm. (Laughs)

But you know, I think it was a light-hearted moment. I think it made the internet cry a little bit when that came through on my Facebook feed. But you know, it's all good to know that campaigns aren't all about seriousness and punching and punching and trying to get the last word in.

DAVID LIPSON: Indeed. Anne Aly, Linda Reynolds, thank you both very much for your time. Good luck tomorrow.

LINDA REYNOLDS: Thank you, David.

ANNE ALY: Thank you. Thanks, David.