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Tuesday, 13 November 2018
Page: 8021

Senator CAROL BROWN (Tasmania) (18:59): I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Making Sure Every State and Territory Gets Their Fair Share of GST) Bill 2018 as a Labor senator for the state of Tasmania. As Tasmanians, we know the issues around the GST just as well as Western Australian senators do. I'm proud to speak in support of this legislation on behalf of my party and my state, because, after much advocacy from my fellow Labor colleagues—the member for Franklin, Julie Collins; the member for Bass, Ross Hart; the member for Braddon, Justine Keay; the member for Lyons, Brian Mitchell; and the Labor Senate team from Tasmania—the government has finally seen fit to meet, at least in part, our demands.

While we're unfortunately all too familiar with how the current Prime Minister views my home state, what we weren't able to see until very recently was a guarantee that Tasmania's share of the GST would not be going backwards, at least in the short term. As Treasurer, the current Prime Minister opposed Labor's insistence that we have a legislative floor for the state's share of the GST. I have to say, as well, that we also acknowledge the issue that has been raised by our Labor Western Australian colleagues and of course the Western Australian senators opposite. The Prime Minister previously described the legislative floor as unnecessary. Since then, he's backflipped—following Labor's lead and the needs of Tasmania—for now. It took two weeks of tireless advocacy from the Tasmanian Labor representatives to drag the government to the point where they caved in on the GST, and the government keeps sending mixed messages about the future of the scheme.

It's a fact that Tasmania relies on the GST a great deal. Commonwealth funds total over 60 per cent of our $6 billion state budget, and that's certainly above the national average. Labor invested heavily in schools and hospitals during its time in government, working to bring my home state up towards the national average. Since then, Liberal governments have unfortunately starved the state of funding. Our hospitals are again at breaking point and our schools are crying out for investment, and our public servants are underpaid and the government is arguing it can't afford to provide them with the pay rise they've been calling for. That's why this victory is a welcome one. It's welcome to see the government coming to accept the need for a GST floor, but it's worrying that it's taken such efforts to achieve this. It's worrying that, when it's as plain as day, the government somehow still manages to avoid legislating what is clearly in the national interest until it's dragged, kicking and screaming, to do so.

It takes a great deal to unite state governments of all political persuasions. It's usually something that's fairly unique that unites Liberal and Labor governments alike, but on the matter of GST all states and territories came to the federal government asking for a legislative guarantee. All state and territory governments were united with the Australian Labor Party, and the government still considered it unnecessary. When the government finally came around, it was, quite frankly, clear that they simply couldn't avoid the necessity of this legislation. Consistent advocacy in campaigning showed that this legislation would ensure the wellbeing of Tasmanians and, indeed, all Australians protected under these changes to the distribution of GST revenues.

These changes will ensure that the funds that Tasmanians rely on to fund their schools and hospitals do not go backwards. Thanks to the continual advocacy of so many other Tasmanians, we now have a commitment through to 2026-27 that our state's share will not go backwards. We do, however, remain concerned that a future Liberal government would act to ensure that after 2026 our GST share is no longer guaranteed. Yet, despite these concerns, it's unmistakable that we need legislation to put this debate to bed. That's why Labor supports this bill and that's why I'm rising to speak in support of the legislation. Labor's support of this legislation is needed to see much-needed certainty for all states and territories. That's why Labor will vote to support this bill and to ensure Tasmania gets its fair share of the GST.

I would like to endorse the contribution from Julie Collins, the member for Franklin, in the other House. She put the government on notice that, when we get to the transition in 2026-27, we will be fighting for Tasmania again and we'll be insisting that our state continues to be no worse off. Indeed, we want to see our state much better off. We hope to see the outcomes, particularly in health and education, for Tasmanians improve. So I'm pleased to say we're able to support this bill today because of Labor leading and demanding that no-one be worse off and because of the pressure that we put on the Liberal state government and the Liberal senators from Tasmania to insist that this clause be in the legislation.