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Monday, 12 November 2018
Page: 7832


Senator LINES (Western AustraliaDeputy President and Chair of Committees) (21:21): I too rise to support the Treasury Laws Amendment (Making Sure Every State and Territory Gets Their Fair Share of GST) Bill 2018. But I really do want what actually happened to be put on the record. Senator Cameron, in his contribution to this debate, outlined in a series of events how we got to where we are today. I have to say that we got here with the government dragging its heels and criticising Labor every step of the way. We got here because Premier Mark McGowan made this his No. 1 priority on winning the election last year.

When we look at where WA has come from in getting a fair go for GST, we had, for many years, a Liberal state government and, coinciding with that, a Liberal federal government. Within the Western Australian component, from the Liberal Party we had cabinet ministers and other ministers with very important portfolios, and none of them lifted a finger. I will pay tribute to Senator Dean Smith, who, with a Liberal state government and a Liberal federal government, wasn't able to deliver GST reform but wasn't afraid to speak out about it. He was the only one.

When we look at Senator Cormann, part of his experience as a senior minister from Western Australia has been as the acting Prime Minister. What did he do for GST reform? Nothing—diddly squat! What did Ms Bishop, the member for Curtin and our former foreign minister, do about GST reform when we had a Liberal government in the state and here? Nothing! What did the Attorney-General, Mr Christian Porter, the member for Pearce, do? I might just leave him, because I'd really like to put his record on the Hansard tonight. What did Minister Keenan, the longstanding member for Stirling and a minister in successive Liberal federal governments, do about GST reform in WA? Nothing—absolutely nothing! Mr Wyatt became a minister more recently, but he's been the long-term member for Hasluck. What has he done on GST reform? Nothing! What has Mr Steve Irons, the member for Swan—sadly, my local member, although, hopefully, in the election we'll change that—done about GST reform? I follow Mr Irons carefully and closely; he's my local member. Nothing! I've never ever seen a leaflet from Mr Irons that talked about the need for GST reform. Minister Cash was a fairly high-profile minister who had a fall from grace. What did she do on GST reform? Nothing!

So on and on it goes. All these very important people, very important ministers, in this federal Liberal government—one of them was the acting Prime Minister for some time—have done nothing.

I want to come back to Mr Porter, the member for Pearce—and, hopefully, that will change too because there are a number of marginal seats in Western Australia and they play into this agenda as well. He was the Treasurer in the state Liberal government under Mr Barnett. Mr Barnett was absolutely booted out of the parliament last year in the state's election, suffering the biggest loss the Liberal Party had ever seen in Western Australia because he put the state into record debt. We hear those opposite—in particular, Minister Cormann—talking about debt and deficit. What did they ever say to Mr Barnett when he racked up a massive debt so bad that the WA treasury just before the state election last year raised real concern about the level of interest payments Western Australians were being saddled with? Who was the Treasurer who incurred most of that debt? Who was the Treasurer?

Senator Cameron: Can I guess?

Senator LINES: Go right ahead, Senator Cameron.

Senator Cameron: The member for Pearce.

Senator LINES: It was the member for Pearce, Mr Porter. Mr Nahan had a bit of a hand in it as well, but when you look at the reports of the Western Australian economy most of that debt belonged to Mr Porter. No wonder he took the seat of Pearce and skedaddled out of the state parliament as quickly as he could. No wonder. So Mr Porter bears a big responsibility for the debt that Mr Barnett's government left the Western Australian people with. Is it any wonder that they were unceremoniously kicked out of office last year? Mr Porter then came here. I'm the duty senator for Pearce, so I like to watch what he's up to as well. Never did I see Mr Porter trying to do anything about the GST.

When Mr McGowan came into power, he said that he would do something about the GST—and, to his absolute credit, he has. He also pledged to the Western Australian public that he would reduce the debt, and he's done that. Under Mr Porter, Mr Nahan and Mr Barnett, WA lost its AAA credit rating. There were all sorts of downgrades. It was just a disgrace. But what have we seen the Liberals doing in Western Australia? Suddenly they realised the only person who ever mentioned the GST was Senator Smith, so they started running full-page ads having a go at Labor, somehow trying to run this story that Labor weren't interested in fixing the GST. As Senator Cameron has outlined, we were the first people interested. We put the Fair Share for WA Fund up, which effectively would have taken the GST floor to 70c. Mr Morrison just mocked that. We insisted that, when Mr Morrison finally got around to putting a fix in, the floor be legislated. He scoffed at that. In fact, I was at a media conference with Senator Wong when she was asked, 'But surely when the bill comes before the parliament, Senator Wong, you'll back off on that; you won't push with this ridiculous idea to legislate the floor?' Senator Wong said, in no uncertain terms, that we would. And what happened? Suddenly Mr Morrison was onboard. So we've now got the floor legislated. We also said, 'No other state or territory is to be worse off.' Again, we were given the promise: 'Trust us. We made those commitments about the ABC, SBS and school funding. You can trust us. We never go back on our word.' Of course, the states and territories were never, ever going to sign up to that. So we now have the guarantee in place.

But I think the thing that really got me—it didn't get under my skin; I just thought, 'Boy, some people are really cheeky!'—was when I got a letter from Mr Nahan, one of the treasurers who put WA into massive debt. He didn't just send it to me; he sent it to Senator Dodson, Senator Pratt and Senator Sterle. But as he was pressing the email 'send' button he also sent it to the media. So it wasn't really a letter to Labor senators; it was a bit of political grandstanding. Dr Nahan tried to make a claim in this letter that somehow Labor, who were on the public record, weren't going to support the GST fix.

I took the opportunity to ask Dr Nahan a few questions of my own. When he was treasurer, what was he doing about this massive debt that Mr Porter started and he continued? What was he doing about that? What was he doing about the massive unemployment rate that, along with Mr Barnett and Mr Porter, he created? What was he doing about the loss of our AAA credit rating? All this happened under Dr Nahan, Mr Porter and Mr Barnett. Well surprise, surprise! I haven't had a response from Dr Nahan. I thought it was fair, because he'd published his letter, that I publish mine, so I published that letter.

It didn't stop there. I then got a letter—and I presume other senators did as well—from Senator Cormann. His is somewhat longer than Dr Nahan's, setting out all the evil things that Labor is alleged to have done. Perhaps I will let Minister Cormann answer for himself, but I don't think he published this to the news media. He certainly showed them. So, because there was the benefit of the doubt, I didn't publish mine to the media. I thought: 'Fair go! He didn't publish it; he only showed it.' But he, too, picks up some of Dr Nahan's nonsense about trying to pretend that Labor wasn't supporting the GST.

I went back to Minister Cormann and asked him the same questions—the same ones that Dr Nahan wouldn't answer. We've heard in here that he likes to talk about debt and deficit. He likes to say that the federal government, despite its massive debt at the moment, somehow has reduced debt. I thought, 'I'll ask him the questions.' So I asked him, as the federal counterpart—he's part of the Liberal Party, and presumably they talk to one another—if he had ever raised concerns with Mr Porter about the massive debt he'd occurred. I asked him if he'd ever raised concerns with Dr Nahan about the loss of the AAA credit rating. I asked Minister Cormann if he had raised concerns with Mr Barnett about the rising and massive record unemployment under the Liberals in Western Australia. I asked Minister Cormann why there were these reports from Treasury warning about the dangers of the Western Australian debt. Surprise, surprise! I heard nothing back from Minister Cormann either. I say in my letter: 'I note your letter to WA Labor senators and MPs regarding the GST. It's hard to see this letter as anything other than a cheap political stunt, as it was given to the WA media at the same time it was sent to us.' I can only conclude that Senator Cormann isn't interested in responding to my questions about what was going on in Western Australia under the Barnett Liberal government and, indeed, when Mr Porter was the treasurer, what was happening with our debt. As I said at the outset, there was just silence, when Colin Barnett was in power, about fixing up the GST.

I attended the Senate inquiry into this bill. It was really interesting to hear from the states and territories. It was really a very productive day to hear from everyone. So important is this GST fix to Western Australia that Premier McGowan came and gave evidence. That is unprecedented, I think. I know that he will be watching this debate tonight. What Mr Barnes, the Under Treasurer, said at the inquiry was interesting. He said the disadvantage 'is not the size of WA's total revenue base or the growth in that total revenue base; it is the composition of that revenue base'. The really important point is, he said:

… about 18 per cent of our total revenue comes from mining royalties and about 86 per cent of that comes from iron ore. That's where WA is the outlier compared to the other states, and it is that outlier composition of our revenue base that drives the distortions and the disincentives under the current system.

He thought that 'was quite an important distinction', and I agree with him. He also said:

Just to highlight those distortions and disincentives, in the last financial year WA collected about $4.5 billion in iron ore royalties and this year our GST relativity is 47.3 per cent. If, instead of collecting that $4.5 billion in iron ore royalties, we instead collected the same quantum of revenue from payroll tax or stamp duty, our GST relativity would be over 100 per cent and we wouldn't be sitting here today.

Mr McGowan made similar comments in talking about gold and iron ore. He made the point:

I could give you just one example of that. Because Western Australia is a big iron ore mining state—other states have small iron ore industries, but we have … the big one—90 per cent of what we raise from iron ore is redistributed.

There was a similar amount from gold. About 60 per cent of gold revenue is redistributed.

I do commend the bill. I'm keen to get it voted on and I'm keen for Western Australia to get its fair share. I am very pleased that the Morrison government has followed Labor's lead and is going to legislate the floor and that it has made the guarantee that no other state or territory will be worse off. I would not have copped a situation where WA got something and other states and territories got nothing, because it should be fair and we should have a situation where everyone gets a fair go. Now that Mr Morrison has followed Labor's lead, that is in fact what will happen.