30/01/2017 - 06:04

Malcolm on the outer

30/01/2017 - 06:04

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OPINION: WA Liberals would prefer Malcolm Turnbull stayed away in the lead-up to the March election, unless he has some good news to share about the GST.

Malcolm on the outer
Malcolm Turnbull has failed to deliver change to the allocation of the GST. Photo: David Foote

OPINION: WA Liberals would prefer Malcolm Turnbull stayed away in the lead-up to the March election, unless he has some good news to share about the GST.

We shouldn’t expect Malcolm Turnbull to play a big part in the Liberal Party WA’s election campaign, because the party no longer views the prime minister as a vote winner.

Mr Turnbull pulled a rabbit out of the hat last August when he promised the Liberal state conference he would deal with WA’s grievances over the paltry proportion of the GST revenue returning to the state.

However, precious little has happened since then and the PM’s undertaking has been shown to be just empty rhetoric.

In contrast, Labor leader Bill Shorten has been welcomed by his state counterparts and Pauline Hanson received a rock star reception while in Perth to support her One Nation candidates.

How quickly the worm turns.

It is nothing personal, but Mr Turnbull’s position seems to be the lot of prime ministers in the current political and economic climate.

Just four years ago it was Labor PM Julia Gillard who was given the cold shoulder by her WA colleagues. The negative impact of federal Labor’s ill-fated mining tax was still a high-profile issue in WA, on top of poor communications between the party’s federal and state leaders.

And relations hadn’t recovered from Kevin Rudd’s first stint in the PM’s office, during which time local Labor leaders were snubbed when Mr Rudd headed to WA. He was more intent on speaking to Colin Barnett as premier than to his party colleagues.

It seems Mr Shorten has been forgiven for the time when, as federal secretary of the Australian Workers Union, he addressed a lunchtime rally of police union members at Parliament House protesting against Alan Carpenter’s Labor government. Mr Carpenter was said to be furious.

But a visit from Mr Turnbull would, without something concrete on the revenue front, only draw attention to his hollow undertaking last August when he backed the idea of setting a floor under which no state’s share of the GST distribution can fall.

He said Western Australians had every right to be aggrieved about the carve-up, under which the state received just 30 cents for every dollar in GST it collected in 2015-16.

“We believe that we should take that opportunity – as the WA share of the GST increases under the current system – to change the arrangements so that we set a percentage floor below which no state’s receipts of GST can fall,” Mr Turnbull said at the time.

Not only has there been deathly silence on the issue, but the promised ‘correction’ under the Commonwealth Grants Commission formula for allocating the GST money to the states hasn’t happened.

Since the steam went out of the resources sector, WA’s population growth has slowed more than predicted. And while the partial recovery in iron ore and oil prices has been welcomed by producers, the extra royalty revenue for the state government has also delayed the predicted increase in GST payments.

The only hope for reform comes from some agitation for change in NSW, where the GST share is falling as its economy surges.

Unless Mr Turnbull comes west bearing gifts, especially linked with the GST, any welcome from local voters would be muted at best.

Libs stick with Barnett

‘YOU can put away the glasses,’ as the race callers used to say; Colin Barnett will lead the Liberal Party into the state election despite trailing Labor’s Mark McGowan in opinion polls as preferred premier.

As previously noted in Political Perspective (November 21 2016), some Liberal hardheads had remained open to persuasion on the leadership issue, contemplating swinging in popular Deputy Premier Liza Harvey as a late replacement if they believed she could close the gap Labor had opened in voting intentions.

But that prospect has been shelved. Mr Barnett has been campaigning strongly, and Ms Harvey got caught out at a doorstop news conference by gotcha questions on some economic issues.

For Ms Harvey, the awkward moment confirmed that successful leadership of an export-oriented state such as WA requires experience in finance or industry portfolios, or preferably both.

So Mr Barnett will take the Liberals to the polls for the fourth election in a row – the past two as a winner. His challenge is to become the first leader to win a third four-year term.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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