Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the hustings in Perth ahead of the Liberal Party’s state conference this weekend. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)
What a difference a year can make — particularly in politics where there is nothing quite like a looming election to help focus the minds of politicians.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has spent his time in Perth this week trumpeting his Government’s achievement in “delivering a fair deal on GST for WA”.
But just 12 months ago, he was trading blows with Premier Mark McGowan over the state’s low share of the GST and refusing to acknowledge it was causing voter anger.
Mr McGowan triggered the stoush during that visit, telling Mr Turnbull to “stop acting like Tony Abbott”, while the Prime Minister told him to “put some steel in his spine”.
While the media happily lapped up the juicy sound bites, the ongoing political point scoring was anything but good news for WA voters, long since weary of the GST debate and perpetual impasse that saw their state short-changed.
Mr Turnbull even appeared to bristle at an ABC reporter’s suggestion that West Australians were angry with him and his Government over the state’s shortfall in GST payments.
“I have met with hundreds of West Australians this week … and the reception I have had could not have been warmer, or more positive, or more welcoming,” Mr Turnbull said last August.
“It is a complete parallel universe between what the media is saying and what the people I am meeting in the real world are saying to me.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and WA Premier Mark McGowan traded blows over the WA’s low GST during the PM’s visit a year ago. (ABC News)
In stark contrast, his own WA-based colleagues were at the same time privately and publicly lamenting the fact the GST issue was a festering sore with WA voters.
WA’s federal Liberals were well aware there was widespread and growing voter anger over the issue which, if not fixed ahead of the next election, would likely see a number of them, including ministers, turfed from office.
A GST fix finally arrives
Since then a lot of water has passed under the bridge.
The Prime Minister came back to WA in April to unveil a $3.2 billion funding package for the state.
That package was announced side by side with Mr McGowan, who could not hide his delight that the Commonwealth was willing to throw cash at his Government’s Metronet rail plans.
Then, last month, Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison finally revealed the Government’s proposal to fix the GST.
Once fully implemented there would be a 75 cent floor for every state and territory, with an extra $4.7 billion flowing into WA coffers over 8 years.
The announcement was warmly welcomed by not only federal Liberal MPs but also the McGowan Government, with WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt describing it as “a solution and a genuine GST reform” that could be achieved.
The campaign is underway
Fast forward to this week and the scenes were a far cry from the argy bargy of the Prime Minister’s visit last August.
With the Federal election now expected to take place in the first half of next year, the Liberals have turned their focus to ensuring that the poll becomes a referendum on the GST in WA.
The campaign might not be officially underway but make no mistake, it has begun in earnest.
“We’ll be calling on West Australians to vote for the Liberal Party because they know they can trust my Government to deliver a fair deal on the GST,” Mr Turnbull said on Thursday.
“You can’t trust Bill Shorten on the GST or anything else.”
For what it’s worth, Mr Shorten has backed the Federal Government’s GST plan but has called for it to be legislated.
The Prime Minister has been in campaign mode during his visit to Perth this week. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)
The Liberals are working hard to sandbag the seats they currently hold and believe could be vulnerable at the federal poll.
The Prime Minister last night attended a $2000 per head “special private dinner” to raise funds to defend the party’s marginal seats.
Those seats — Swan, Pearce and Hasluck — are where he spent most of his time while in town this week.
Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter certainly seems to think the proposed changes to the GST carve-up have boosted his chances of holding onto his seat of Pearce
“People love it — there’s a fix,” Mr Porter said.
“Whereas people in the electorate were very frustrated and very concerned now they’re enormously pleased that someone has listened and actually got the fix on the ground.”
Attorney-General Christian Porter (left) believes the PM’s GST reform plan will boost his chances of retaining his seat. (ABC News: Jacob Kagi)
The Federal Government’s preference is for all of the states to sign off on the GST proposal by the end of the year.
But Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison has said the fix can be implemented regardless of whether an agreement is reached with all states.
The Prime Minister says West Australians know they can trust him to deliver a fairer deal for WA on the GST, but it is more likely they will not be completely at ease until the money starts flowing into the state’s coffers.
While West Australians may be sceptical, they are no doubt glad they don’t have to spend another week watching Mr Turnbull and Mr McGowan embroiled in a slanging match over a problem that has dragged on for far too long.