SUBJECTS: WA GST share; NDIS; Sexism against female politicians; WA State Budget; Gender quotas for Parliament; International Day of the Girl

BELINDA VARISCHETTI, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, welcome to the ABC Radio Perth.


VARISCHETTI: Now firstly, you are well aware of that huge groundswell of frustration here in Western Australia about the share of the GST, and the Productivity Commission put out that draft report on Monday suggesting some changes. Would you support those recommendations put out by the Productivity Commission?

PLIBERSEK: We're looking at the draft Productivity Commission report and we'll have a look at the final report next year, but we say why wait? We think that WA deserves its fair share now and that's why Labor has put $1.6 billion on the table in a “Fair Share for WA deal” that would build infrastructure, so improve quality of life for people who benefit from that infrastructure, but also provide jobs. We think the Government should match that funding now rather than wait for the Productivity Commission report.

VARISCHETTI: The Productivity Commission report didn't agree that that idea of those top-up payments as you're referring to, doesn't agree with that idea, and then in that situation nobody would be worse off, but it says actually that the formula should be changed. So isn't that a better long-term solution rather than looking at these sort of top-up payments, actually make the change?

PLIBERSEK: Like I say, we're happy to examine what the Productivity Commission comes up with finally, but we're not really in the business of taking money away from other States to fix what is a glaring unfairness in WA's share of GST revenue. At the moment WA is getting less than any State has ever received in the history of the GST as a return on the tax dollars it sends to Canberra through GST collection. We don't think that's fair. We know from the Productivity Commission report and from other calculations that that figure will improve gradually over time, but Western Australia can't afford to wait. Because it's not just the historic low amount of GST revenue it's having returned; university funding in my portfolio cut by $200 million dollars, hospitals would have been $220 million better off under Labor by 2020 compared with the way the Liberals have cut. So it's historic low levels of GST revenue returning to WA, it's on top of those cuts in education, healthcare, other portfolios. And we think that needs to be fixed immediately rather than pushing it into the never-never with another report.

VARISCHETTI: Is it ever going to happen? Is change ever going to happen? Because when you consider the political cost for any Federal Government that might attempt that change because of the disadvantage that it will bring for other states, except for Western Australia, isn't that just too risky at a federal level, whether it's Liberals or Labor to take that on, especially so close to another election?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think you do have to have a reasonable, thoughtful, methodical approach that gives you the fairest GST distribution over time. But right now, today, WA can't afford to wait for that long-term process, and that's why we're prepared to say we'll put $1.6 billion on the table on top of the GST revenue that's being collected around the country, to fix this problem for WA. To provide much needed infrastructure and to provide the jobs that goes with building that infrastructure. There are fewer people employed full-time now than there were five years ago, because of the way the previous Liberal Government, the Barnett Government, squandered the proceeds of the mining boom that WA experienced. We've seen a massive, a ten-fold increase in debt, you see the loss of the AAA credit rating for WA in 2013. WA faces some very significant challenges that the current Labor Government is fighting valiantly to address, and we say Federal Labor would help them now. The Liberal Government in Canberra should help now, not push this off into the never-never.

VARISCHETTI: ABC Radio Perth. It's 11 past four and in the studio for you this afternoon - Tanya Plibersek, the Deputy Federal Opposition Leader, and she's happy to take your calls.


Hi Don.


VARISCHETTI: Hi, what's your question?

CALLER: My question is the NDIS has a gap in it with psycho-social/mental health support for somebody experiencing an illness, and my question is about what the Labor Party's going to do to fill that gap, particularly filling the gap for those with temporary illnesses that really disable them, such as eating disorders and stuff, yet because it's temporary oh sorry the NDIS doesn't cover you go see someone else. And the someone else turns around and says well no we transferred all of our funding into the NDIS for that. 

VARISCHETTI: Thank you for that Don.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks Don for the call. We do see that there are a number of gaps in the current design of the NDIS, or areas that we'd like to see improved. One of the ones is the one you've described, in the area where disability and mental health cross over, and another is the area where disability and aged care cross over. It does mean that we do need to continue to develop and improve the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and to do that you need a real commitment to funding and properly rolling out this scheme. This is as big a change as introducing Medicare to Australia. It's something that we will have to improve and perfect over many years, and the area of mental health is one where we've been doing a lot of work to make sure, exactly as you say, that people don't fall between the NDIS and mental health services that are stretched and not adequate to deliver the sort of care that people need and deserve.

VARISCHETTI: Don thank you for that. Lyle, you've got a question about the GST?

CALLER: Yes I do. Firstly, Tanya I think you make a much better potential Prime Minister than Bill Shorten, but my question is - when you were a part of the last Gillard-Rudd Government, why didn't you put a floor on the GST then? Why didn't that happen?

PLIBERSEK: Well thank you Lyle, that's a good question. I think we didn't ever really predict that the WA share would fall as low as it's fallen. It really is down in the 30-odd cents return for every dollar that WA collects in GST revenue. That's about 60 per cent lower than we would have expected in the past. It's a very significant drop for WA to cope with, and it comes at a time when other federal funding is also falling. I think people have talked about this righting itself in coming years because of improvements in the WA economy. We'd like to see something more like 70 cents on the dollar being returned to WA and the way we think it's best to do that is to put that $1.6 billion on the table now, rather than wait to reorder the formula and wait for potentially several years while those effects take place.

VARISCHETTI: We had Christian Porter on the program yesterday. because he was the State Treasurer back in the day in 2011, and through that conversation we spoke about Wayne Swan predicting, in response to that 2011 WA Budget, that WA would lose lots of GST, so it was predicted, this sort of circumstance, this situation that WA faces today, all those years ago. 

PLIBERSEK: And there were other things that we also didn't predict, like the fact that the previous Liberal Government here at a State level saw a ten-fold increase in debt during the 8 and a half years that they were in government. So some of these things, as you say, are predictable, and some are just phenomenally bad economic management.

VARISCHETTI: This from Kate on text: “Can you see a time when it would be safe for a woman to be Prime Minister again? Will it only be possible when Mr Abbott has left? Or are the problems much deeper than him”, asks Kate.

PLIBERSEK: You know, I often get asked questions about Julia Gillard's experience as Prime Minister, and I think one of the things that I would definitely do differently this time as someone in the Federal Parliament is call out some of the extraordinary sexism that she faced much earlier. Julia never really wanted me and the others who were her friends and colleagues to call it out because she said “Look, I'm just focused on the job, I'm just going to keep working on the job and this criticism will just fall away" the really stuff that was really just vile sexism will fall away. That didn't happen, so I think it is quite important to call that stuff out earlier. But I also do think that Julia was quite right - it will be easier for the next woman, and the woman after that. I think being the first always is so ground-breaking, so difficult. It'll be easier, but it'll still have its challenges and as a society I think we need to make it less of a challenge simply because you're a woman. It's fine to scrutinise people, it's a tough environment, all of us are used to conflict, but we can't go down the path again of some of the really vile stuff that was just sexism. 

VARISCHETTI:  Now, the Labor Government here in Western Australia was trying to bring in a gold royalty increase and the resources industry fought back hard with a big-spending ad campaign, about half a million dollars or so, and they've now won that fight. And this isn't the first time that they've done it either when new taxes were being proposed. Do you think they have too much influence on the political process today, the mining industry, that sector?

PLIBERSEK: I just think it's extraordinary that the Barnett Government loses the AAA credit rating for Western Australia. It has rivers of gold flowing in during the peak of the mining boom, it manages to increase debt, despite that, and now from Opposition it wants to smash up the State Labor Government's budget as well. I don't have a detailed view on every element of the WA State Budget, but what I would say is once you've made an extraordinary mess like this, to then say to the new State Labor Government "we're not going to support you on the royalties thing. Find the money elsewhere." Well, you know, that elsewhere as Mark McGowan said today, the only place you can look is households, and that would be very hard going at a time when unemployment is tough here in WA, at a time when the local economy is under a lot of pressure, to push this problem back onto households is really a bit rich.

VARISCHETTI: So does the sector wield too much power?

PLIBERSEK: We were very disappointed with the campaign they ran against the Minerals Resource Rent Tax when we were in government. We think that the resources beneath the ground belong to every Australian, and every Australian should get a fair return on those resources. We know that other countries do better at getting a return on the resources that belong to all their citizens.

VARISCHETTI: Tanya Plibersek you are Shadow Women's Minister, so a couple of questions related to that. One through from text which has just disappeared. There it is: "As the father of daughters and a feminist," says the text, "what is the likelihood of seeing a more balanced representation of women in Parliament in the next 20 to 30 years?"

PLIBERSEK: I think it's good, as long as we set some targets. So in about 1994, Liberal and Labor both had about 14 per cent female representation in the Federal Parliament. We set a target, we're now at 45 per cent. We will make it to 50 per cent. The Liberals are just over 20 per cent, about 21 per cent, because they don't have the same targets that we do. Now I think what things like targets do is just focus the mind and allow a Party, or any organisation, to nail its colours to the mast and then be judged publicly whether they meet those targets. Unless you set targets, I don't think progress happens, and so I think it's important to do that in our Federal Parliament. I think any time when we want to achieve change it's important to say exactly what it is, what we're shooting for. When I had the Housing portfolio we set a target to reduce homelessness, to halve the rate of homelessness in Australia. The Liberals abandoned that target and we saw progress stop. If we set targets on climate change, on reducing pollution, we are much more likely to reduce pollution than if we think business as usual will get us there.

VARISCHETTI: "#tanyaforPM" has come through.

PLIBERSEK: Oh mum stop it, I told you.

VARISCHETTI: And just before you go, with your Shadow Women's Minister hat on, and it is International Day of the Girl, just curious to know, we've been talking about this over the last hour or so and hearing from different people about what they would tell their twelve-year-old self - what would you tell your twelve-year-old self?

PLIBERSEK: Well I'm actually able to practice this every day because I've got a 16 year old daughter who reminds an awful lot of myself at my most stubborn. And I am able to give her a bit of advice every day and I know that she ignores it every day, but I think the most important thing to say to young women is be yourself. Work hard, study hard, do what you feel passionate about, be yourself. Don't succumb to all of the stereotypes that people want to shove down your throat. And I think that's particularly important today in the world of social media where so much of this stuff is so superficial. But I guess the other thing I'd say on the Day of the Girl - it's not just our girls we have to talk to about gender equality, it's our sons as well. Our daughters and our sons need to know that girls and boys can have any career or any profession they want. Girls and boys should know the reward of caring for people, of looking after the people you love at home as well. So if we share the world of work and we share what's happening domestically, I think we all end up happier, healthier, more fulfilled.

VARISCHETTI: Tanya Plibersek, thank you for coming in to the ABC Radio Perth studio today.

PLIBERSEK: It's a pleasure Belinda.