PETER VAN ONSELEN: Joining me now is the most senior member of the Shadow Front Bench of Bill Shorten’s, out of the great State of WA, I’m talking about Tim Hammond. Thanks very much for your company.


VAN ONSELEN: Let’s get into this GST debate, starting with what the Liberals are now contemplating. Dr Mike Nahan, the State Liberal leader is talking about going to the High Court to challenge the unfair distribution of the GST. What’s your reaction to that?

HAMMOND: I’m scratching my head, to say the least, Peter. It’s really sad in a way because again - we have a situation where the levers to pull in terms of fixing this disparity right now sit with Malcolm Turnbull and the Federal Liberal Government but instead what we have is this white noise about desperate measures, none of which have any meaningful prospect of doing anything about the disparity.

We have State Liberals wanting to sue Federal Liberals, we’ve got other Liberals wanting to secede. What we really want to do is just actually bridge the gap. That’s’ why I have been very proud to be part of the structural reform that Bill Shorten put forward at our conference last week. 

VAN ONSELEN: I do want to get to that but just on the issue of the High Court challenge, you are a lawyer, of some note over there in WA before moving into politics. Are you giving us, if you like, your free legal opinion on this, that this High Court Challenge doesn’t have legs as far as you’re concerned? 

HAMMOND: I’ve always lived by the adage of be very careful of any free legal advice. I’m not sure if you are damning me with faint praise in terms of being of some note… (Interrupted by journalist)

VAN ONSELEN: Weren’t you the president of the WA Law Society at some point?

HAMMOND: No I wasn’t - but I’ll tell you what I will do, I’ll defer to the advice of our Solicitor General over here, Peter Quinlan SC, who provided advice to not only this Attorney General John Quigley but as I understand advice was provided as to matters to a former Attorney General as well, to put the prospects of success of any High Court challenge somewhere in the range of wishful thinking. For our top law officer in the land to put the prospects of success as that low I think speaks volumes for just how off the track this debate has actually come.

VAN ONSELEN: We will get to what Bill Shorten has offered up from last weekend in a moment. But what about the other side of the debate that is going to come up this weekend at this Liberal party conference. Supported by none other than Norman Moore, the State president of the Liberal party over in WA, he was a pretty senior member of both the Court and the Barnett Governments for a period of time. He is looking to see WA leaving the Commonwealth – is that something you could ever see happening?

HAMMOND: I think there are different ways to find an ability to stand on one’s own two feet than look at trying to float a notion of…what are they calling it, WAxit?

VAN ONSELEN: Something like that.

HAMMOND: It sounds more wacky than WAxit to me, I've got to tell you. Again, I think the community expects us to lift the standard or the tone of the discussion of where we want to take the State and the country. This stuff is low hanging fruit and when you scratch the surface it creates a thousand more problems than it solves. You’ve articulated a couple already. Let’s just look at defence, what do we do with our banking sector? How do we service the remote areas of WA?

VAN ONSELEN: Your point is it creates more problems than it solves?

HAMMOND: Of course it does. And how about the Liberal use this time constructively and perhaps look at coming up with a meaningful solution to what we see as a huge disparity between what we currently get and what we think is a reasonable share.

VAN ONSELEN: Let’s look at what Labor is intent on doing. We heard from Opposition Leader Bill Shorten over there in WA for the State conference, injecting a couple of billion dollars into new infrastructure spending to help offset the GST unfairness WA faces. Isn’t that just a band aid on a flesh wound? I don’t differentiate from the band aid on a flesh wound the Liberal party have done in similar one-off payments.

HAMMOND: No it’s not - and there are two reasons why this is very different to anything that has been put before. What has been put before is normally seen as an ad-hoc sugar hit, this is not that and let me explain why.

Firstly; it is an infrastructure package, an infrastructure fund that is enshrined in legislation. So there is going to be, upon the election of a Shorten Labor Government, an infrastructure fund called the Western Australian Fair Share Fund, set up through legislation designed to funnel Commonwealth money into WA.

The second thing is the projected figure in that fund, again at a first Labor Budget, is $1.6 billion. Now, that is not just a figure we have arrived at because it sounds pretty good, it is a relation back figure to 70 cents in the dollar as a GST allocation. What we have used… (Interrupted by journalist)

VAN ONSELEN: Will that be in perpetuity?

HAMMOND: What we’ve used is numbers from Treasury to indicate the difference between where our GST share otherwise will be and what it will otherwise be to get us to 70 cents and that difference is $1.6 billion.

What we all know is that as a result of the way in which the rolling analysis that the Commonwealth Grants Commission applies is that once that analysis catches up with the parlous state of affairs in WA from a financial point of view we would expect to go above and beyond that 70 cent floor. What this does, is until we get to that point it creates certainty for Western Australians that we are actually getting a fair share… (Interrupted by journalist)

VAN ONSELEN: I get that Tim Hammond but what it does though, and correct me if I’m wrong, is it means the next time there is a mining boom, without the grants allocation process fixed – and I’m making the point the Libs aren’t fixing it either – here we go again, WA will be in the same position cap, in hand to the Commonwealth needing something like what you are selling to be done again.

HAMMOND: Again, I think it is very important not to get caught up, with the greatest of respect in hypotheticals as to what might happen further on down the track. What you are presupposing is that there is a magic wand that can be waved to correct the current anomalies in the current CGT formula. You only need to take one look at where the Grants Commission is up to at the moment , in terms of a Productivity Commission review to know that is not necessarily the case.

What we need to do, and I think as elected parliamentarians what we should be doing, is focusing on the here and now to provide certainty to fix an unfairness or an injustice and that is what this package does.

What Malcolm Turnbull’s challenge really is right now - is to match it. He could do this just as Bill Shorten has shown a pathway through to doing it but Malcolm Turnbull is the one who hold the levers now. There are remedies to this disparity which don’t need to wait for a Productivity Commission Review to be handed down.

What my big concern is Peter, is that we get to that point, we get to the 31 January and we hear what the Productivity Commission has to say and it may well come up with some really sound methodology that may well be worth looking and we’ve always been open to looking at that but when does the rubber hit the road in terms of implementing that? What we have got here is certainty in terms of time and we’ve got certainty in terms of a dollar amount to correct the injustice that is currently existing in WA. 

VAN ONSELEN: On a final complete off topic question if I can, what do you make of the Western force being cut from the Rugby Union. Do you echo the words of Andrew Forest and others saying that Cameron Clyne should resign?

HAMMOND:  I’m not really interested in calling for anybody’s head. What I am interested in doing is making sure Western Australia is on the map. I’m really concerned that it seems to me you have a club going places, the community is right behind it, it has a great spirit, it is getting runs on the board and bridges a gap across the country and yet we are seeing it fall by the way side. I applaud the efforts of all of those who are getting behind the Western Force to leave no stone unturned in ensuring we continue to make rugby proud in this State.

VAN ONSELEN: Can’t do that when they are kicked out of the comp.

HAMMOND:  Look, I think it is currently going through the courts as we speak, so I don’t know if all hope is lost. And certainly judging by the mood on the ground here, I don’t get a sense that all hope is lost at all.

VAN ONSELEN: Tim Hammond, appreciate you joining us, thanks for your company.

HAMMOND:  Great to be here, thank you mate.