Porter proud of GST and Social Services portfolio changes

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In his valedictory speech retiring Pearce MHR Christian Porter named GST and Social Services portfolio changes and redrawing Australia's espionage and foreign interference laws as some of his proudest achievements. Picture: Anita McInnes

IN his final speech retiring Pearce MHR Christian Porter said the first task he set himself when he entered federal Parliament was to try and fix Western Australia’s GST distribution. Mr Porter told the House of Representatives having been a state Treasurer, he came to the view that the old system, which would’ve seen WA eventually fall to fewer than zero cents in the dollar for its GST share, was totally unfair and totally counterproductive.

“It was a system that punished a state that had made the hard effort over decades to grow a resources industry,’’ he said.

“Obviously, the reason this major problem was so hard to fix was all of my good friends and Liberal colleagues from the eastern states.

“Of course, we love you all, and there are many good people from the eastern states—which is something Western Australia is coming to recognise now that you’re all allowed back in—but in this place you all outnumber us about 10 to one.

“I think it’s fair to say that, good people though you all are from the east, most of my eastern states colleagues had all the enthusiasm for helping fix the GST distribution that a turkey has for early Christmas!

“It was a hard sell.

“In moving from state to federal politics, I made a decision that it was better, at least, to try and fix the problem from the inside, where the fixing was at least theoretically possible, than complain endlessly from the outside.”

He said his first step on the road to try and effect that change did not go very well at all.

“It was in the party room.

“It was the first time I ever spoke in the party room, and it was to put the importance and urgency of the issue in an essentially un-warned and unscripted way to then Treasurer Joe Hockey.

“I did so with all the genuine enthusiastic naivety of a person who’d been in the job for five minutes, and that sort of full-frontal putting of the issue to the newly ascendant Treasurer Joe Hockey, without any forewarning, while he was preparing for his first budget and with other things clearly on his mind, may not have been the most subtle or advisable start to that campaign.

“It went very poorly.

“It did at least get the issue on his radar, though.

“After you have a poor start like that trying to effect change, you learn pretty quickly how things actually work in this place.

“You’ve got to get as far in the tent as you possibly can, as close to the four or five people who can actually affect the change as you can.

“Better still, become one of them – that helps.

“In the end, it requires massive, grinding, ongoing effort.

“Ultimately with the GST, it was a very small group who really made that change happen, and it took that very small group five years after the 2013 election to fix the problem.

“Right now, that fix, which is something I am very proud of, means that WA this year is $4.4 billion better off – that’s in one year.

“Had the system not been fixed, rather than the present floor that we instituted of 70 cents in the dollar, WA this year would’ve dropped to 16 cents in the dollar, and in the not-too-distant future you would’ve had a mad situation where WA would’ve been allocated a negative share of the GST pool, which would’ve been insane.

“Fixing that and being a part of the small group inside the tent that fixed that problem was a wonderful thing that I will always look back on with great pride.

“At the forefront of that fix were the then Treasurer and now Prime Minister and the then Minister for Finance, Mathias Cormann.

“Both the Prime Minister and Mathias were and are great friends, and that project was a massive feat.

“I thank them for everything they did in that.

“It was also a lesson about how things really change in this place – they change over time. “You have a few key movers convincing others of the need and the wisdom for change, room after room.

“You test one alternative after the other, Excel spreadsheet after Excel spreadsheet.

“It’s not a very glamorous process.

“You also come to understand how it is in these smaller groups: the smaller the group that actually achieves the change, and puts in the grinding work to achieve it, usually correlates inversely to the huge number of people who end up claiming credit for it.

“As Kennedy said, success has a thousand fathers and failure is an orphan, and that is another very true thing about this place.

In the Social Services portfolio, I was part of a small team with my very good friend Alan Tudge, and we made great changes – a fundamental shift, which sounds obvious, to measuring the longitudinal results of all of the different policy settings on one single key metric: does it break up welfare cycles, cycles of dependency?

“That fundamental shift helped us as a government get to the lowest welfare dependency in Australia since the 1980s.

“That’s just remarkable.

“It was phenomenal to be a part of that, to be in the middle of it.

“The other phenomenal thing to have been a part of over the last decade was the long reshaping of our policy with respect to China.

“There was specific work that I did as Attorney-General redrawing Australia’s espionage and foreign interference laws, essentially from the ground up.

“That’s something that I was very proud to be in the centre of.’’

Hansard contains the complete version of Mr Porter’s valedictory speech on March 29.