Liberals still snubbing the West

Published on Mon 14 October 2019 7:22pm

Mr Wilson (7:22pm) — I think we can all agree that WA is a wonderful place. I thank the member for Perth for bringing the motion forward as a matter for discussion. I know he cares deeply about the community he represents and, more than that, he’s working hard to advocate for Western Australia as a whole. We do need advocacy for our side of the country, especially from this side of the parliament, because in a number of key areas we’re not getting it from government members.

WA is a remarkable and distinctive place, as others have noted. With only 11 per cent of the population, it accounts for 42 per cent of Australia’s merchandise exports, 15 per cent of GDP and an incredible array of arts, cultural and sporting output. We need and deserve funding and policy support that’s specific to our circumstances. We need a fair look-in when it comes to infrastructure, jobs and services. But we aren’t getting it from this government. I’ve made this argument a number of times over the last few years. Unfortunately, the song remains the same.

In 2016 the Coalition announced 78 road and rail projects Australia-wide. We got three—three out of 78. In 2017 the government announced the Regional Jobs and Investment Packages: $220 million; 10 projects. They were to help regions in Australia diversify their economies, stimulate long-term economic growth and deliver sustainable employment. How many of the 10 projects were in WA? Zero, even though some of the relevant WA regions had unemployment rates three times higher than those regions that were selected for funding.

When it comes to the ABC, which this government has looked to chop at every turn, WA has taken a disproportionate hit as staff reductions across the board have seen jobs centralised in Sydney and Melbourne. In 1974, 8.3 per cent of a significantly larger ABC workforce was based in WA. By 2017 it was down to barely half that, 4.6 per cent, with no front-of-house staff, no general manager position at the time and no human resources or finance personnel. There was no outside broadcast van anymore. One had to come across the Nullarbor for special occasions. Altogether, that is a pretty bleak list of disappointments, but I want to touch on two further issues that have the potential to cast a long shadow over WA’s economic and jobs outlook.

The first is Defence shipbuilding. In 2018, the WA Liberals took out full-page ads in The West Australian newspaper saying that WA would be one of two Defence shipbuilding hubs. The ads said that the work split would be fifty-fifty between WA and South Australia, but that is not the reality. The reality is that, so far, we are getting $3.5 billion out of an $89 billion shipbuilding spend. That is less than four per cent. The opportunity to deliver a serious shipbuilding hub in WA now rests, as the member for Perth has said, on the question of whether the full cycle docking of the Collins submarines is moved to the Australian Marine Complex in my electorate of Fremantle. It makes sense to do so. It’s in the national interest. It will ensure we have greater and more diversified infrastructure and workforce capability, but we wait to see whether the government keeps its promise or whether it will once again give WA the short end of the stick. I do remember—seeing that the member for Moore is here—that the member for Moore almost 12 months ago in a moment of brutal clarity said that one of his motivations for supporting the end of Malcolm Turnbull was the fact that WA was getting such a poor deal on Defence shipbuilding. But I’m not too sure, Member for Moore, that that has changed in the 12 months since then.

The NBN story for Western Australia is even more disappointing because, in many ways, the damage has been done. We have received the worst allocation of broadband technology under the disastrous multitechnology mix of all of the states. We have nearly half as much again of the 19th century copper line rubbish than the other states, in the form of fibre to the node. It’s no surprise that, as a result, we’re bottom of the pile when it comes to broadband performance.

The ACCC’s Measuring Broadband Australia report says we have the worst broadband of any state, with the highest proportion of underperforming broadband services and the slowest average busy hour download speeds. In WA, more than one in seven households or businesses will not meet the national benchmark of 50 megabits per second. In New South Wales, it’s fewer than one in 10. It is more than one in seven for us and fewer than one in 10 for New South Wales. That is a serious digital divide in the largest and most remote state. When jobs are centralised elsewhere and people in WA are constantly told to get things done through a call centre or a website, we are lumped with much worse broadband than the big east coast cities.

How does that occur? How do we get such a disappointing list of bleak outcomes, get short-changed or get the rough end of the pineapple? How does it happen? As with everything else I’ve mentioned, it occurs because the Liberals take WA for granted. They have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to parliamentary representation, but they’re not embarrassed. And if they can get away with delivering very little for the West, they will.

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