12 July 2018








SUBJECT/S: GST, ACCC report, English language test.


TOM CONNELL, HOST: Joining me live now is Labor MP Anne Aly, of course, based over there in Perth. Thanks for your time today Anne. So the GST in WA, it's been a pretty squeaky wheel lately, $4.5 billion or so extra over the decade you'd welcome that I'm assuming?

ANNE ALY, MEMBER FOR COWAN: Tom, good morning first of all, as a proud Western Australian of course I welcome any kind of reform that’s going to deliver to WA. I'm at cautiously optimistic about this because there is still some questions that loom and first of all the fix that the government has proposed -- I guess you could call it politically pragmatic but not necessarily economically radical is what the Productivity Commission recommended. So there are a couple of questions that loom over that and that's due to the fact that in the first instance, at least for the next couple of years, it is effectively a top up to WA. Commonwealth money going into what Scott Morrison calls making it a bigger GST pie, and more of that going to Western Australia. So two questions that I have is: first of all where is that Commonwealth money coming from? And secondly, is that Commonwealth money guaranteed? Is this going to be legislated? If we have a look at what Labor has put on the table in the WA Fair Share Fund it is legislated. It is guaranteed. And it’d be good to see that if indeed, as it appears, this solution mimics Labor’s solution, that it is also legislated and guaranteed.

HOST: Well Scott Morrison has actually said he'd like to get agreement with the States locked in. I mean, you know it's obviously easy to point out yours isn't legislated, you say you’re going to when you get into office, but if you look at the government's overall solution: yes, you're right, it's more money but Labor’s was simply more money as well. Right? You had a top up so they’re saying their monies because they've managed to get back into surplus and in the forward years, presumably that means the surplus slightly smaller but if you're talking about fixing the problem and giving more money, both parties have the same solution don’t they?

ALY: That right and the fact is that if Malcolm Turnbull’s government had done this solution two years ago, WA would be so much more better off now. So it is, at least in the short term, the same solution. But we’ll be looking at the detail of what the government's proposal is in the medium and longer term after this top up period. And see, you know, if this is going to be workable.

HOST: I mean essentially you've got, for WA at least, what could be a very similar policy from the two parties. A 75 cent floor is what the government is offering, do you think Labor would look at topping that? Or you can't afford to be too generous with federal money?

ALY: I would say that, well couldn't answer that to be honest, Tom. I think that that's something that the leadership team will be looking at and looking very closely at the detail of what the government's proposal is in response to the Productivity Commission report. But as a Western Australia I'd like to say that we do welcome this reform. WA has suffered immensely, you know, and I have to keep reminding people that WA does not stand for Wait Awhile. The State's finances are an absolute mess, we've had the former Liberal government absolutely squander the revenue that came through on the mining and construction boom, and we need this money, we need to have our fair share of GST.

HOST: There is the fact that WA was a net beneficiary of this system but I won't go into history too much on that, it's been raked over before. What about the ACCC report on energy, Anne Aly? This report suggests that it could save people -- and I know the west coast is out of our system but, you know, you're a federal MP -- $750 a year up to if these 56 recommendations are enacted. Bill Shorten said he hadn't read all the recommendations, have you?

ALY: Have I read the recommendations are you asking, Tom?

HOST: Yeah.

ALY: No, I haven’t read the recommendations but, you know, we do welcome this ACCC report. Malcolm Turnbull promised Australians that their electricity bill would go down by $550. In the last year alone, it’s gone up by $630, so we certainly welcome this report. We certainly agree with the assessment made by the ACCC that Malcolm Turnbull’s energy crisis is unacceptable and unsustainable. The biggest threat at the moment to finding a solution to energy is the disharmony and the disruption within the government, within the Coalition. They need to come up with a solution and they need to come up with something, Labor has said we’ll work with them, the disruption is not coming from Labor’s side it's coming from within the Coalition.

HOST: Right now if things appear to be a little bit on track in the Coalition and that's because of one aspect of this report: underwriting new baseload power projects. The government would underwrite it, it’s s not a loan or anything, but it does mean the project could most likely be able to get lending according to the ACCC and go ahead. Now the Coalition, including some of those agitators, appear happy with this. It doesn't say anything about coal in this report, it says let the best technology win. Should Labor be open to that aspect of this report?

ALY: Well as I said Tom, Labor is open to working with the government on this. Certainly we’ll be looking at the recommendations of the ACCC report including those recommendations that appear to be agnostic in terms of where the source is coming from and work with the government on this and hopefully we can come up with a solution soon enough because it's been way too long.

HOST: You dig up plenty of coal over there in WA, I mean if it ends up being the market likes so-called high efficiency and low emissions coal-fired power plant, it would still be in keeping with the government’s target at least on climate emissions, then you’d be happy enough?

ALY: We also have a lot of solar here in Western Australia. We had, you know, one of the largest uptakes on solar here as well, so I think we need to be looking at specifically what is best for Western Australia. We are not on the grid, we don't have the same situation as the eastern states. So I think that we need to be looking at the WA context in its, kind of, unique context, in its entirety before we can make any kind of conclusions on how these recommendations and the ACCC report impact on Western Australia.

HOST: Can I ask you as well about the citizenship language test? Now the government had a go at toughening this a little while ago, it couldn't get past the Senate, of course. They're trying a different approach, they’re not trying to make it so-called university level language, even though they debated the semantics of that, but a primary school conversational test. Is this more the area in which this should land?

ALY: Ohhh well, first of all we already have an English-language test in place for citizenship and of course people need to have a level of English which allows them to have those intercommunication skills in order to be able to function in Australian society, in order to be able to get jobs. But there are two things here that I'd like to point out, Tom, and the first one is what level of English does that mean? Now the government, as you said, tried to get through a university English language test that was stopped in the Senate. And due to some very good work by Labor, led by Tony Burke, who pointed out the absurdity of having a university English language test. The second thing is that any kind of English language test brought in should not undermine the long-standing bipartisan approach that we have had about having a non-discriminatory immigration process and citizenship process. So when we talk about English language and the kinds of levels of English language that we need in the workplace, we have a system in place through the Adult Migrant English language Program -- which I used to be a teacher on -- where all migrants coming in, get access to Adult Migrant English Program. As a former teacher on that program, Tom, I can tell you that the focus is very highly on helping people get the kind of English language skills they need to be able to function, go to the doctor, pay their bills, apply for a job. All of those things.

HOST: Yeah exactly and function within society. I guess point though, where is the right test at? What the government's been saying is the previous multiple-choice style tests being too easy to just memorise and pass without actually having those skills, so do you think where they’re landing at now from what you've seen, this conversational so-called primary school level, is that more the area where Labor could support it?

ALY: Conversational primary school kids, if you sit down and have a conversation with primary kids, they have near native language proficiency in their English. That’s a fairly high level of interpersonal communication skills. They actually have native level English. Are we saying that migrants coming in should have native level English? What is the impact of that in terms of undermining non-discriminatory citizenship and immigration policies?

HOST: Right, so it’s still too high a bar, in short?

ALY: Well I think that they need to talk to somebody who knows a little bit about English language semantics, grammar and English language teaching because kids have native English language proficiency.

HOST: Alright, Anne Aly we’re out of time but thanks your time today.

ALY: Thanks so much, Tom have a great day.