WA’s Oliver Twist Syndrome

This week’s Q&A on ABC TV demonstrated the city-bush divide over who gets what from mining.

Basically, if you live in the mineral rich states you think the dividend should stay there; if you live elsewhere, you think it should be shared around.

Well, that’s the impression you’d get if you spend too much time listening to Barnaby Joyce.

Surely, though, the role of the Commonwealth is to make sure no particular state is disadvantaged by nature of its geography or geology. I know, it’s easy to say for those perched in the southeastern corner, but without a federal approach we would have waved goodbye to Tasmania long ago.

And we have to single out Tasmania because Barnaby Joyce expressed concern on Q&A that it was just the sort of place that the proceeds of mining could find itself in. Imagine.

Yet the latest ABS Government Finance Statistics show that, in the December quarter last year, on a per capita basis, governments in WA are raking in 42 percent more from various sources than their cousins in mineral deprived NSW. That’s 42 percent more to spend on local roads, rail and politicians’ expense accounts.

Aren’t the Westralians digging up their cake, eating it and asking for another slice?

Curiously, while WA brings in far more local taxes than anyone else, they also attracted more in the way of grants than most; the exceptions are South Australia, Tasmania and WA. Grants and subsidies for WA amounted to $2.2 billion in the December quarter ($1,041 per person), compared to $7 billion in NSW ($961 per person) and $5 billion in Victoria ($920 per person).

So aren’t the Westralians digging up their cake, eating it and asking for another slice? And how does it happen? Does Colin Barnett go all dewy eyed when he asks the PM for more?  Doe she find it hard to say no?

The counter argument often touted against spreading the love is that money is needed in mining states to build the infrastructure to connect these emerging communities with the rest of civilisation. But surely that’s the role of the mining companies; there’s plenty of infrastructure where people choose to live – if they decide to dig out in the boon docks, that’s their look out. Add it to the cost of doing business.

Before Joyce pushes his argument of state self-sufficiency (now he’s got the minerals) too far, he should look at what his state is getting in the form of federal grants. Their various forms of income totalled just $2,500 per person in the December quarter, only a little more than Victoria.   They need to learn a trick on securing grants from Colin Barnett.

But, if those enjoying the mining boom out west are against federalism, then it would be rude not to let them go it alone and forgo commonwealth grants.  $2 billion a quarter – that’s got to go some way to paying off Wayne Swan’s budget deficit, surely.

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