PM Agenda, Sky News

Interviewer:

David Speers

E&OE

DAVID SPEERS:

Christian Porter, a very good afternoon to you.

MINISTER PORTER:

Welcome to WA.

DAVID SPEERS:

Lovely to be here, thank you for having us.

You probably do get sick of the ‘what if’ hypothetical type of questions about had you stuck around in the state parliament?

You must think about it though at election time?

MINISTER PORTER:

I really don’t.

But the way it’s commentated on, this always happens.

When you’re in the Parliament, you’re just one of many, and then you leave and everyone says you were a star. It’s like Rodney Hogg leaving the test team and being called Dennis Lillee – it’s a bit crazy.

DAVID SPEERS:

I think you talk yourself down a little bit.

MINISTER PORTER:

No, no. It is a symptom of modern politics.

DAVID SPEERS:

Do you think though – you must admit there’s a bit of a succession problem in the state Liberal’s here that Colin Barnett has had to stick around this long and there’s no obvious alternative.

MINISTER PORTER:

Look, I’m not entirely sure about that.

I think Liza Harvey has been an amazing Minister and a great parliamentarian and she’s come on rapidly. You’ve got guys like Albert Jacob out there who are young, intelligent, high-profile and very well credentialed and they’ve been great Minister’s.

So, I think as far as state parliament goes there’s a bit of talent on the conservative side of things. I think that’s always overstated.

DAVID SPEERS:

So no regrets, no consideration that maybe ‘I could have been leader’ and ‘maybe I could have won this election for the Liberals’?

MINISTER PORTER:

No. None of that stuff.

DAVID SPEERS:

Let me ask you though, what you used to argue when you were the state Treasurer here, in that first term of the Barnett Government about the GST. You didn’t think the GST distribution formula was a good idea at all back then.

MINISTER PORTER:

No, I still am greatly troubled by it. I think it’s a very inefficient way…

DAVID SPEERS:

What should happen?

MINISTER PORTER:

… one of the things we need to look at is what has happened.

This is a very difficult thing to change, because as Pauline Hanson has found out, you can’t come to WA and say one thing when you’re saying something else to Queensland.

It’s a national problem, it’s not just a West Australian problem. But it’s a very inefficient system.

Since we have been in Government, since 2013, we’ve achieved on my calculations close to $2 billion extra GST for WA…

DAVID SPEERS:

Does that include the additional annual grants?

MINISTER PORTER:

…the two infrastructure packages, which effectively protect WA, at a top up of just under 40 cents.

DAVID SPEERS:

You shouldn’t have to do that though is the point.

MINISTER PORTER:

In a perfect world that might be right, but we’re not living in that perfect world. So absence overarching structural reform, what we’ve tried to achieve is the best we can.

DAVID SPEERS:

Well Malcolm Turnbull came here last year and he said he would fix this, he had a floor so that states like WA didn’t get reduced to 30 per cent – 30 cents back in the dollar for the GST – and then he comes here last week, a week before, and said that ‘look we still want to do it, but it might be years away’.

Colin Barnett, Mike Nahan, they didn’t like that.

MINISTER PORTER:

The Prime Minister’s position has been absolutely consistent. Which is the problem Pauline Hanson’s had, she’s been inconsistent state to state and over time.

DAVID SPEERS:

What about Mike Nahan and your state Liberal colleagues?

MINISTER PORTER:

They obviously are frustrated about the situation, as I am, that WA finds itself in.

But Malcolm Turnbull has offered something to the state which is absolutely consistent every time it’s been offered, and that is to say that as the GST share for WA returns, which it will do, that at the relevant point – and that’s not yet been nominated, but that was always the case…

DAVID SPEERS:

[INAUDIBLE] floor of 70 cents for WA… that’s what he said?

MINISTER PORTER:

I don’t think that he nominated an exact point. But that is around about what the talk is, that’s a figure that’s been nominated by Colin Barnett himself, 70 or 75 cents.

DAVID SPEERS:

Do you think that’s appropriate?

MINISTER PORTER:

I do. I think that you do have…

DAVID SPEERS:

When you say that, I mean it could be years away.

MINISTER PORTER:

It would be several years away. Based on what we know about the history of the GST system, that is several years away.

DAVID SPEERS:

Is that good enough for WA to say, you’re sitting here as the former Treasurer of this state saying, you’ve got to wait several years before we can do anything about the GST share?

MINISTER PORTER:

Everyone would prefer more. What’s the next best real offer, David?  That’s the question here.

We’ve achieved $2 billion extra for WA through Colin Barnett’s excellent advocacy and through the work of people like Julie Bishop, Mathias Cormann and myself. What’s the next best real offer? Not a pretend offer like Pauline Hanson’s or just wishful thinking like Mark McGowan, what’s really on the table here to make things practically better…

DAVID SPEERS:

Well why build up [INAUDIBLE] in the first place?

MINISTER PORTER:

I don’t know that that’s been the case… [INAUDIBLE]

DAVID SPEERS:

[INAUDIBLE]

MINISTER PORTER:

No no no…

DAVID SPEERS:

He said we’d put a floor in and fix this problem.

MINISTER PORTER:

I was there when he made that announcement and he was very careful to note that that would have to be at a future point when WA’s share recovered to avoid this problem that fixing it in one state would mean creating a big problem in another state.

DAVID SPEERS:

Let me turn to preferences, big issue.

Liberal’s doing the first preference deal with One Nation, and we’ll see if other states now follow suit, and federally as well.

Do you think it’s been a good idea?

MINISTER PORTER:

My view is that it is a decision that they have made based on one clear factor, and that is Colin Barnett believes that he and his Government should be returned and that return is in the best interest of Western Australia.

So he has structurally run a preference deal that he thinks enhances the prospects of that happening.

DAVID SPEERS:

Doesn’t sound like a glowing endorsement...

MINISTER PORTER:

Then again, in a perfect world other decisions might be made. But I think one of the criticisms has been that in some way that preference deal, which is a preference deal effectively in the Upper House, where we will preference One Nation over the Nationals in certain Upper House seats…

DAVID SPEERS:

..and they’ll preference you in Lower House seats.

MINISTER PORTER:

Our undertaking to them is with respect to Upper House seats, which is actually quite similar to what the National’s did many elections ago here in WA.

But the point of that is to return what we think has been a very good stable government.

I think one of the criticisms of it has been that that represents some endorsement of One Nation as a party or its policies. But it’s never been the case that preference deals, whether they’re the one we’re now discussing or Labor and the Greens have represented an absolute endorsement of each other party’s policies.

There’s lots of things about One Nation, as you pointed out, in recent weeks that I think are not particularly admirable…

DAVID SPEERS:

…messy, absolutely…

MINISTER PORTER:

The anti-vax stuff, I think, is really bad. That sends a terrible message to have someone in such a senior position of authority talking about the No Jab No Pay success as a dictatorial…

DAVID SPEERS:

…the Putin comments, the Muslim comments. I mean there’s a lot here I’m assuming you have troubles with?

MINISTER PORTER:

This is a practical deal that has been done because Colin Barnett and his Liberal team consider in their heart of hearts is they are the best option, as I do, for the state.

DAVID SPEERS:

Do you like it? Or do you think it’s a bad idea?

MINISTER PORTER:

No, I think that deals have to be done to return the best government in terms of an outcome for the next four years for Western Australia, and I think that’s what this is.

DAVID SPEERS:

Does it come as a cost? Will some voters in urban areas be likely to vote against the Liberals because of this deal?

MINISTER PORTER:

That is always a risk.

But if you have a look at where One Nation are running candidates, it’s not everywhere, and it does seem to be in seats that will be quite important to the Liberal’s on election night.

DAVID SPEERS:

It is a risk you acknowledge. It is a risk in seats like yours for example?

MINISTER PORTER:

In Pearce? Look, I actually don’t think that’s a risk that will manifest in Pearce.

I acknowledge in inner city seats it’s a risk. But they’re seats the Liberal Party very often holds quite strongly.

DAVID SPEERS:

As someone’s just pointed out you’ve bought a house recently in Curtin. You’re not planning a shift away from Pearce are you?

MINISTER PORTER:

No, I’m going to apropos your comments about Kate Ellis earlier, you’ve got to try and do things that manage your family structure well, so yes we do have a small townhouse in Wembley, on the outskirts of Curtin, but we use that because my wife works a great distance from our home in the electorate and of course I come and go to the airport quite a lot.

DAVID SPEERS:

Fair enough. But you’re not shifting seats any time soon?

MINISTER PORTER:

No.

DAVID SPEERS:

You’ve got a more marginal seat as people have been pointing out…

…just getting back to One Nation though – yes you take issue with a lot of their policy positions as you’ve indicated – would you like, let me wrap this one up on preferences, would you like to see a similar preference deal at the federal election?

MINISTER PORTER:

That is a super hypothetical.

This is a deal that has been struck between the WA Liberals and One Nation in Western Australia…

DAVID SPEERS:

… was involved in negotiations.

MINISTER PORTER:

It is a decision of the WA Liberals. And I’ve got to say to you, that the situation here, particularly with the Nationals is quite idiosyncratic.  It is very, very different from the way in which the Nationals and the Liberals interact in any other state, and certainly federally…

DAVID SPEERS:

…we’re seeing that today...

MINISTER PORTER:

..it is a deal for the moment, in the place…

DAVID SPEERS:

…not a forever after arrangement with One Nation?

MINISTER PORTER:

I think what I’ve said speaks for myself, itself.

DAVID SPEERS:

Let me ask you, in your day job as the Minister for Social Services, Parliament is back the week after next and the one big thing you’ll want to get done in that two week sitting will be the Omnibus Welfare Savings Bill.

How are things going with your efforts to convince the cross-bench to support some of this?

MINISTER PORTER:

The reasons why negotiations work is that they’re private negotiations, but I will say what is absolutely critical for myself and for Senator Mathias Cormann, as you mentioned in negotiating with the cross-bench, but particularly One Nation and Nick Xenophon’s Team is to find enough savings in that Bill to at least pay for child care – which is a cost of around about $1.6 billion.

So I would say that those negotiations are progressing positively, there’s some degree of confidence that at least that amount of savings can be found, but there’s a little way to go.

DAVID SPEERS:

Out of the $4 billion Bill, you’ll be lucky to get $1.6 billion?

MINISTER PORTER:

As I said, the game is to try and achieve, at least, enough savings to pay for child care – which is $1.6 billion.

It is quite clear, as I’ve said previously, there are going to be quite a number of savings in that quite long list, that we will not be able to get enough cross-bench support to pass.

DAVID SPEERS:

Like the end-of-year family supplements…?

MINISTER PORTER:

Well, I don’t want to nominate them yet…

DAVID SPEERS:

…the reduced payments for unemployed under 25.

MINISTER PORTER:

There are some things in there that are going to cause us difficulties in terms of achieving enough cross-bench support, but equally there are enough things that are alive, in terms of the negotiations that are being conducted, that gives me some degree of confidence that we’ll get enough, at least, to pay for child care, and probably some more.

DAVID SPEERS:

The measures you don’t get through, do you  drop them then? They won’t stay in the Budget…

MINISTER PORTER:

Well, we’ll test that and we’ll make that decision after it’s been actually tested with a vote on the floor of the Senate.

DAVID SPEERS:

But just to your point though, that you hopefully find enough savings to pay for child care package, everyone seems to like the childcare package, want to see it go ahead.  You’re giving that priority over putting that $1.6 billion in savings towards fixing the budget, that’s right?

MINISTER PORTER:

We would like to get extra savings out of this Bill.

DAVID SPEERS:

If you can only get 1.6 you’re saying spend that rather than pay off the debt?

MINISTER PORTER:

I think this has been made quite clear that the primary objective, with the limitations that we have with the cross-bench and with Labor not supporting a whole range of these savings – which they should do, if they were responsible in our view, is that we want to try and reform child care.

DAVID SPEERS:

And NDIS, how are you going to pay for that?

MINISTER PORTER:

Well, that is a very difficult and ongoing process.

When the NDIS becomes fully operational…

DAVID SPEERS:

..especially if you keep spending more money on child care.

MINISTER PORTER:

The NDIS is a very worthy, incredibly important and massive reform.

But even the worthiest of reforms and the most important have to be paid for. We were left a $4.1 billion funding gap when the NDIS becomes fully operational in 2020.

Our position is that should be paid for by savings elsewhere in government, not by new taxes on Australians, and particularly not by new borrowings which simply means that you push the tax burden down a generation and that is completely unfair to pay for our welfare spending today, whether that’s in child care or the NDIS, by borrowing money – because the next generation’s going to have their own welfare concerns to pay for, let alone paying back ones that were enjoyed by us ten years ago.

DAVID SPEERS:

Let me finally ask you, Kate Ellis has announced today that she’ll leave at the next election.

She’s got a two year old boy, and understandably, as she says, she hates the thought of having to spend 20, 21 weeks a year away from her family.

You’ve got a young boy too, about a similar age.

MINISTER PORTER:

Yes I have.

I’m not a young dad I would add, but I do have a young boy.

DAVID SPEERS:

As a dad of a similarly aged young boy, how do you find it?

MINISTER PORTER:

Look, it’s tough and I feel for Kate Ellis and what would clearly be a very difficult decision.

I think it’s particularly tough for people from Adelaide and Perth because the travel demands are larger.

DAVID SPEERS:

And a Cabinet Minister too. It’s not just sitting weeks.

MINISTER PORTER:

You’re over, basically, every week.

But look I mean, for me personally, it’s a bit like a sailor complaining about the sea.

We all know what it is, and what it involves and you just have to try and make the best of it.

Usually it’s a red hot mess mate, but you just do what you can and bumble through.

DAVID SPEERS:

I see one of your colleagues, Alex Hawke, has suggested Parliament sittings should be made more family friendly – fewer weeks but more hours during those weeks.

Would that be worth considering?

MINISTER PORTER:

I’ve not, sort of, turned my mind to it. But that’s, I think, a reasonable suggestion…

DAVID SPEERS:

You don’t want to be stumbling around at 2am in Parliament making decisions.

MINISTER PORTER:

I think you do have to be careful about that.

In times past, as I understand it, Parliament did sit for very long hours and there was a view that maybe that wasn’t producing the best work environment for things like decision making.

DAVID SPEERS:

Do you find Mums in Parliament have a tougher time than Dads in Parliament?

MINISTER PORTER:

I would guess so. In my observation that’s probably right. But again that is in some ways the nature of things and that can be mitigated against to an extent, but never perfectly. And so people like Kate face difficult decisions, as do a lot of young Dads like Alex, in Parliament.

Kate was also my co-patron of Parliamentary Friends of Cricket, so I’m very sad to see her go, for that reason at least.

DAVID SPEERS:

On that note, Christian Porter, thank you very much for joining us here in Perth, and hope you do get to spend some time with the family before we see you back in Canberra before too long.

Appreciate it.

MINISTER PORTER:

Pleasure.