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The GST deal could be the start of an improved relationship between WA and Canberra.

Is GST reform symbolic of a ‘more understanding’ Canberra?

WA had reason to be pleased after the GST reform package cleared the Senate recently but one big question still remains: did it have to take so long?

And, building on that query, would the previous GST system have been overhauled more quickly if it were NSW and Victoria being penalised rather than us?

The good news for WA is that key economic pointers suggest we’re continuing to emerge from the worst downturn in living memory. The GST fix can only help.

But despite those green shoots, it’s fair to say that Canberra is only just starting to gain a true appreciation for the unique challenges faced by WA industry.

I got a close-up look at this situation during my previous role at the Commonwealth Treasury office in Perth.

The Perth office was established in mid-2017 to build on the success of other state offices in Melbourne and Sydney.

In addition to establishing a strong network with WA business, academia and universities, the Perth office of the Commonwealth Treasury is designed to help Canberra to build a better understanding of Western Australia’s economy. This is particularly important when you consider WA’s contribution to the national economy through its globally significant mining footprint.

Joining the office near the start of its two-year pilot, I have been intrigued to hear first-hand how the WA economy is moving and to learn about the challenges being experienced – especially with an ongoing shift away from mining investment towards resource exports.

There are clear signs of economic activity and confidence in mining construction and contracting industries, including skills shortages in technical roles and wage and contract pricing pressures.

As METRONET and other infrastructure projects ramp up, there is an expectation that public engineering construction will be a vital contributor to WA’s economy.

And then there is the growing adoption of automation and technology in mining and other sectors. What will the long-term impact of that be?

By having a Perth office involved in conversations around those vital issues, Commonwealth Treasury is better positioned to make forward estimates about WA. It can also adjust policy thinking in reaction to pressures and impediments being felt on the ground.

There will still be points of contention. One that’s ticking over at the moment is the concern from miners about the impact research and development caps might have on WA’s emerging new energy materials sector.

But decentralising Commonwealth policy departments is a crucial step towards ensuring bureaucrats understand day-to-day challenges within our industries.

Open communication channels and greater engagement with Canberra will only improve legislative outcomes, funding arrangements and policy outcomes for WA.

The next big debate shouldn’t take nearly so long to be decided.

Jennifer Kirk is an Associate Director in Cannings Purple’s Government Relations team and spent three years in the Commonwealth Treasury, leading stakeholder and regional engagement on important economy policy reform during her time in the Perth office. Contact Jennifer.