9 April 2015
Transcript - #2015074, 2015

Remarks following Council on Federal Financial Relations meeting, Canberra

TREASURER:

We have just concluded a meeting of Treasurers from the States, Territories and obviously the Commonwealth Government. The first item for discussion appropriately was relating to the Australian economy, and I must say that the mood of the Treasurers was that the Australian economy is in better shape than it was last year when we met in the margins of the G20 in Cairns.

Quite clearly, structural change is continuing to occur in the economy as we come off a mining investment boom and move into a mining production boom. But, having said that, commodity prices have fallen quite dramatically in a relatively short period of time. There is obviously patchy activity in the Australian economy, but there is a sense of optimism amongst the Treasurers that wasn't there last year, and I'm greatly encouraged by that.

The States are certainly up for a reform agenda. There is no doubt about that. Everyone recognizes that in order to stay the same we have to make changes, and importantly, after a very full briefing on the Intergenerational Report, and on further discussions in relation to the Taxation White Paper, it became patently clear that the reform agenda of the Commonwealth is being embraced by the States and Territories. They are determined to be active participants, not just in obviously the Taxation White Paper, but also in the Federation White Paper as well.

The second area of discussion was in relation to the distribution of the GST. I am today releasing the entire report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, relating to the five-year review of methodology around the distribution of the GST. I'm also releasing the separate advice I received on revenue volatility from the Grants Commission, and of course that includes the recommendations for the distribution of the GST for 2015-16. One of the recommendations in that is that the State of Western Australia should see its share of the distributed GST fall from around 37 cents in the dollar to less than 30 cents in the dollar. Now, I have advised the States that I will consult widely and appropriately in relation to these recommendations of the Commonwealth Grants Commission. Quite clearly, it raises an issue for the Federation, as I said in the room, when a State is receiving less than one-third of the GST that citizens in that State are paying.

The third area of discussion was taxation reform. The State Treasurers clearly embraced the discussion paper that we released a few weeks ago in relation to taxation reform. We agreed that officials would undertake dedicated work in improving the taxation arrangements between the States and for the States, and would undertake that work immediately. We will hold a special meeting of Treasurers in Alice Springs in August and will further discuss the recommendations of those officials. We had a further discussion on housing in Australia and we are particularly alarmed at the inability of young people to be able to access the housing market in a way they previously have been. We had a fairly detailed discussion about how we can increase the supply of housing stock and quite clearly there is work to be done. The Victorian Treasurer has agreed to lead the working party in that regard on behalf of the States.

The fifth major item of discussion was asset recycling. The fact that the ACT Government was the first to sign up and that the money is being used for public transport in the ACT was warmly welcomed by the States. The fact that New South Wales had the courage to take to the electorate, and prosecute a case for the sale of poles and wires, recycling it into new infrastructure was also embraced. I laid down a challenge to the other States to move quickly to access the asset recycling pool. Naturally enough Queensland said that they will not be party to that. Then so be it, but the rest of the States are certainly very interested.

And the final major area of discussion was in the establishment of a national register on foreign ownership involving the use of land titles offices at a State level to ensure that there is a proper record of foreign ownership of land in Australia. I have said to the States that I will pick up the cost on behalf of the Commonwealth of the implementation of the national register if they are to use their land titles offices to help facilitate that. There was a broad agreement in the room that it would be much better for business to have a single national register that works in conjunction with land titles offices which naturally enough undertake the register themselves. So, it was a lengthy discussion, the agenda was quite full but we are determined to do everything we can to strengthen the Australian economy and undertake the reform that is necessary to strengthen it well into the future.