BY JACKSON WORTHINGTON AND SARAH MAKSE
WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt has today delivered a Budget that promises a $553 million surplus – the first time in five years the State Government will have been in the black.
Mr Wyatt said the surplus was down to the McGowan Government’s strong financial plan.
But Opposition Leader Mike Nahan said the Federal Government deserved the credit for WA’s expected surplus.
“I want to thank Scott Morrison for the surplus that has been delivered for the 19-20 West Australian budget,” he said.
“A surplus is positive and it’s built on topping [up] the GST, finally Western Australia is getting its fair share of the GST, and of course a substantial increase in iron ore royalties and infrastructure payments.
“But ordinary West Australian households and small businesses will not see the benefits of this.”
Shadow Treasurer Dean Nalder said the surplus was offset by record unemployment and the State Government hadn’t been transparent about its debt plan.
“They went to the election and promised a number of projects that aren’t showing up in this budget,” Mr Nalder said.
“There is no capital funding for the Ellenbrook rail line, for the Joondalup health campus and no funding for the King Edward Memorial relocation.
“These are promises that the government have made that they haven’t yet funded.
“So we would say net debt is currently understated.”
Debt is expected to reach $39.5 billion, growing from $36.6 billion under the previous Barnett Government.
MetroNet remains a top priority, with the inclusion of an additional commitment of $4.1 billion over the next four years.
The McGowan Government fulfilled its promised to tackle Western Australia’s meth crisis with $42.5 million to improve the lives of families dealing with addiction and the creation of a crisis centre in Midland.
It also promised to cap electricity price increases at 1.75 per cent.
The south-west town of Collie will also see a boost in tourism and industry development with a commitment of $180 million.
Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Chris Rodwell said small businesses had been forgotten in this Budget, despite the positive steps made towards relieving longstanding debt.
“It is the view of CCI that the government missed a golden opportunity to provide relief to small business. Payroll tax is a tax on jobs and we need to create as many jobs in this WA economy as possible,” he said.
“Payroll tax is a tax on jobs and the payroll tax burden in WA us greater than anywhere else in the country. 73 per cent of Western Australians believe now is the time to provide that relief.”
Bankwest chief economist Alan Langford said he was pleased the State Government accounted for the potential of falling iron ore prices.
“The government has wisely chosen not to assume that the iron ore price will stay up where it is”, he said.
Mr Langford said he was also pleased taxes and charges would only increase slightly.
“Household consumption is fairly subdued and that’s the biggest part of the economy,” he said.
“If households have more to spend on other goods and services, then that is more likely to come through.”
He said he was confident the economy had turned around.
Unions WA secretary Meredith Hammett said the union welcomed the fact increases to household fees and charges were among the lowest in the last 13 years.
“While this is good news, I think it is important to recognise that it won’t go far enough to address lack of household consumption when wages growth in Western Australia remains at record low levels,” she said.
She said the McGowan Government’s wages policy was unsustainable.
State School Teachers Union of Western Australia president Pat Byrne said the Budget was disappointing for public schools, teachers and families.
Ms Byrne said a one per cent overall increase for state schools funding meant schools would not be able to keep up with basic expenditure.
“The 1.75 per cent cap, although welcome in relation to electricity, is in fact higher than the 1 per cent increase across the board that we have seen in the education budget. Schools will in fact be going backward.,” she said.
Ms Byrne said the $13.2 million provided for preventative maintenance in schools was “hopelessly inadequate” and would not be enough to ensure schools could keep up with rising costs.
“Schools have been $200 million behind in terms of maintenance backlog, which has been increasing over a number of years now. Thus $13.2 million will do very little to address that.”
She said the $40 million increase for funding to support students with disabilities was a positive.
The State Government committed $4.2 billion to minimising congestion but the RAC claims questions remain over its fiscal commitment to road maintenance.
RAC general manager of corporate affairs Will Golsby said the organisation welcomed the strong investment in rail and road infrastructure projects, but the road maintenance budget remained under pressure.
“We believe that the road maintenance budget is under immense pressure and more needed to be done to address that,” Mr Golsby said.
“We need a long term targeted road safety infrastructure program funded by the State and Federal Government and both the Federal and State Government have failed to adequately address that.”
Public transport users will see a two per cent hike in public transport fares, while car owners will see a three per cent increase in vehicle licensing charges.
Social services advocates said the Budget surplus came at the cost of our state’s lowest earners.
WA Council of Social Services chief executive Louise Giolitto said the Budget did little to improve the wellbeing of some disadvantaged West Australians.
“Keeping rises in household charges to CPI levels means this Budget isn’t adding too much pain to those already struggling, but it also contains little targeted support to help them out,” she said.
“There’s also huge missed opportunity in investing in early intervention and prevention for some of our most vulnerable families in our communities. There was absolutely no investment in that space in the current Budget.”
WACOSS welcomed a $12 million pledge to provide additional legal representation for prisoners on remand and to introduce a bail support program.
It also welcomed an announcement of $11.6 million for solar PV batteries in remote Aboriginal Communities.
$4.6 million has been pledged to help new home owners enter the housing market.
But Shelter WA chief executive Michelle Mackenzie said she was disappointed at the lack of investment in social and affordable housing.
She said there were 14,000 people waiting for social housing and the 9,500 homeless people in WA.
“This was a great opportunity to look at their housing needs and an opportunity that wasn’t taken up,” Ms Mackenzie said.
“Whilst there were some great initiatives in the state Budget, it was a real missed opportunity to have sustained increased investment into social and affordable housing.”
The McGowan Government has pledged $52 million to establish a Future Health Research and Innovation Fund and to establish a centre for medical excellence. It has also set aside $22.7 million to refurbish Royal Perth Hospital.
AMA WA president Omar Khorshid welcomed the increase in funding for medical research, but said a lack of support for hospitals would increase the strain on resources.
“Patient care is suffering now because our hospitals are under extraordinary pressure and this Budget does absolutely nothing to address those problems. We’ve seen two years of very tight funding in the health sector,” he said.
“It means that hospitals, in particular, will continue to struggle. Unfortunately the Budget really only gave CPI increases to the hospital sector, which means, for patients, longer waiting times for elective surgery, longer waiting times in the emergency department and longer waiting times sitting in the back of an ambulance instead of in a hospital.”
Listen to the full Opposition Budget response press conference below.