Pressure mounts on McGowan to fix budget

Almost four months since becoming Western Australia’s premier, Mark McGowan remains confronted with the massive burden of repairing the state’s finances but cannot keep blaming the Barnett government, analysts warn.


State debt is projected to exceed $42 billion by 2020, with a net operating deficit of about $3 billion forecast this financial year.

In an attempt to begin turning things around, one major decision made since the March election was to introduce public sector reforms, including capping pay rises and slashing the number of departments from 41 to 25.

But the amalgamations led to some senior public servants to indicate they would leave the bureaucracy.

Then, Road Safety Commissioner Kim Papalia announced his departure after it was revealed he sought a Supreme Court injunction to stop the release of documents to an inquiry about the $1.5 million sponsorship deal for the Western Force rugby team, which was struck under the previous government.

The premier insisted Mr Papalia’s departure was about the amalgamations, but Opposition Leader Mike Nahan labelled the public service “chaotic”.

Political analyst Harry Phillips said it would be difficult to measure the success of the reforms.

Fellow analyst David Black agreed, adding that while unions had backed the change of government, there was unease now in the public sector and dealing with unions, such as police, would be an issue for Labor.

Prof Phillips said the budget cuts only slightly improved WA’s finances and it was possible a key election promise not to sell Western Power could be broken.

“If, after a couple of years, they aren’t making enough progress, they might look at the privatisation agenda,” he told AAP on Sunday.

Prof Black said it could happen even sooner.

“It would be a major decision (to sell Western Power) but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out,” he told AAP.

Prof Phillips said the GST carve-up remained the biggest problem, but the Commonwealth seemed intent on waiting for the Productivity Commission’s findings.

He said federal treasurer Scott Morrison, who visited Perth last week, was keeping expectation levels extremely low.

“His political language is one of minimal change.”

Prof Black described some people’s expectations as a “pie in the sky”.

“There are too many players involved who would be impacted,” he said.

“You’re asking too many people to make cuts.”

Meanwhile, the average WA family is being slugged an extra $438.40 per year for utilities and other fees under the 2017/18 budget, including the fixed charge for electricity supply going up $169 and water rising $96.90, while seniors card holders will have certain rebates capped at $100.

While the budget will not be handed down until September, Treasurer Ben Wyatt recently announced the changes taking effect from July 1.

Some people labelled it a broken promise, but Mr McGowan said everyone had to bear some financial burden.

Prof Phillips said most people understood fees had to increase and the premier had been clear.

It remains to be seen what other cost-saving measures will be announced in September, and Prof Black said that would be the public’s opportunity to assess the McGowan government’s performance.