Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Western Australia: January to June 2009

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Western Australia: January to June 2009

Article excerpt

On 14 May 2009 the State Treasurer Troy Buswell delivered his inaugural budget amidst the global financial crisis, conceding that the resultant deterioration in world trade, commodity prices, confidence and investment would continue to have an impact on the state's economy and finances. Wayne Swan had delivered the Commonwealth budget just two days earlier, which included the federal government's economic stimulus package that factored into the state budget picture. The Liberal/Nationals' "alliance" government, led by Liberal Colin Barnett, maintained excellent post-poll readings with Barnett attaining high ratings as preferred Premier while the Opposition Leader and former Treasurer Eric Ripper was locked into a sequence of low poll ratings, despite his reputation as a sound economic manager (Westpoll, 15 June 2009). Law and order matters received media attention, but for the first time in recent years the Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) was less central to the political scene. A by-election in Fremantle and a referendum on daylight saving also featured in the period under review.

Budget Matters

Maintaining a Triple-A Credit rating has become somewhat of a holy grail for governments in Australia and with this in mind some substantial expenditures were budgeted to keep the state's liabilities below the Standard and Poors trigger point for a downgraded credit rating. Premier Barnett was reportedly "thrilled" with conjecture about the federal government's budget support for a range of projects including the Midland Health Campus, sinking the railway link in Perth's Northbridge, as well as support for the Oakajee port near Geraldton. Nevertheless, a Chamber of Commerce and Industry spokesperson claimed that Western Australia's $1.2 billion share of the $22.5 billion set aside by the Commonwealth for infrastructure reflected neither the state's population nor its ability to help lead the nation's recovery, particularly in the post-boom era.

Forecasts in the budget papers suggested the state's net debt would reach $19.1 billion in 2012 and although a 3 per cent efficiency dividend across the public sector delivered some savings, reports indicated this was not achieved in either the Education or Health portfolios. Auditor-General Colin Murphy questioned the imposition of the cut to his agency's budget both in terms of his role as the parliament's "watchdog", but more particularly as they were imposed in the midst of a financial year. A sharp rise in electricity prices together with higher water charges and motor vehicle registration fees had previously been signalled with an estimated $330 per annum increase in average household bills, a figure disputed by Opposition and the media. Labor's Shadow Treasurer Ben Wyatt criticised the administration of the Nationals' "Royalties for Regions" program which allocated 25 per cent of the state's mining and petroleum royalty revenue for re-investment in regional Western Australia. The program, a key "alliance" platform, was the subject of much scrutiny with a 13 May report from the Legislative Council's Standing Committee on Estimates and Financial Operations recommending a stronger accountability framework, before the Auditor-General indicated he had commenced an investigation into the $2.7 billion scheme.

Education and Health continued to absorb almost half of the budget with the total picture requiring consideration of funding from the federal budget. A major Opposition question was the absence of a financial commitment to uphold the government's determination to refurbish Royal Perth Hospital, in addition to constructing the Fiona Stanley Hospital in the southern suburb of Murdoch. Under-Treasurer Tim Marney expressed concerns in relation to this during Estimates hearings in May, but after making this observation to the media on 23 June, the Premier's response was to indicate that "as a general principle it is up to Ministers to comment on policy". …

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