Why 2019 is not a year we can be complacent
While the first half of 2019, in a political sense, will no doubt be dominated by the May Federal election, it will not be a time for a complacent approach to State politics. The current State Government already has a not-so-proud history of using the cover of “news black spots” to roll out unpopular policies and as it approaches the half-way point of its term will undoubtedly want any remaining contentious announcements put to bed before the 2021 State poll.
In the tradition of Education Minister Sue Ellery’s announcement before Christmas 2017 that the School of the Air and regional residential colleges would close, Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly decided pre-Christmas 2018 to throw the rock lobster industry — and the hundreds of families working in it — into chaos and nationalise 17 per cent of their catch.
It is now clear that like the decision to close Moora College, School of the Air, Landsdale Farm School and the Herdsman Lake Wildlife Centre, the decision to nationalise the cray fishing industry will not be taken lightly by those affected or the wider community.
I am confident that by working together with those affected, as we did with the Perth Modern School community, the Moora College Community, the School of the Air community and the gold-mining industry, we can force a backflip by the McGowan Government on this latest shoddy decision. In 2017, thousands of regional people who rely on Community Resource Centres for access to government services found that by joining their voice with the Liberal Opposition they could prevent funding cuts to their CRC.
Likewise, surfers and ocean users who saw potential benefits in deploying smart drum lines to prevent shark attacks learnt that a bad decision by the McGowan Government need not be final.
Looking forward, there are many issues that, despite the secretive nature and operation of the McGowan Government, are bubbling to the surface. Information released to the Opposition at the direction of the Freedom of Information Commissioner shows the Government itself had concerns about a $206 million contract with Chinese telco Huawei to deliver a communications network for our trains.
The information revealed what the Government refused to tell Parliament: there are significant security concerns around the contract, of which the Government was well aware. The Government must revisit this contract in the interests of the State’s security.
Likewise, the Premier and Treasurer must focus on nurturing our fragile economy and revisit policies that have damaged important sectors such as construction, tourism and international education and left households reeling under an average $700 increase in fees and charges.
The unemployment rate in WA is now the highest in the nation and substantially higher than when Premier McGowan swept to office on a promise of jobs creation.
Dwelling construction has collapsed from a forecast 4.75 per cent increase to -4.0 per cent on the back of the State Government’s decisions to abolish the First Home Owner Grant Boost and introduce the Foreign Investor Surcharge.
The decisions to merge Tourism WA into a mega department, cutting tourism funding in real terms and removing international student incentives have directly impacted tourism, resulting in a $181 million reduction in visitor expenditure and more than 1200 jobs lost in 2017-18.
Despite being the recipient of some unprecedented Federal funding windfalls — $4.7 billion in GST and $1.8 billion in infrastructure funding — the McGowan Government is yet to bring down a Budget that gives a clear path to funding its extravagant election promises while paying down debt, delivering surpluses and maintaining front-line services. Even with windfalls, net debt under the McGowan Government has risen almost $6 billion to $37.9 billion.
The Treasurer has factored into his economic forecasts the Federal funds for infrastructure but has not fully allocated the State’s contribution.
Once the Government does this, its ability to deliver on its financial commitments will seriously come into question. And achieving the reductions in expenditure growth forecast for the next three years are impossible without wreaking havoc across government agencies and slashing critical front-line services. For its part, the Liberal Opposition will continue to hold the Government to account.