10/05/2022 - 15:00

Battle lines drawn on budget

10/05/2022 - 15:00

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Opposition figureheads have called for a greater focus on servicing debt and funding hospitals in the state’s upcoming budget.

Battle lines drawn on budget
Steve Thomas is a member of the Legislative Council and the opposition's treasury spokesperson. Photo: David Henry

Opposition figureheads have called for a greater focus on servicing debt and funding hospitals in the state’s upcoming budget.

The state government has steadily announced an array of new funding measures ahead of this Thursday's budget announcement, including a $60 million package to support electric vehicle uptake.

Premier Mark McGowan has however signaled a greater focus on debt reduction this time around, telegraphing a desire to bring net debt under $30 billion over the next 12 months ahead of an expected uptick in interest rates.

Addressing reporters this afternoon, opposition treasury spokesperson Steve Thomas argued windfall revenues from iron ore royalties gave the state government little excuse not to put more money towards debt relief.

"There is never a better time to pay down debt than when you have money in the bank," he said.

"Surely that makes sense.

"This is the biggest boom we've ever seen; if Mark McGowan is going to see a correction in the economy in a couple of years' time, he'll have limited capacity to pay down debt.

"The time that he has to pay down debt is now."

Net debt since Labor came to office in 2017 has decreased from $34.6 billion to $32.6 billion in the current financial year.

Mr Thomas argued there was greater capacity to service debt given the state had run operating surpluses over the last four years and stored money in a handful of Department of Treasury's special purpose accounts.

State parliament was told in April that $19.1 billion was stored in these accounts, with Mr Thomas identifying $7.5 billion of that outlined in the most recent budget.

Business News queried the premier's office on this matter last week but received no response.

"He's using that money in special purpose accounts to look after his own political future going forward," he said.

"It is time for some significant debt repayment."

Mr Thomas’s comments come as St John Ambulance WA last night issued a public statement warning of extended wait times due to ongoing ramping outside the state's hospitals.

A spokesperson for the company reportedly claimed about a quarter of St John’s fleet in metropolitan Perth had been ramped while the state’s operations centre continued to receive a high volume of calls.

While the state government has earmarked $1.6 billion for pandemic relief in the budget to help procure more RATs and fund health services, opposition health spokesperson Libby Mettam agreed the state's health system needed more short-term relief.

"Lives are at stake now," she said.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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