Tough test for Ripper

WA Treasurer Eric Ripper is preparing for one of his toughest political tests when he hands down his Government’s first budget this afternoon.

He expects a tough task selling the budget to the business community, which already is expecting a heavier tax whack than previously thought.

Mr Ripper said the lead up to the budget had been strenuous, involving months of work, meetings and “rigorous examinations of the State’s finances”.

Its release – normally due in May – has been delayed by the Machinery of Government program that consolidated WA’s public sector and the review of the State’s finances.

Next year’s budget is likely to be handed down in May.

Mr Ripper said raised taxes were “unavoidable” given the more than $400 million hole the previous Government had left in WA’s finances.

He said the tax hikes would be confined to those who could “most afford to pay”.

“We set ourselves the financial target of maintaining WA’s tax competitiveness,” Mr Ripper said.

“We’re well aware that investment is mobile. This Government recognises the importance of business. We don’t want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

“We recognise it’s been a tough year for business.

“The GST has knocked business and consumer confidence and economic growth has been running at less than half of the Treasury forecast from the previous budget.

“I regret we’ve had to put tax measures into the budget. We’ve kept the increases to what’s necessary.

“We’ve tried to recognise small business’ role and insulate them.”

Beyond that Mr Ripper would not give specific details of how much revenue the Government hoped to raise from its tax hikes or which industries would be hit.

“The amount of revenue we’ll be raising will be less than the Court Government took in 1997-98 and 1998-99,” he said.

In those years the Court Government raised payroll tax, stamp duty and vehicle registration charges.

Mr Ripper said this budget should have WA returning to its average growth rate of around 4.5 per cent.

“This will be built on the back of the first positive growth in business investment in WA for the past three years,” he said.

“But the economy faces some risks. What happens in the global economy, particularly Japan and the US, will be critical.”

Work on the fourth Liquefied Natural Gas train for the North West Shelf is expected to play a large part in the return to positive business investment growth.

Mr Ripper said this budget would include a large capital works program.

“Changes we are planning for WA’s electricity industry will also help most businesses,” he said.

“We’ve put in place a taskforce to look at WA’s electricity industry and that group is due to report to Government in 12 months. They’ll be working on the design of WA’s electricity market.”

Mr Ripper said the $850 million in expenditure savings drawn from the MoG changes and efficiency measures would pay for Labor’s election promises.

He said the former Government left a hole of more than $400 million in WA’s finances through unfunded programs.

“For example, there are two police information technology and communications programs the previous Government committed to. The early stages of those projects have been funded but there has been no money set aside for the latter stages,” Mr Ripper said.

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