Mark McGowan says he recognises the need for consumer confidence and spending. (ABC News: Gavin Johns)
WA Premier Mark McGowan has promised to ease pressure on household budgets, saying the state’s improved financial position would be used to minimise pain in the aftermath of years of big hikes to utility charges.
- The WA Government is preparing to deliver the first budget surplus in six years
- The improved position should mean less pain for households
- But unemployment remains a problem with a record number looking for work
In an interview with the ABC to mark two years since Mr McGowan was elected Premier, he also declared himself “very proud” of his Government’s economic management despite the state currently experiencing its highest unemployment rate in nearly two decades.
The Labor leader said the recovery in the state budget — with WA expected to break a run of five consecutive deficits next year — meant there would be less pain for households in this year’s budget, to be handed down in May
“You need to have confidence and consumer spending in the economy and we recognise that,” he said.
“That is why you will not see as difficult a time for households as perhaps you did some years ago.
“You can never do as much as people might hope, but there will be a significant improvement on what was there before.”
The McGowan Government hiked-up power prices 11 and 7 per cent in its first two years, but the Premier has previously promised this year’s increase would be smaller.
Mr McGowan said he was proud of his Government’s effort to improve WA’s budget position — with a $1 billion surplus forecast for next year — but admitted a large number of West Australians were “doing it tough” amid difficult economic conditions.
After vowing to put “WA Jobs First” during the 2017 election campaign, the Government has seen the number of people looking for work surge to a record of 98,000 people or 10,000 more than when it came to office.
The last time the unemployment rate was higher than the current 6.8 per cent mark was in January 2002.
‘We do our best … but nobody is perfect’
Asked if WA was facing a jobs crisis, Mr McGowan pointed to the growth of people looking for work to argue confidence in the economy was growing.
“We have got job growth back in the market and we do have to do more to address that,” he said.
“We are very hopeful that we will continue to create more jobs … you are seeing important projects coming on stream and important diversification of the economy.
“I am very proud of our financial management and our economic management.”
Mr McGowan has faced criticism for a series of high-profile policy reversals, including scrapping plans to close the School of the Air and nationalise part of the lobster industry, as well as the decision to break a pre-election promise not to increase taxes.
The Government’s rock lobster backdown was the latest in a series of policy reversals. (ABC Rural: Karen Hunt)
But the Premier insisted West Australians could trust him.
“We do our best in government, but as you go along nobody is perfect,” he said.
“We have good financial management … a Government that is determined to get a better deal out of Canberra, and a long-term infrastructure program for the future.”
WA voters will next go to the polls in March 2021, with Labor holding an 11-seat majority going into the election.