No big bill hikes as WA economy improves
Western Australia's budget deficit for 2017-18 has turned out much better than expected and households are assured no more big utility bill hikes are on the horizon.
The annual report on the state's finances, delivered on Wednesday, showed the deficit for the year ended June 30 was $618 million.
The figure is dramatically lower from an estimate in the 2017-18 budget of $2.3 billion, which was lowered to $1.3 billion earlier this year.
"With utility prices, energy in particular, the hard work has already been done by consumers," Treasurer Ben Wyatt told reporters.
"I'm expecting that over the next few years, you won't see the sort of power bill increases that we've had over the last decade."
Mr Wyatt gave much of the credit for the improved finances to the state government's belt tightening, particularly in the health portfolio.
"We take our role seriously on expense constraint," he said.
Expenditure growth in 2017-18 was the lowest in more than two decades - a significant achievement essential to budget repair that must be maintained, Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA chief economist Rick Newnham said.
A public sector voluntary redundancy scheme - the biggest ever run in the state - is set to be achieved, although over a longer period of time.
The CPSU said the financial results highlighted the heavy lifting done by the public sector.
"They have carried more than their fair share," assistant secretary Rikki Hendon said.
"Rounds of job cuts by successive state governments have left departments depleted and workloads at an all-time high.
"But public service workers are resilient and want the best for the community."
Opposition treasury spokesman Dean Nalder said he was concerned the cuts were affecting frontline services, including high ambulance ramping rates.
The Treasurer also said he was relatively confident the federal government's GST reform proposal would be accepted by other states and territories if it could be shown they won't be worse off.
"Hopefully, other state treasurers don't scenario-analyse it to the point of obsession and find any reason to oppose," Mr Wyatt said.
"Certainly I think the conversation so far has been positive."
In the meantime, three years of untied GST top-up payments from the Commonwealth will boost WA's balance sheet until 2020-21, when a return to surplus is forecast.
Mr Wyatt said high spending growth in corrective services was the key risk to the state budget.
"There's a lot of pressure points that keep people in the system where they perhaps shouldn't be and we might be able to get them out of the system more quickly," he said.
"We do need to have more, in my view, community options that the judiciary feel confident to utilise."
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