In a pre-election budget aimed at generating employment and defending the economy against COVID-19, the government of Western Australia has pledged a debt-fuelled record of $27 billion in infrastructure investment over the next four years.
On Thursday, Treasurer Ben Wyatt delivered his fourth budget, defying the global economic gloom with this financial year’s $1.2 billion surplus fuelled by a resurgent iron ore price.
Big-ticket items include a commitment to recruit an additional 800 police officers over the next four years, a mental health expenditure of $300 million and a previously announced $600 loan for the power bills of every WA household.
But after the government ruled out a pay hike above the existing freeze, public servants would be frustrated.
Finances are likely to stay in the dark for four years, but an extra $6.6 billion will be shaved from last December’s forecast surpluses.
A net debt blowout of $18 billion is set to almost double the state’s borrowings to $43 billion.
“Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic has been the toughest challenge we have faced,” Mr Wyatt told parliament in his budget speech.
“In response to the impact of COVID-19 and its ongoing effects, the McGowan government’s fiscal strategy and targets have been redirected from paying down the debt left by the previous Liberal-National government to supporting our economy and creating a pipeline of jobs for Western Australians.”