Ahead of the State budget being released in Parliament next week, there are concerns education, mental health services and alcohol and other drug services will suffer funding cuts because of WA’s ongoing debt.
While State Treasurer Ben Wyatt refused to make any specific comments about the budget before its release on September 7, he said the government is trying to make space for their election promises to be fulfilled, which include “in the mental health space.”
“It’s a budget that responds to the fact that we’re now operating significant deficits,” he said.
“I think the budget, the public service, members of the public, all parts of the community we looked to assist the budget, bearing in mind of course we are a State government, we can’t burn the place down looking to do this, so of course very mindful of the central services the State government provides.”
The State’s deficit is predicted to be $1.5 billion this financial year, according to the previous government’s mid-year projections statement.
WA is currently $33.4 billion in debt and it is forecasted to reach $41.4 billion by 2020, after the government continues to borrow to pay off ongoing bills.
The State’s finances could be even worse, however, as these figures were released prior to WA’s GST hits being revealed.
Before the March election Premier Mark McGowan promised to return the budget to surplus by 2019-20, which is the only way the government can begin to reduce debt. The government has since warned this budget will contain a series of “tough” measures.
WA Greens MP Alison Xamon said she is concerned the State will cut funding in areas which deliver services to vulnerable Australians, costing us more in the future.
“Funding around mental health and alcohol and other drug services is woefully inadequate,” she said.
“We know without a doubt that we need to have increased funding in the areas of mental health and alcohol and other drug services. And we also know that if we don’t do that investment now we’re going to be paying for that in the future.”
Without these services, Ms Xamon said the government will be up for more costs in the form of prisons and police.
Another primary concern is the funding of TAFE services, and Ms Xamon said she’s hoping the government will get serious about increasing funding in this area.
“What we know is that around about 2019 is when people are predicting that we’re hopefully going to start seeing a turnaround in our economy, that we’re going to need to have more job-ready people to go, and that means that we need to be investing in TAFE now.”
“Unfortunately there has been a serious underinvestment in TAFE, in fact we’ve gone significantly backwards in the eight years of the previous government, and we’ve seen that in a dramatic drop in enrolments.
“This government did make a commitment to freeze fees on TAFE, and it’s a start, but nowhere near enough in terms of what we need to turnaround what’s happened for TAFE.”
In February, the WA Labor Party pledged to not to increase or pose any new taxes, though since the election they have not mentioned this promise.
They also promised to spend over $1.5 billion of State finances on Metronet, an expansion of WA’s public transport system to be completed by 2023.
We will have a breakdown on the budget, once it has been released on Thursday.