Treasurer Ben Wyatt spent weeks keeping expectations low ahead of his second budget.
Terms such as “workmanlike”, “no frills”, and “no bells and whistles” were thrown around like confetti each time he was asked what the public could expect.
Mr Wyatt had done such a good job preparing journalists for a bland budget that when he and Premier Mark McGowan entered the lock-up with journalists, there was almost none of the usual sense of anticipation.
This year’s budget lock-up certainly lacked the high drama of last year’s event.
On that occasion, Mr McGowan used his first budget to apologise to voters for breaking his election commitment of “no new taxes or increases to existing taxes on West Australians”, by announcing a proposed gold royalty hike and payroll tax increase.
Budget highlights stalled asset sales
Labor had long talked about the budget potentially including decisions on the long-talked about proposed sale of the TAB, and sale or lease of access to Landgate’s land sales data.
Neither were there — despite Mr Wyatt saying as recently as February that he would like a decision on the TAB around budget time.
Instead, he used his budget speech to criticise the previous Barnett government for talking a lot about a potential sale of the state-owned betting agency while failing to make a decision.
“I am happy to report that consultation is proceeding well and I am confident that we will agree a path forward for the future of the TAB later this year,” Mr Wyatt said.
“The Government will continue to investigate the potential commercialisation of the activities of Landgate and look forward to providing an update in due course.”
Labor pins hopes on ‘fixing the finances’
The pitch from the Premier and Treasurer is that this budget shows the Government’s plan is working, and that in just over a year in office it has started to turn things around.
“Our plan has a clear direction,” Mr McGowan said.
“Creating jobs, fixing the budget, fixing the finances and delivering our election commitments.
“Responsible financial management works. This budget outlines a steady course back to surplus.”
That surplus is still forecast to arrive in 2020-21.
The one number householders will care about
When quizzed by a reporter about the lack of big measures in his second budget, Mr Wyatt was defensive, pointing to the Government’s work to contain expenditure growth.
Homeowners have been slugged again in the quest to return WA to a financial surplus. (AAP: Alan Porritt)
“0.9 per cent. I think I’ve nearly killed myself getting to 0.9 per cent,” Mr Wyatt said.
“You don’t get expense growth that low, projected expense growth that low, [and it] means that if there are upticks in revenue, you actually can take advantage of them.
“0.9 per cent, for me, is the magic number in this budget.”
But, as with most state budgets, there is only one number most householders are likely to care about.
That’s the $292 increase in annual household fees and charges with which they are about to be slugged.
That’s the not-so-magic number of the budget.