Vote now, pay later

THE major parties are asking Western Australians to cast their vote in Saturday’s state election without basic information on two key policy issues. The election ‘campaign’ has been a farce.

The Labor Party easily won the race for the dubious honour of lavishing ‘sweeteners’ on voters in an attempt to win the uniform swing of 10 per cent required to form government.

But its program to pay for promises costing just over $5 billion, roughly double the Liberal Party’s enticements, appears flimsy at best. And the Liberal strategy isn’t much better.

State’s finances

In fact, given the parlous position of the state’s finances, it might pay to be ready to tick off the promises as they are broken by whichever side wins power.

The first major shortcoming  of the campaign has been the failure of the two parties to come up with a credible program to get the state’s finances back on a sound footing – to achieve a balanced budget and reverse the escalation in state debt.

The Liberals always claim to be the better economic managers. But that claim has been shot to pieces over the past four years helped by the collapse in royalties due to lower iron ore prices, and the appalling deal on the goods and services tax. And the AAA credit rating was lost.

Premier Colin Barnett’s economic credibility was hit by the perfect storm. But he should still have put more money aside from the good times to cushion the inevitable downturn.

The Liberal proposal to sell 51 per cent of Western Power to raise $11 billion – $8 billion of which would go to retire debt – has merit, especially as the utility’s value will fall with advances in renewable energy. But it’s unpopular and could prove a vote loser.

Even if the Liberals do win the possibility their preference deal with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party – which strongly opposes the sale – is likely to result in three Hansonites in the Upper House with the balance of power,  could be the death knell. The debt reduction plan would collapse. Claiming a mandate doesn’t cut the mustard in 2017.

Labor believes it can reallocate the $1.2 billion in federal money earmarked for the Roe 8 project, when it dumps the road plan. But federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann says it’s federal money and he will decide how it’s spent.

Then there’s shadow treasurer Ben Wyatt’s strategy to pay down debt by an intricate formula based on increased royalties – should the iron ore price remain high – combined with a doubling of the current return on the goods and services.

Hope springs eternal.

Only National Party leader Brendon Grylls has been upfront about his plan to restore the state’s finances, with a raid on mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. But he has played a Lone Ranger role while the WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy has unleashed a withering $2 million plus advertising campaign to cut him down.

The other issue requiring further explanation relates to renewable energy. Mr Barnett says the Liberal target is to provide 23.5 per cent from renewables – solar and wind – in the power grid by 2030. The Greens are going for 90 per cent.

Labor initially floated a 50 per cent goal but then abandoned it. Why? Because its veteran Collie-Preston MP Mick Murray, a champion of coal mining at Collie, said he’d quit if that was policy.

But he’s the only one who can hold the seat. So the party caved in and now has no target.

Unemployment

That could change because federal leader Bill Shorten is pressing for the 50 per cent target to become policy at Labor’s national conference next year. Watch this spot.

With unemployment (6.5 per cent) the highest in the nation, both sides are making a virtue of seeking to promote jobs and apprenticeships. Highly laudable, but economic growth would help.

Labor needs a uniform swing of 10 per cent to win the 10 seats to form government and deprive Colin Barnett of a historic third four year term. But swings are never uniform.

Liberal seats in the leafy western suburbs, plus electorates such as Alfred Cove and South Perth, are safe. But a clutch of the party’s inner suburban seats, won last time, will fall.

Massive contests are being waged in the Liberal seat of Mt Lawley, held by Speaker Michael Sutherland, and the new notionally Liberal seat of Bicton where Matt Taylor is being challenged by Labor’s Lisa O’Malley.

Labor has enjoyed a consistent lead in opinion polls, and all the signs point to Mark McGowan becoming WA’s thirtieth premier. But he won’t get a honeymoon period.

There are too many  pressing issues to resolve.

Leading the list are those issues which received scant attention during the campaign. And paying for  those promises? Well the money has to come from somewhere!

• Peter Kennedy is an adjunct professor in the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Notre Dame Australia.

election analysis by PETER KENNEDY

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