The Western Australian government has been fast asleep at the wheel. They have run out of steam at the worst possible time. They are coming apart and, to be honest, it is hard to tell sometimes whether they are abandoning ship or fighting for control of the rudder. At the same time they have been alternatively ignored or, in some cases, particularly with the Perth Freight Link, they have been led down the garden path by their federal coalition counterparts.
Mr Wilson (11:57am) — My colleague the member for Burt has this spot on. The Western Australian economy is facing conditions the likes of which we have not seen for a quarter century. The Western Australian government is in a terrible position to respond because it has run up an astounding debt balance without managing to invest in productive infrastructure or to fix capacity constraints. The reality is that WA is experiencing a recession. Unemployment is high. Full-time jobs continue to fall. The sequence is now at 21 months and counting—something we have not seen since the early 1990s. Underemployment is the highest it has ever been since the ABS began keeping that statistic in 1978, and in some parts of Perth unemployment has risen by 60 or 70 per cent since 2013. Not surprisingly, this is happening in areas that already face socioeconomic disadvantage. The great shame is that those circumstances should have been anticipated.
It is a serious failure that work was not done by the Barnett government or the federal coalition to prepare for the inevitable shift in the resource sector in Western Australia. It was always going to occur. It was always going to involve both a fall in commodity prices and a change away from the construction phase of project development. Getting ready for that shift is precisely what good government exists to do in managing the economy. Unfortunately the very reverse has occurred. The Western Australian government has been fast asleep at the wheel. They have run out of steam at the worst possible time. They are coming apart and, to be honest, it is hard to tell sometimes whether they are abandoning ship or fighting for control of the rudder. At the same time they have been alternatively ignored or, in some cases, particularly with the Perth Freight Link, they have been led down the garden path by their federal coalition counterparts.
But the greatest shortcoming of the Barnett government is wasted opportunity. It is astonishing to think that for the first six years of the Barnett government revenue grew strongly, year on year. At the time of the global financial crisis, when the Commonwealth and other states faced a collapse in revenue, the WA government was sitting pretty, relatively speaking. They should have been working to prepare for change. They should have been anticipating a turn in the cycle, especially because Western Australians know that the resources economy has always involved those kinds of twists and turns.
Did they work to ensure strong local content involvement in resources projects? No. Did they recognise the costs in obstacles of congestion, and did they start to develop and implement transport infrastructure that would support jobs and improve productivity? No. Have they prevailed on their supposedly influential federal coalition colleagues to ensure that WA receives a fair share of future shipbuilding work? No. So what is the reality? As the member for Burt’s motion details, you have all this Commonwealth infrastructure money parked in projects that are not happening and, in the case of the Perth Freight Link, should never have been proposed in the first place.
Fully $1.54 billion—$1,500 million—is sitting there achieving nothing as WA slides further into recession conditions. It is money that should be holding up demand in the WA economy, that should be supporting construction and manufacturing jobs, that should be addressing the stifling effects of congestion and that should be underwriting economic transition and diversification. Instead, those funds are sitting idle, through complacency, through absence of leadership and through a very strange sense of entitlement, through a weird conviction that somehow the people of Western Australia owe the coalition a living. It is ridiculous.
The economic mismanagement and infrastructure paralysis in WA has three flow-on effects. It means there is no effective response to the employment crisis, which is severe and getting worse. It means that WA continues to be short-changed by the Commonwealth and it means the Barnett government has been forced to cast around for public assets to sell, including Fremantle Port and Western Power, when there is no mandate and no justification for those public assets to be privatised. It means local projects of significance are left on the drawing board.
The member for Burt has already talked about Community Connect South, which provides a solution to crippling congestion at the border of our electorates. The City of Armadale is very much affected by it—I am not sure where the member for Moreton is getting his local community information—and the city of Cockburn, on my side of the freeway, is equally affected. Both those local governments are clear-eyed about the solution, and the member for Burt and I are in no doubt about the change that would have been delivered if a Labor government had been elected with $80 million committed to that project.
It is not good enough, as this motion makes abundantly clear. WA has suffered and continues to suffer from state government neglect on a grand scale. It is neglect that has been aided and abetted by the federal coalition.