Joe Spagnolo: New financial year signals hard times for struggling West Australians

Joe SpagnoloThe West Australian
WACOSS boss Louise Giolitto wants Premier Mark McGowan to do more to help WA’s disadvantaged.
Camera IconWACOSS boss Louise Giolitto wants Premier Mark McGowan to do more to help WA’s disadvantaged. Credit: Ian Munro/The West Australian

Mark McGowan needs to revisit his cost-of-living policy when he returns from overseas.

As we start a new financial year, all indications are that life is about to get substantially tougher for West Australians — particularly those who are already struggling to make ends meet.

The Premier’s much-lauded $400, one-off power bill credit — which comes into play this month — is not going to cut it, particularly when WA Treasury is predicting $16 billion in budget surpluses from now until 2026.

For starters, McGowan’s $400 power bill credit applies to all WA households.

That means someone in Dalkeith, Peppermint Grove and Cottesloe — where the median house price is well above $2 million — receives the same bonus as someone living in less affluent areas where the annual pay packet is significantly less.

If McGowan was expecting accolades for his $400 power credit from social welfare groups, he is going to be disappointed.

“While the $400 power credit will go some way towards helping households to cover their power bills this financial year, for larger families, those living in energy-inefficient houses and people on income support this relief will not go far enough as we come into winter,” WACOSS boss Louise Giolitto told me this week.

“With inflation expected to continue rising over the year and the number of Western Australians seeking support continuing to rise along with it, including many who are working full-time and experiencing financial hardship for the first time, it is clear that we have to do more.”

Giolitto is arguing that the WA Government should have revisited WA’s concession system in the May Budget — rather than provide a one-off bonus.

Budget speech reactions outside parliament today.
Louise Giolitto WACOSS
Camera IconWACOSS boss Louise Giolitto wants Premier Mark McGowan to do more to help WA’s disadvantaged. Credit: Ian Munro/The West Australian

“One of the best ways the WA Government can improve cost-of-living pressures for low income Western Australians is through concession arrangements, such as a percentage-based excess energy-gas concession, expanding car registration concessions to cover all Health Care Card holders, expanding eligibility for the free travel periods on public transport beyond Senior Card holders to include all Health Care Card holders and the expansion of water service charge concessions to Health Care Card holders,” she said.

“These policies would be significantly more targeted and have the greatest impact on quality of life for West Australians experiencing disadvantage, whilst being relatively straightforward to implement.”

In terms of a bang for one’s buck, the last financial year wasn’t that great for many West Australians.

There’s not much change from a $100 note, for example, if you’re filling your car with fuel.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese just this week provided little hope that there would be a reprieve on high petrol and high food prices any time soon.

He said the ongoing conflict in Ukraine would continue to have an impact on countries, like Australia.

And Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe is telling homeowners to prepare for more interest rate hikes.

Despite the $400 power household electricity credit — which cost the WA Government $445m to implement — McGowan’s May Budget shows power and water charges will actually increase this financial year.

The May Budget papers show 2.5 per cent price hikes for power and water this financial year.

So once you’ve used your $400 power credit, you’ll be saddled with higher prices for these essential services.

And it’s not just power and water that are going up.

Vehicle licensing charges have been increased by 3.8 per cent, your driver’s licence goes up 6.4 per cent and the emergency services levy is up 5 per cent.

In his May Budget, McGowan said his $400 power bill credit actually helped decrease the expected annual fees and charges bill (for a “representative” household) from $6380 last financial year to $6136 this financial year.

That’s still a lot of cash to come up with, for many West Australians.

When you are sitting on an expected $5.6b surplus this financial year, you have to wonder whether reducing the annual fees and charges bill by $244 is enough for those who really need it.

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