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State price range: Some money for agriculture but Opposition says it is not enough

An already-announced $25 million commitment for a three-year research partnership formed the agricultural centrepiece of this year’s State Budget, with WA Labor lambasted by the Opposition for having “little” else for the sector set aside.

Mark McGowan last week handed down his second budget since appointing himself State Treasurer, headlined by a $400 electricity bill credit for every WA household from July to help ease rising cost of living pressures.

In a clear nod to the Federal election on Saturday, Mr McGowan told Parliament that his Government had delivered an “undoubtedly and unashamedly Labor Budget”.

WA’s operating surplus for 2021-22 almost doubled from the $2.4b predicted in December’s midyear review to $5.7b, just short of last year’s record $5.8b.

Big ticket items related to agriculture included $332m for a major upgrade of the Geraldton port, $48.6 million for establishing the Regional Digital Connectivity program to improve mobile and internet coverage, $40m for rail freight, and $11m for a large air tanker to be permanently based in regional WA during bushfire season.

The State Government also announced an extra $30m for the Native Forestry Transition Plan, bringing the total of that package to $80m.

The additional $30m was designed to support the wider forestry industry – including businesses indirectly affected by WA Labor’s decision to ban native logging by 2024.

In welcome news for northern pastoralists, some $500m was also set aside to seal the Tanami Road to the WA border.

Despite the $400 electricity bill credit, Western Australians will still feel hip-pocket pain, with a host of household fees controlled by the State set to increase from July 1.

These include: electricity (up 2.5 per cent), water (up 2.5 per cent), vehicle licence (up 3.8 per cent), driver’s licence (up 6.4 per cent), motor injury insurance (up 2.4 per cent) and standard public transport fees (up 2 per cent).

The emergency services levy, an annual charge paid by all property owners through local council rate notices, has also been increased by 5 per cent.

Asked to justify the increase to charges when inflation and interest rates are rising, Mr McGowan said “the cost of providing services continues to grow” but every household would benefit from the one-off power subsidy as it was not means-tested.

Ahead of the Budget, the State Government announced $25m to underpin the creation of a three-year research partnership between the State, CSIRO and three WA universities, called the WA Agricultural Collaboration.

In announcing the funding, WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan said the WAAC would take a joint approach to research and securing national funding for projects.

But the Opposition has poked holes in the $25m commitment, welcoming the funding but saying it was critically short on detail on what the project aimed to achieve.

Shadow agriculture minister Colin de Grussa said there were concerns about the “limited detail” regarding what the group would actually do and what it aimed to achieve.

“We welcome partnerships that can enhance WA’s agriculture industry, however, there are concerns around the limited detail provided on what the WAAC aims to achieve and how it will collaborate with the agriculture industry,” he said.

“It appears the project’s focus is around climate and emissions, but there has been no specific detail released as of yet so it remains to be seen what the objectives are.”

In a bid to attract more workers to the labour-shortage-crippled regions, the Paid Escape program was also handed $7.5m to continue until 2024,

Mr de Grussa said it was “bizarre” the Paid Escape program would continued and said it would be “far more effective” to collaborate with the Federal Government to fast-track the skilled workers required from overseas.

The program offers incentives worth more than $2000 in allowances for workers in regional WA, including up to $40 per night for accommodation for up to six weeks and a one-off $500 payment to help with travel costs.

Other announcements included a record $12 billion for regional infrastructure, up $2.9b on last year, while country health and mental health investment is up $158.3m.

A total $30m will be spent to employ 18 paid paramedics and six new ambulances for regional WA.

There was also a $500m boost to the State Government’s Climate Action Fund, taking the total to $1.25b to support WA’s “prosperous low-carbon future”.

Four new overseas trade offices will be established in India, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Germany in a bid to attract further overseas investment into WA.

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