State debt will take ‘decades’ to pay off: McGowan

Mark McGowan. Photo: Getty
Mark McGowan. Photo: Getty

WEST Australian Labor leader Mark McGowan says he can’t promise a fast solution to the state’s rising debt problem, which currently stands at $31 billion.

“Repaying the debt will take a long time, in fact decades,” he told ABC radio on Thursday.

But pressed on when the debt, which is expected to go to $41 billion, would be paid down he could not give a deadline.

“All I can say is that the current (Barnett) government is responsible for it, but turning that around will take a long time.”

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Labor will release the costings on its election promises later on Thursday, after refusing to hand them over to the state Treasury.

Labor has instead enlisted two former senior public servants, including former Public Sector Commissioner Mike Wood, to run the ruler over its numbers.

Labor has questioned the independence of Treasury, accusing the Liberals of planting a stooge in its briefing with the government department ahead of the 2013 state election.

Costings have become a key election focus in the last week, given WA’s debt and deficit are at record $3 billion and $30 billion-plus levels respectively.

The Barnett government on Wednesday got a tick from Treasury, which said the party’s promises were “reasonable”, although there was criticism over nine missing commitments.

The documents also revealed 2000 public servants would be offered voluntary redundancies and 1000 would be replaced with cheaper, recently graduated cadets.

The Liberals have made more than $2.59 billion in promises, including the controversial Perth Freight Link project.

Premier Colin Barnett has attacked Labor for not subjecting $5 billion worth of promises, including $2.5 billion for its flagship Metronet rail project, to the same scrutiny.

Mr McGowan has said the costings would include outlining a path back to surplus within four years and tackling job creation.

“That’s the other part of the puzzle in Western Australia – highest unemployment rate in the nation, if I’m elected premier that’s my number one priority,” he told the ABC.

Meanwhile, Pauline Hanson is continuing her WA blitz with a day in regional Geraldton – but first she had to issue a partial backdown on her vaccination statement.

Mr McGowan predicts a Liberal-One Nation preference deal will be replicated nation-wide if they win the balance of power.

He said he would deal with One Nation representatives in the upper house by presenting good legislation and arguing the case for its passage.

He insisted Labor was still the underdog because it needed to win 10 seats to form government.