New West Australian Premier Mark McGowan is turning his attention to getting the state’s budget under control after the Barnett government’s “appalling“ financial management.
A smiling and relaxed Mr McGowan fronted the media on Sunday, just hours after leading Labor to a landslide win over the two-term Barnett Liberal government.
“It’s one of those happy surprises in life that sometimes comes along,” he said of winning about 40 of the 59 seats.
“I think the scale of the swing shows how people really wanted a fresh start and a change.”
But Mr McGowan was focused on how his government would tackle the challenges ahead.
“We have a serious financial situation in Western Australia and a serious economic situation,” he told reporters in his home suburb and electorate of Rockingham.
“We’ll go through budget and cut out any wasteful expenditure.”
He and his treasury team – likely to include an Australian first with Yamatji man Ben Wyatt as treasurer – would get started as soon possible.
There were no magic bullets and it would take “a long, long, long time” to pay down the debt racked up over the past eight-and-a-half years.
According to Liberal projections, state debt is headed for $41 billion but Labor costings forecasts reining it back to just under $40 billion by 2019/20 and returning a modest surplus to the budget.
“You have to deal with it over time. It should never have been allowed to get out of control as it has.”
Labor is pushing ahead with its planned Commission of Inquiry to find out exactly how the once-boom state fell into such dire financial trouble, probing government contracts and “secretive” deals to explain cost blow-outs.
Mr McGowan said his cabinet, which is constitutionally restricted to 17 ministers despite the enormous size of his parliamentary team, would be unveiled late this week or early next week.
He refused to comment on speculation former state transport minister and federal MP Alannah MacTiernan would be parachuted onto the front bench.
“I’ll have a large role in the cabinet selection process and I expect we’ll have a very good quality cabinet.”
He joked it could be standing room only in the caucus room, given the party may end up with as many as 41 MPs.
The “it’s time” factor weighed on the Liberals but Labor also ran a good campaign, he said.
Mr McGowan overcame critics within his own party who said he didn’t have the x-factor to be premier after Mr Barnett defeated him in 2013, which culminated in a disastrous and short-lived leadership challenge by former federal minister Stephen Smith last year.
Labor made $5 billion in promises during the campaign including $2.5 billion for the bare bones of the ambitious Metronet rail system and won despite not really offering an obvious path out of the record debt and deficit.
Mr McGowan reaffirmed that stopping the controversial Roe 8 project was one of his first priorities but didn’t commit to when the bulldozers would go, only saying the government would follow the letter of the law in negotiating out of the contracts.