The WA Premier says he had good reasons to skip a meeting of premiers about federal budget cuts – and the state won’t pick up any shortfalls.
The Western Australian premier concedes the federal government’s planned public hospital funding cuts will start having an impact from July 1, but the state won’t cover the shortfalls.
After the opposition lashed Colin Barnett for skipping the gathering, the Liberal leader said he had “very good reasons”.
GST distribution wasn’t on the agenda and that is the key issue facing WA, so he will attend the next Council of Australian Governments meeting later this year, where it will be discussed before Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
There is “an unnecessary sense of panic” about the cuts, he added.
Mr Barnett previously said he was in no rush to discuss the health and education budget cuts because they wouldn’t kick in for several years.
But on Monday, he admitted some impact would be felt, particularly in health, from the start of the new financial year.
“There are some National Partnership Agreements that it appears the Commonwealth may not continue. If that is the case, they will finish – the state is not in a position to pick up that gap in funding,” Mr Barnett said.
“Some of the states – NSW and Queensland in particularly – at previous COAG meetings did special deals with the Gillard government. They can hardly be surprised that those deals have disappeared.”
He flagged potential changes to eligibility for pensioner cards and health-care cards.
“Under the worst scenario, there would be $24 million less coming to WA. We would maintain our commitment, but we’re not going to pick up any reduction in commonwealth entitlement.”
While he previously said Mr Abbott had not flagged the funding changes at the previous COAG meeting, he claimed the prime minister had foreshadowed states and territories taking increased responsibility for education and health.
“Everyone agreed that was the way to go.”
According to Mr Barnett, Mr Abbott also said there would be some compensatory arrangements, with the Commonwealth taking on increased responsibilities in other areas.
While WA hospitals faced a $196 million funding cut over the next four financial years, the overall impact of the federal budget on the state was positive, including “a slightly better position on GST … and some funding in particular areas”.