The Labor and Liberal candidates for Balcatta faced off in a lively CCI-sponsored debate at the Stirling Business Centre, clashing over dozens of issues that are getting under the skin of voters in the key northern seat.
It was the second of three candidate forums hosted by CCI and Community News in the lead up to Saturday’s election.
Plenty of audience questions tested the mettle of Balcatta incumbent Chris Hatton and Labor candidate David Michael on issues such as the partial Western Power sale, red tape, council planning delays, land and payroll tax, traffic congestion, business incentives, infrastructure, contractor payment terms and job creation.
Asked how the Liberals would cut red tape, Hatton said development applications before local councils had become a “headache” for his constituents.
“All we hear is how difficult it is to get serviced by councils with their red tape,” he said.
He said the Liberals – via the WA Planning Commission – developed the urban infill program.
“We are committed to urban infill and reducing red tape, but councils have to come on board.”
WA Labor, in contrast, would launch a Lead Reform Agency, to improve the efficiency of agencies with key performance indicators for government executives, Michael said.
A councillor at the City of Stirling for the last 11 years, Michael agreed that local government was “not perfect”, but a reform process was underway at Stirling with an online lodgement and tracking program for planning approvals.
Labor would also launch an “overdue” review of the Local Government Act to help drive a more “standardised approach” for regulations and planning processes.
The candidates were also asked if they’d favour giving Australian businesses preferential treatment in project tenders.
Mr Hatton said the State Government’s role was to generate a favourable business environment, rather than getting involved in “telling small business what to do”.
He pointed to the success of Austal winning some big shipbuilding contracts as an example of how WA companies could compete effectively in big tenders.
Michael, however, said quite a few businesses were struggling to win government contracts, which was “a bit silly” in the current stage of the economic cycle.
“Labor will make sure all government projects have an opportunity for SMEs to tender on an even playing field,” he said.
Asked whether payroll tax was an inhibitor to job creation, Michael agreed that both payroll and land tax were a “terrible” burden for SMEs.
He noted the Liberal National State Government’s recent move to cut payroll taxes by lifting revenue thresholds, but criticised it as “too little, too late”.
Because of the State’s “very bad” financial situation, Michael would not commit to easing payroll tax but said it was something that should be under “continual review” by any government.
Hatton agreed that payroll tax, land tax and stamp duty were “not good”, but were essential to provide for WA’s health, education, infrastructure, law and order, infrastructure, mental health and disability.
“They provide the pot of gold for taxpayers to make this wonderful place we live in the place it is,” he said.