Back in Black was Australian rock band AC/DC’s seventh studio album.
But it is has taken just three budgets for WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt to also be back in black – a forecast string of five budget surpluses at least two years ahead of schedule.
Surging iron ore prices and unprecedented GST receipts, thanks to a new commonwealth deal agreed to by the Federal Parliament last year - and a tightening of the government purse strings - have been significant factors in Wyatt’s new “hit single”.
Wyatt and the McGowan Labor Government must be applauded for the first budget surplus in five years.
Yes: WA is back in the black. Or as McGowan declared today: WA is back on track.
That’s the good news.
The bad news?
The size of state debt remains huge. This is the elephant in the room – and the size of the elephant is significant.
As I have said repeatedly, for the McGowan administration to be seen as successful, state debt must be significantly reduced – significantly, not just tweaked.
When WA Labor was swept into power in March, 2017, state debt was $32 billion for the 2016-17 financial year, although the Liberal-National budget forecasts had state debt spiralling towards $40 billion in 2019-20.
Under this government, state debt is now forecast at $36 billion for 2018-19, nearly $37 billion next year and lowering to $35 billion in 2022-23.
Clearly, those figures are better than the ones projected under the Colin Barnett-led government.
But these aren’t small figures.
In other words, there is still plenty of big debt facing WA.
Wyatt has always said that in order to lower state debt, the budget needed to be inked in black ink, rather than red.
With that achieved, lowering state debt must now be a priority for the McGowan administration going forwards.
It cannot claim to have been a successful administration without lowering state debt to at least a reasonable amount.
What is reasonable debt?
Wyatt refused to be drawn on a figure when pressed by me at today’s budget lock up.
Former Liberal Premier Colin Barnett at one staged reckoned $20 billion was an acceptable figure for state debt but by the time he left office, that target was well and truly shot.
History will show that Barnett liked to build things.
But he wasn’t so good with figures.
A few months after Barnett won the 2013 State Election, WA lost its AAA credit rating.
In one of the great ironies of WA politics today, it is Labor – and not the Liberals – who are at pains to be seen as great economic managers.
Wyatt and McGowan are almost paranoid about being easy with the cheque book.
But like Barnett, they have to build things – particularly when employment is high and confidence in the WA economy is still low.
And this will be a great challenge for this administration going forwards.
It is going to be a delicate and tricky balancing act for the McGowan Government – paying down state debt while delivering on key election promises, like the thus far $4 billion plus Metronet project.
But what about beyond then?
Today, Wyatt, for example, said that operating costs had not been accounted for in the projected Metronet expenditures.
As he pointed out, the government subsidises WA’s transport system.
And of course, managing the expectations of struggling West Australians who have been shaking all night long due to power increases of more than 100pc since 2008 will be tough.
Today’s budget is good news for families in that household fees and charges have been kept to 13-year-lows.
Power hikes, for example, are at the rate of inflation – 1.75 per cent.
But you still need to keep in mind that over the last decade, electricity bills have gone up by more than 100 per cent – just over 20 per cent since McGowan won government in 2017.
Today’s hikes will still hurt.
The Economic Regulation Authority just last month released a damming report, which said the rate of residential disconnections in WA had more than doubled over the past two years.
McGowan has one more budget before he goes to the polls to defend his premiership.
Expect the chocolate biscuits to be handed out more freely next year – but not like the Barnett years, when chocolate biscuits were covered in extra cream and sprinkles.
It’s a long way to the top, if Wyatt and McGowan want to rock and roll.
But the fall will be swift and painful, if they don’t get state debt right – and appease angry and struggling West Australians.