The West

Hundreds of thousands of West Australians with a disability will benefit from an unprecedented commitment to welfare services in today's State Budget, with the Barnett Government to reveal a $600 million boost to social services.

Colin Barnett said the big increase, which will see not-for-profit welfare agencies given an "up-front and significant payment" on July 1 and hundreds of millions over the next three years, was the centrepiece of the Budget. The Premier said hundreds of non-government organisations, such as Activ Foundation, Rocky Bay, Anglicare and the YMCA, would be given the cash in order to raise the standard of their services by employing more and better qualified staff.

"In our first two Budgets it has mainly been about the economy," Mr Barnett said.

"This one is much different and I think quite a dramatic Budget.

"Its focus is very heavily on social policy. The major feature of the Budget, and this is unprecedented certainly in the State's history, and probably nationally, is we are committing an additional $600 million to that sector.

"There is nothing of anywhere near that scale in the State's history."

And in a move that sets the Government up for an income windfall but a fight with big miners and the Federal Government, the Budget will confirm the end to the concession on iron ore fines.

Ending the iron ore fines will reap the Government at least $1 billion in revenue from miners over the forward estimates.

While it will line the pockets of the State Treasury, it will pose problems for Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan who is in Perth this morning.

Under the mineral resource rent tax, Canberra has committed to covering the extra impost faced by miners for State royalty increases.

Charities and not-for-profit groups involved in a range of services, such as disability support, mental health, crisis accommodation and youth counselling, would share in a windfall, which Mr Barnett stressed would be over and above the hundreds of millions in Government payments which the sector already received each year.

"There are 400,000 people in Western Australia who would use the services, to a greater or lesser extent, of these organisations," he said. "Of those, there are around 116,000 who have a profound disability or multiple disabilities."

The Government would also reform the non-government sector to cut red tape to stop situations where smaller organisations lost up to 30 per cent of their grant money in accountability measures.

The WA Council of Social Service used its Budget submission to alert the Government to the disparity between wages in the not-for-profit sector and the public service.

WACOSS estimated a funding boost of about $220 million would be needed to bring workers in their sector in line with the equivalent public servant.

The West Australian

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