The West

Uncertainty surrounding five of WA's highest-profile future resource and agricultural projects has flowed into Government coffers, with the Department of State Development underspending its related budget by $143 million.

Often used by Premier Colin Barnett as proof of his administration's big project credentials, the Government said delays at five key developments, including Woodside's $40 billion Browse LNG venture near Broome meant the department's workload, and thus spending, was lighter than expected.

Yesterday's annual report on State finances said the surplus of $143 million included $4 million in deferred costs for financial due diligence advisory services on the $6 billion Oakajee project, which will be largely funded by the private sector.

Other delays included at the $500 million Ord River irrigation expansion, the Ashburton North industrial estate near Onslow and the $4 billion Anketell port near Karratha.

Volatile iron ore prices and rising costs are blamed by analysts for undermining the business case of the major resource projects, and the Government itself says it does not expect to pay any of its $339 million share of Oakajee's building costs until at least 2017.

The Ord River expansion, which is also being supported by the Federal Government, is proceeding, but is expected to take two years longer than initially planned amid general cost increases and a change in scope to allow for future growth of crops in the region. Treasurer Troy Buswell said it was normal for there to be swings in spending on infrastructure projects.

"Every year we generally have an underspend in capital," he said.

"I think we sometimes go in a bit too bold in terms of our anticipations for a whole range of reasons."

Opposition spokesman Bill Johnston said Mr Barnett had spent the past four years talking about Oakajee but had failed to get it built. He also said that the Premier's intervention in the Browse LNG project, amid protests by environmentalists, had been counterproductive.

In the Government's defence, Mr Barnett has said in the past that it had done all it could to assist companies and their projects, but that ultimately it was an economic decision outside the State's control. He has also criticised Labor for its slow pace of approvals over gas projects including Ichthys.

The West Australian

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