WA Treasury has defended a series of dividend raids that the Opposition slammed as Budget trickery designed to prop up the Government's gossamer-thin $140 million surplus in 2012-13.
The latest in the special one-off measures revealed in the Mid Year Review is to force the Water Corporation to lift its interim dividend payment to 98 per cent (from 93 per cent) of its expected total dividend payment. The utility is required to pay 85 per cent of its after-tax profit to Government, made up of an interim and final dividend.
Last year the Water Corporation paid $396.6 million in dividends to Government in two instalments: a $363.6 million interim dividend and a lagged $33 million "final" dividend from the previous financial year once accounts were reconciled. The utility will now have to make a bigger interim dividend payment.
This will have the effect of boosting WA Government coffers by at least $10 million in 2012-13, helping to protect its shrinking surplus, but producing an offsetting reduction in future years.
Deputy Under Treasurer Michael Barnes said the Water Corporation's overall dividend had not changed and defended the move.
"The increase in the interim dividend in 2012-13 simply results in a bring-forward of more of the actual final dividend from post-30 June 2013 to pre-30 June 2013," he said.
However, shadow finance minister Ken Travers said the changes should have been in the main May Budget, rather than on the run in December. "The Mid Year Review is about the Barnett Government being desperate to create the illusion of a surplus when they are heading for a deficit," he said.
He said it added to the $62 million raid on LandCorp, unusual changes to iron ore forecasts, and a move to extend the depreciation life of schools by 10 years as ways to engineer the surplus; measures which were ultimately unsustainable.