The NSW budget, announced yesterday, promises a reinjection of cash into the state’s regional areas but, as is always the case with such announcements, it is difficult to see what is new money and what is recycled spin.
High on the list is health, with the government promising $400 million to continue funding to upgrade regional hospitals including $8.9 million to start the $80.3 million Lismore Hospital Stage 3A redevelopment.
But the sod has already been turned on the Stage 3A development and the money announced at least twice before.
In fairness, a new Community Health Centre for Yamba has also been funded, with $2.5 million earmarked for that project.
Another case in point is the Pacific Highway, the site of notorious argy bargy between the federal and state governments over the ratio of funding.
Yesterday the state announced nearly $1 billion to continue duplication of the Pacific Highway but this includes construction of the Tintenbar to Ewingsdale section, which is already underway.
Ballina will be the beneficiary of a new fire station, despite some local consternation as to the exact location of it, thanks to a share in a $12.5 million line item towards fire stations around the state.
And the controversy over the siting of the Tweed Byron LAC police centre also looks set to continue, as it was included in $22 million earmarked to commence and continue construction on new stations around the region.
Kingscliff TAFE will be one of the beneficiaries from $66 million set aside for capital works in educational institutions.
‘A real funding cut’
The opposition has painted the budget as one of cuts and broken promises.
According to opposition leader John Robertson, hospital spending has been given a real funding cut – with spending $616 million below what is required just to keep up with growing demand in our hospitals (only 3.4 per cent versus the seven per cent growth the AMA demanded).
Compared to infrastructure spending set out in last year’s budget, spending on major projects has fallen by $2.1 billion or 4.5 per cent, he says.
‘NSW families and businesses will bear the brunt of this budget, which slashes resources to our hospitals, frontline services and cuts infrastructure spending despite rising revenues,’ Mr Robertson said in a media release yesterday.
‘We have record revenue, taxes and debt… but congestion is worse, hospital waiting lists continue to grow, public transport is going backwards, TAFE has been decimated and jobs slashed.’
The Greens’ family and community services spokesperson, Jan Barham, said the budget had fallen short on funding to address the risks of abuse, neglect and homelessness.
‘Although funding to homelessness services will continue for another year under a transitional National Partnership Agreement, the long-term solution is to deliver more options for people to access social and affordable housing. The announcement of several initiatives, each of which will deliver only a few hundred dwellings, won’t do enough to help the tens of thousands of people on the waiting list for social housing,’ Ms Barham said.
‘Government must work to reduce the harm and hardship experienced by our society’s most vulnerable. Keeping families safe and together, and ensuring they have a stable home, are fundamental aims that needed more investment than this budget delivered.’
Local welfare groups have also been critical of the budget’s provisions for the region’s most needy.
Tony Davies, CEO of the Northern Region Social Development Council, said he was disappointed that despite $388 million promised for rural and regional bus services nothing was being done to address the lack of public transport on the north coast.
‘There’s money for the Pacific Highway, that’s good but… we haven’t really seen enough investment in growing regional public transport services,’ he told ABC North Coast this morning.
Local government minister Don Page took the opportunity to reannounce the remaining $31.5 million in Local Infrastructure Renewal Scheme loan subsidies to help tackle their infrastructure backlogs.
Money is already flowing under the scheme to Ballina council to embark on constructing a new runway overlay for the Ballina-Byron Gateway Airport for a project total of $7.3 million. LIRS will contribute $1.6 million to pay off the loan taken out to undertake the work, he said as an example.
Other projects aimed at the regions (but not necessarily ours) include:
- $192 million to employ additional police;
- $30 million to Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs) for programs that underpin biodiversity and sustainable, productive agriculture via community-driven projects;
- $14.9 million for infrastructure maintenance at regional harbours which cater for the commercial fishing industry, tourism and recreational boating under the Coastal Infrastructure Program;
- $72 million to support road freight safety and productivity including Bridges for the Bush (however much of this is earmarked for the Aberdeen Bridge over Hunter River);
- $120 million over two phases to support economic and social infrastructure projects in mining affected communities through the Resources for Regions program.