In recent weeks, northern rivers communities have been tantalised by the state government with the promise of a new greenfield hospital for Tweed Heads and an additional primary school in the region, amongst other goodies.
But when it came to setting out those promises in the ledger of yesterday’s state budget, there was little to see.
Just $2.5 million was set aside against the cost of starting planning on the $.5 billion Tweed Hospital, which is not scheduled for completion until 2025.
That prompted shadow health spokesperson Walt Secord to describe last week’s hospital announcement as ‘a cruel hoax’.
‘The Liberals and Nationals are spending more on a tunnel for Sydney’s northern beaches than they are spending in this year’s budget on hospital upgrades,’ Mr Secord said.
‘This is a cruel and mean hoax on the doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and patients who expected a detailed announcement on Tweed Hospital,’ he added.
Lismore Base Hospital will receive further funding for the already commenced Stages 3a & 3b, with some $27 million this financial year to continue the redevelopment plus $5 million towards the $52 million Stage 3c, which includes a new intensive care unit, according to Lismore MP Thomas George (Nationals).
Mr George also said in a media release yesterday that additional funding for the Life Saver Rescue Helicopter (figure not mentioned) would see the service now operate around the clock.
‘Our helicopter and medical team do much more than just rescue and retrieval,’ Mr George said.
‘It takes critical care, intensive care, to the patient, wherever they are, and the medical team can deliver that care mid-air on the way to hospital,’ he added.
The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) has expressed disappointment in the NSW Government for failing to expand nurse-to-patient ratios.
Acting General Secretary Judith Kiejda said that with a $4.5 billion budget surplus, the NSW Government was ‘being irresponsible’ for not addressing workload issues in public hospitals.
‘When is this government going to listen to the frontline nurses and midwives in our public hospitals and provide them with the support they need to do their daily jobs?’Ms Kiejda asked.
No money was set aside at all for the new Tweed primary school promised just days ago, indeed a potential site has not yet even been identified.
Mr George said that, ‘Funds have been allocated to develop and improve the educational offering for local high school students in Lismore and Murwillumbah,’ but no mention was made of what that might be.
Nor was any figure mentioned, apart from trumpeting that, ‘The project [is] part of the NSW Government’s record commitment to education across the state, which will see a record $4.2 billion invested into new and existing school projects over the next four years.’
Ironically it was left to Greens MP Tamara Smith to explain the nature of the funding, adding that it would extend to Lennox Head and Byron Bay public schools.
‘The funding aims to provide 1,500 new classrooms and 32,000 student places. More than 120 schools will be built or upgraded, including upgrades to Lennox Head Public School and to Byron Bay Public School,’ Ms Smith said in a media release.
‘The budget funding includes money for finally upgrading Byron Bay Public School, an issue that the Greens and I campaigned on and which is badly needed by the Byron Bay community,’ she added.
Opposition skills spopkesperson Prue Car attacked ‘the decimation of TAFE under the Liberal-National Government’ predicting ‘more cuts, sackings and the increased likelihood of asset sales.’
‘This Budget was an opportunity to reverse the damage that has been done to TAFE but instead Gladys Berejiklian has just made a bad situation worse,’ she said.
The National Parks Association of NSW (NPA) is calling on Environment Minister, Gabrielle Upton to resign after the budget surplus provided no new funding for the environment.
NPA CEO Kevin Evans said: ‘Yesterday, Minister Upton and Treasurer Perrottet triumphantly announced a miserly $800,000 from the budget to fit radio collars on koalas.
‘That’s little more than an expensive insult. The Australian Koala Foundation estimate that koalas alone are worth $3.2 billion to the Australian economy every year and support 30,000 jobs.
‘NSW has fallen well behind in achieving its international commitments to biodiversity protection,’ he said.
Charity St Vincent de Paul meanwhile described the budget as a ‘black hole’ for affordable housing.
Vinnies CEO Jack de Groot said, ‘On the first day of her premiership Gladys Berejiklian announced her commitment to combatting the housing crisis, saying it was the biggest issue facing us as a state. Today, other than relief for some first time buyers, there is nothing on the ledger for those people who are paying up to 70 per cent of their income on rent and who face homelessness.
‘The government’s own estimates tell us we need an additional 25,000 social housing properties over 10 years to simply maintain the level of social housing – investment this year and each year is essential.
‘With energy prices soaring by 20 per cent we are going to see many more people facing housing stress, where a tenant spends over 30 per cent of their income on accommodation.
‘The further sale of public assets, including the electricity network infrastructure and windfall from land taxes, has generated billions in revenue, but the government is doing little to help people pay their ballooning power bills and housing need. This is where our budget surplus must go,’ Mr de Groot said.
NSW Council of Social Service (NCOSS) called the budget ‘a missed opportunity to invest in people and stop the growing number of people and families reaching crisis point.’
NCOSS CEO, Tracy Howe, said much of this year’s budget was ‘business as usual and considering the billions of dollars in surplus, the peak body was hoping to see significantly more investment in communities rather than physical infrastructure of roads and buildings.’
‘Our latest Cost of Living report shows that too many people are having their health, wellbeing and financial stability compromised as they struggle to pay their energy bills, and our current rebates are inadequate to the task of supporting all households’ access to essential services,’ Ms Howe said.
‘The Budget highlights a $4.3 billion housing affordability package with key measures aimed at helping people purchase a home. We also need a substantial injection of new funds to produce more housing options for people doing it tough and new measures to address rental affordability,’ she said.