Budgeting for our future - Newcastle Herald Opinion Article

A GOVERNMENT’S budget sets out its agenda and its priorities. It is clear from the NSW government’s budget that Mike Baird’s interest in the Hunter is temporary, and doesn’t extend beyond the Newcastle CBD.

After reading the budget I was concerned to see the Baird government has removed $400million reserved for Newcastle urban renewal, transferring it to fund train carriages predominantly to be used in Sydney.

When funds are reserved in the budget it means they are committed to that project and cannot be spent on anything else. If the Baird government is committed to delivering urban renewal in Newcastle, why spend the funds on something else? 

As funding for transport projects in Sydney increases by hundreds of millions of dollars, I am deeply concerned that money to be spent in the Hunter has disappeared into the Sydney pot.

However the Treasurer (previously the minister for the Hunter when this  government still had one) says to trust her – money will be found somewhere to deliver Newcastle urban renewal.

The difficulty is that this budget is built on unstable revenue. Stamp duty windfalls have flowed into Treasury and the one-off sale of assets like Newcastle port has left the government flush with cash, but less ongoing revenue and no plan to replace it. If this money is not reserved now we may never see it.

The Treasurer can fix this uncertainty by restoring the $400million in the budget.

While she’s restoring that funding, the former transport minister could also check why there is no transport infrastructure funding for Swansea or Port Stephens, and why Cessnock and Lake Macquarie have missed out on major infrastructure projects.  She should certainly check why no new funds have been tagged for the Lake Macquarie Transport Interchange at Glendale.

In Maitland, despite being promised back in 2011, plans for the new Lower Hunter hospital are at a snail’s pace. Only $10,000 has been budgeted for site planning this year and $25million reserved for future works, on a project that is expected to cost at least $400million. It begs the question of the government’s commitment to the project.

Luke Foley, Labor’s NSW parliamentary leader, made it clear in his budget reply speech that there is a better way for NSW.

In the speech, he began to outline the necessary policies our region needs.

Luke eloquently stated how Labor understands that government should defend public interest against vested interests.  

He spoke of the need to ensure that any government sale of a monopoly is regulated in the public interest.  

The recent sale of the Newcastle port, which has been poorly regulated (if at all), has resulted in charges going up 60per cent to $75,000 a vessel. Luke Foley’s concern, as is mine, is that “These cost increases damage our state’s competitiveness”. 

Labor understands that health and education are not potential budget savings but essential public services.

In contrast to the NSW government’s slashing of over 2000 teachers’ jobs from the TAFE system, Labor is proposing to invest in education and embrace the role our economy can play in the Asian century. 

The Indian government has set a target of training 500million Indians this decade. The Hunter already plays a role in educating students from overseas and our TAFE system would be well placed to accept students from around the globe to receive a world class technical education.

Labor has new ideas for the delivery of public services.

Public housing is relied upon by many in our state who have been doing it tough.  Public  housing has grown since 1912 when Jim McGowen, Labor’s first premier of NSW, established the Housing Board of NSW. Now, in NSW, we have a serious shortage of public and social housing for those in our community who are most in need.

The NSW government currently holds over 100,000 social housing properties. Luke Foley has proposed transferring 20,000 of these properties to community housing associations such as Compass Housing and other not-for-profit social housing providers. 

 Such providers will be able to leverage that housing to fund the construction of additional housing. They can lift the quality and quantity of social housing stock – and government can facilitate this through new thinking, while still taking responsibility to provideshelter for those most in need.

Unlike the Baird government which has built a budget on the sale of infrastructure and unstable income, Labor is focused on the future; focused on a sustainable economy delivering opportunity for all.

Jodie Harrison  is the Member for Charlestown and Shadow Minister for the Hunter