Hunter’s budget snub

THE Berejikliangovernment is basking in the glow of $12 billion worth of budget surpluses, but the Hunter has been left in the shade.
Nanjing Night Net

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet handed down his first state budget on Tuesday, unveiling a $4.5 billion surplus driven by stamp duties from the state’s property market and income from asset sales.

The government says it’s using that income to fund some $72 billion in infrastructure across the state in the next four years, includingprojects like a $720 million to upgrade Prince of Wales Hospital at Randwick.

SLIM PICKINGS: NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet handed down a budget with few new announcements for the Hunter … it has been slammed by the region’s Labor MPs.

“We don’t run surpluses for the sake of it,”Mr Perrottet said. “We run surpluses to make NSW the best place to live, work and to raise a family.”

But despite coalroyaltiesdominated by Hunter contributions increasing by $839million across the forward estimates on last year’s budget predictions, the Hunter has mostly missed out on the cash splash.

The most significant new fundingmeasure was $1.7 millionto a business case for all stages of the Lake MacquarieInterchange –a commitment thatindependent Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper said was welcome but “didn’t go far enough”.

“Treasurer Dominic Perrottet today delivered a responsible Budget overall, but his assurances that it will ‘turbo charge the regions’will understandably be doubted by many in the Hunter,” Mr Piper said.

The government also committed$3.7 million on planning for the Rankin Park to Jesmond section of the Newcastle inner-city bypass, while the largest individual spend in the region wasthe 2.7 kilometre Newcastle light rail projectwhich received $206 million, though this was funding previously announced.

In health, the drip-feed to the new Lower Hunter hospital in Maitland continued, with $5 million contributed to the $450 million project before an expected completion date of 2024.

Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison described that as “a drop in a bucket”, and proof the government had no plans to begin construction on the hospital before 2018.

But Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald said planning work needed to be done before construction could begin.

“All these projects … the significant construction money will flow eventually over the next two years,” he said.

INSULT: Port Stephens MP says the Hunter has missed out at the expense of Sydney.

Shadow Minister for the Hunter Kate Washington though slammed the government for selling off Hunter assets and said the budget was an “insult” to the region.

NOT ENOUGH: Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper said funding for the interchange project didn’t go far enough.

“We are all bearing the burden of the sales but seeing no return,” the Port Stephens MP said.

“The needs in our community are not being met. It’s all going to Sydney.”

Mr MacDonald said Hunter residents should be pleased that they’re part of “the leading state”.

“The rest of the states [are] struggling with their finance and debt levels. It’s not very sexy, but it really constrains you in the years ahead,” he said.

But despite the rosy economic picture painted bya $4.5 billion surplus andnegative net debt, Mr Perrottet acknowledged there’s difficult days ahead for the government.

The budget papers indicate a “challenging” revenue outlook, thanks to declining receipts from the Commonwealth in the form of asset recycling funds, and falling GST receipts.

Budget surplusesare forecast to reach continue across the forward estimates, but will drop to$2.7 billion in 2017-18, $2.1 billion in 2018-19 and $1.5 billion in 2019-20.

That’s in part because NSW’s share of GST is set to fall to 25.5 per cent – or by $13.1 billion – by 2020-21.

But the government is also predicting that stamp duties will “moderate” over the forward estimates, while debt will increase from where it currently sits – at negative $7.8 billion – to $18.6 billion by 2021as the government borrows to fund its infrastructure program.

Mr Perrottet says the government iskeeping expenditure growth below its long-term revenue, at least partially through $23 billion worth of cost cuts.

The government will increase thebudget cuts imposed on government departments from 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent for three years from 2018-19, and will also keepthe 2.5 per cent cap on public servant wage increases and procurement savings.

The government anticipates savings of $23 billion over four years between 2017-18 and 2020-21.

With growth at above-trend across the forward estimates, Mr Perrottet said it was the regions outside of Sydney that were the “unsung success” of the strong budget position.

And according to the budget papers the Hunter has been at the heart of that growth.

Employment in regional NSW has grown 4.9 per cent since April 2015, and the greater Hunter – including Newcastle and Lake Macquarie – has led the way, growing by 11.2 per cent or 32,000 people employed in the same period.

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