Big spending NSW budget skips the Hunter

At his budget press conference on Tuesday, Treasurer Dominic Perrottet was asked whether the days of asset recycling –read: privatisations – were over now that the government had completed the sale of its electricity network businesses.
Nanjing Night Net

The implication behind the question seemed to be; after raising some $29.8 billion through privatisation, surely there’s not much left to sell, and when it’s all gonewhat will the government prop up its revenue base with?

Mr Perrottet’s answer was essentially that they’re not done yet.

The government still plans to sell its $16.8 billion Westconnexmotorway project, and it’s currently in talks with the Commonwealth about the so-called Snowy Hydro 2.0 scheme.

Mr Perrottet called asset recycling the “secret sauce”of the state’s strong budgetary position.

Since coming to power in 2011 the government has used privatisation – like the $1.5 billion lease of the Newcastle Port – as a base on which to fund its ambitious infrastructure budget.

But the question of how long it can keep going for is an interesting one.

With stamp duties expected to begin falling in coming years, debt from infrastructure rising, and GST receipts about to fall off a cliff, the government certainly has a revenue problem.

Mr Perrottet says the government’sdealing with it by controlling expenditure growth through wage caps and efficiency dividends –read: budget cuts –in the public service.

But in the Hunterthe prospect of more difficult days ahead raises an important question: have we already seen the best of what’s to come?

In 2014 when the government was in the process of privatising the Port of Newcastle for $1.5 billion, the Hunter was briefly at the centre of the state’s politics.

Since then, following the commitment to build a 2.7 kilometre light rail track down Hunter Street, we’re often told how lucky we are that the government is investing half a billion dollars into the region.

But after another budget in which Sydney infrastructure projects were the overwhelming centrepiece, it’s fair to ask whether we’re getting our fair share. And when the most significant funding announcement is a $1.7 million business case for a project that has been on the government’s radar for years, that question becomes all the more stark.

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