Arguably three of NSW’s biggest issues – climate change, waste and housing affordability – have been left behind in a big-spending budget focused on shoring up support for next year’s state election.
A budget surplus of $3.9 billion is projected for 2017-18, with average surpluses of $1.6 billion expected over the four years to 2021-22.
“This year’s budget delivers the benefits of our strong financial management to the people of NSW,” NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
“We are easing the pressure on families today, and building the schools, hospitals and transport connections to support communities into the future.”
Among initiatives announced is more funding for schools, extending support for preschool education to three year olds, registration rebates for toll-road users and a $3 billion sovereign wealth fund with half of returns to go to community projects for up to $200,000 that add value to neighbourhoods.
The government says infrastructure funding is reaching record investment with an $87.2 billion pipeline over the forward estimates.
“Strong fiscal management and our asset recycling plan have made it possible to restore our infrastructure to world class standards,” state treasurer Dominic Perrottet said.
Among this funding is $3 billion for the Sydney to Parramatta Metro West project, $8 billion for health infrastructure, $6 billion for new and upgraded schools, $500 million to put airconditioning in school buildings, $1.8 billion to continue the development and delivery of WestConnex, and an $880 million investment in technology improvements to modernise the Sydney Trains network.
Environment got a few wins, with a $1.9 billion spend that includes $632.3 million for national parks and public parklands, $89.4 million for the Biodiversity Conservation Trust and $196 million to the Environmental Protection Authority to protect the health of the environment, reduce waste and strengthen recycling.
However, Local Government NSW said the budget was a “wasted opportunity” to deal with China’s National Sword policy, which bans certain wastes from foreign countries. It said the government had revised revenue from waste levies in 2017-18 up $162 million to $727 million, yet “has elected not to reinvest in addressing NSW’s immediate waste and resource recovery challenges”.
“This is disappointing… LGNSW will continue to push the NSW Government to dedicate more of the waste levy to the cause for which it was collected – namely the safe, environmental disposal of waste.”
Climate change fared no better. Just $68 million of the $211 million the government earmarked to be spent on climate initiatives in 2017-18 through the Climate Change Fund was spent. The projected spend from the fund in 2018-19 is $102.1 million, out of what was designed to be a five-year $1.4 billion program.
Affordable rental housing was another area largely left untouched, aside from a promise to investigate build-to-rent models and $33.1 million over four years in new funding for the Aboriginal Social Housing Strategy. There was also $31 million over 10 years for low interest loans to councils to invest in infrastructure to address housing affordability.
Housing advocates had been hopeful for a third round of funding to be announced for the Social and Affordable Housing Fund as well as extension of stamp duty concessions for low-cost housing.
The budget did, however, point out that the number of first home buyers had increased 3.5 times since the same time last year.
In his budget speech, treasurer Dominic Perrottet said the housing market had cooled “more quickly than previously forecast” over the past year.
Property lobbies were quick to point out that the budget didn’t address the cooling market in terms of ensuring supply.
“Clearly the supply of housing is slowing down and we would have expected some actions in the budget to ensure a continuous supply of much needed housing,” Urban Taskforce chief executive Chris Johnson said.
The Property Council’s deputy executive director Cheryl Thomas said it was a “notable absence” not to address housing supply.
“There is nothing in today’s budget to bolster the achievement of the Premier’s objective to see 61,000 houses built annually in NSW to 2021. It is a major challenge to achieve these numbers and requires continued support.”
She said the government needed to reform stamp duty lest the economy be held “ransom by the cycles of the property market”.
- Read the budget papers