NSW Treasurer Andrew Constance delivers the 2014 budget

17 June 2014 – UPDATED: What a contrast to the federal budget. Tuesday’s NSW Budget was brought down amidst a flurry of sentiment that smacked of some “kindness” and actually used phrases such as “help for those in need”.

Yes, the electricity poles and wires might be sold but there would be more than $1 billion to be spent on child protection, homelessness and disability services.

“You test the heart of a government when it comes to the treatment of the most vulnerable and those in need of support,” Treasurer Andrew Constance told Parliament.

You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief among those frightened people wondering how they would cope with the Feds’ cold-early-election-cycle tactics – so cold that they’ve shocked even their own.

Yes, the NSW Coalition goes to the polls next year, and yes this was a budget that would help smooth the path but still there were some moves that promised not to waste the bounty of the housing boom that some observers said was responsible for the largesse.

  • UPDATE: For the sustainability and climate folk there were no grand gestures in the headline announcements, but a $38 million tranche was announced for energy efficiency and renewable energy, $3 million was allocated to climate change adaptation research and $26 million to assist with preparations for potential floods and coastal erosion.

Good decisions on broader sustainability include $400 million for the first stage of the mooted Parramatta light rail network, plenty for the health sector including a massive expansion of Westmead hospital and continued commitment to a number of public transport projects.

A huge focus was on the western heartlands, considered critical to any NSW or federal election win these days, and part of that was plenty of money to shift development in the greenfields areas that have been allocated for urban sprawl for a decade or more but where there’s been not much movement. This compensates the hungry development industry for the stalled urban activation precincts program to densify existing suburbs near transport hubs.

Confidence

A big signal in the budget was the statement of confidence that came from NSW and its treasurer – a contrast to the cowering fearful sentiment that underpinned the federal budget.

“Our budget is powerfully positioned,” NSW’s Constance said.

“Net debt is down, expenses are under control, the triple-A credit rating is maintained.” The NSW economy, he said, was today:

  • growing at three times the rate of Queensland and Victoria
  • had housing approvals at the highest levels in over a decade
  • posted strong jobs growth with around 114, 000 created since 2011
  • had an infrastructure build of more than $61 billion

Yet the state was living within its means, Constance said.

The headline areas of concern included, he said:

  • Transport – “One hundred years ago our transport system was the envy of the world – today the community sees that it is failing them,” the treasurer said
  • New roads, dams and water pipelines were needed so “farmers can respond to one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century – food security. [Our emphasis; and a factor totally absent in the federal budget
  • Getting produce and minerals to our ports with ease [bad luck about the coal]
  • “Finally and most importantly, we want to give every member of our community, whether they live in the regions or in the suburbs, the opportunity in life to reach their full potential”.

There’s an understanding on cities and the cost of congestion [after the Feds abandoned the cities agenda, as if it was irrelevant to the economy and the preserve of flippant greenie concern].

“Each year a Sydney commuter, who goes to and from home, is subject to an extra 185 hours of travel time per year due to congestion. Stranded on a train platform, or sandwiched on a bus, sitting in a car on the M4, M5, M1, or on roads like Victoria, Parramatta, The Spit or the Princes Highway.

“An extra 185 hours equates to losing a full week, every year stuck in traffic. Every year, it’s costing the people of New South Wales $5 billion.”

Big ticket transport expenditures items include:

  • $863 million for the North West Rail Link
  • $103 million for South West Rail Link
  •  $265 million for the CBD South East Light Rail
  • $398 million for the 33 kilometre WestConnex motorway

Coming up are:

  • $400 million for the NorthConnex project
  • $3.9 billion for water and waste water projects to service urban development across Sydney, the Illawarra and Blue Mountain
  • funding for feasibility studies for a Northern Beaches motorway tunnel [bad luck for the Northern Beaches people who prefer the hoardes to stay away from their patch]
  • an extension of the F6 and route corridor for the M9 – North, South and West flagged.

Light rail for Parramatta

Excellent news is $400 million for stage 1 of Parramatta Light Rail in a “Restart Fund” and the relocation of 1000 public servants to Parramatta “with more to come”.

Hunter Valley

A $100 million investment was announced for the Hunter Infrastructure Fund.

Additional “Restart” funds will include:

  • $83 million for a South Western Sydney Housing Acceleration Fund
  • $177 Million for a second Clarence river crossing at Grafton
  • $325 million for Water Security for the Regions
  • $110 million for Regional Tourism Infrastructure
  • $200 million for a Regional Freight Pinch Point and Safety Program, which will target the Bells Line of Road, Golden Highway, Kings Highway and GoCup road.

First Home Buyers

From 1 July, first homebuyers will be eligible for the First Home Owners Grant on new homes worth up to $750,000, a $100,000 increase to the threshold plus $60 million allocated to local government “to deliver essential infrastructure to support new housing development”.

Foreign buyers will be excluded from the New Home Owners Grants from 1 July.

Health

Among a number of health initiatives is $1.3 billion in capital works for Health, including the rebuilding of Westmead Hospital and redevelopments of St George, Sutherland and Gosford hospitals plus a new hospital, Byron Central Hospital.

Transport

The Opal bus pass system is starting to take effect and will be extend to Light Rail next year, with additional investments to include:

  • $265 million to commence construction of the high capacity CBD South East Light Rail network
  • $103 million to finalise construction of the South West Rail Link
  •  $66 million for the upgrade of Wynyard Station.

Environment

Nothing here by way of the built environment, but commitments to “green” included:

  • $142 million to operate a modern and independent Environment Protection Authority
  • $103 million for the Environment Trust
  • $38.2 million for the Western Sydney Parklands Trust
  • $102 million for public parklands and gardens throughout the state
  • $39 million to reduce fire risk in National Parks
  • 38 million to manage pest animals and weeds in National Parks
  • $26 million to help local councils to implement coastal and floodplain management plans.

There is also an increase of $78 million over four years for the Rural Fire Service.

Reactions

Not happy was Shelter NSW, which said it was “disappointed that the State Budget for 2014-15 does not adequately address key recommendations from the performance audit of public housing by the NSW Auditor-General”, whose report was released last July.

NSW needs a “social housing boost”, executive officer Mary Perkins said.

“We acknowledge the many calls on the state’s revenues. But NSW governments cannot continue to ignore the challenges in supply of affordable rental housing.”

The Property Council was pleased. The NSW budget positioned the state for growth “built on the back of a rising housing construction market”, NSW executive director Glenn Byres said.

“Surging stamp duty revenues have given NSW the freedom to invest in new infrastructure that will improve the productivity, mobility and sustainable growth of our cities and regions.

“The Government has rightly seized the opportunity to increase its infrastructure spend – and will take another quantum leap forward when capital tied up in energy assets is recycled.”

Ai Group’s NSW Director Mark Goodsell said the budget was good for infrastructure, business costs and housing and it applauded the mooted sale of the electricity network.

Goodsell particularly noted the investment in health, water security and road upgrades.