Media: By Michael Parris October 27 2022
One Hunter community advocate described Tuesday’s federal budget as “fantastic” for the region, given none of the new Labor government’s election promises have ended up on the cutting-room floor.
Indeed, money has been earmarked for some important infrastructure in the Hunter, including the airport, clean energy exports and roads.
But the region’s business, political and community leaders will be keeping an eye on the timing of the spending.
Finance Minister Katy Gallagher claims to have made $22 billion in savings by cutting wasteful programs and projects and delaying $6.5 billion in infrastructure spending.
It is the latter savings target which should give the region pause for thought.
After all, the Muswellbrook and Singleton bypasses have been in planning stages for years and rolled out as election promises more than once at state and federal level.
One of the most important infrastructure projects in the Hunter, the M1 Motorway extension from Black Hill to Raymond Terrace, is another with a long shelf life.
The federal and state governments are funding the 15-kilometre road jointly. The project also includes widening the Hexham Straight bottleneck.
Infrastructure Australia assessed the combined project last year and found: “We are confident that, if the proposals are delivered within the estimated costs, the benefits of both proposals are likely to outweigh their costs, both individually and as a program.”
The NSW government’s business case says the projects will stack up even with a 20 per cent cost blowout and 20 per cent reduction in benefits.
The project has a nominal finishing date of 2028. Transport for NSW has closed tenders for the design and construction contracts for the M1 part of the project.
The Newcastle Herald has been told the feds are keen to get the ball rolling sooner rather than later on the extension, but the state government has a longer time line in mind for the project.
This could just be politics, but, either way, commuters, businesses, freight operators and thousands of holidaymakers will not want to see the extension kicked down the road.
Advocates such as Committee for the Hunter boss Alice Thompson argue governments get tremendous “bang for their buck” in a highly productive region where public investment can help boost the local, state and national economy.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers has foreshadowed some tough decisions in coming years for the government to reign in deficits and meet the challenges of a global economic downturn.
His first budget is more about honouring Labor’s election promises than addressing these challenges.
The hardest calls, including whether to scrap promised tax cuts, are to come.