Lucinda Garbutt-Young reporting for the Newcastle Herald
Updated September 20, 2023 – 10:41am, first published September 19, 2023 – 6:22pm
Treasurer Daniel Mookhey’s debut budget prioritises essential services, while slashing funding for past government projects in Labor’s first NSW state budget in over a decade.
THE “sharp elbows” of Hunter MPs have previously drawn comment from NSW Premier Chris Minns, but a range of Hunter stakeholders say they have delivered a muted result in the Labor state government’s first budget.
Dave Layzell, who is one of only two non-government Hunter MPs, described the budget as a “slash and burn.”
“This is the start of the bushfire season and it starts right here in Macquarie Street,” Mr Layzell said. “This is all about moving money into Western Sydney and into the public sector to appease the unions.”
Lake Macquarie mayor Kay Fraser said she “understood the need” for cost-cutting to reach “some sort of surplus”, but she will be hoping for more funding in next year’s NSW budget.
Others felt funding for the Hunter did not hold up in key areas of housing and mining.
The government said it will address a state-wide lack of housing supply, and social and affordable housing, but funding falls short of what many hoped for.
The budget says $610.1 million from the federal government under the Social Housing Accelerator Agreement will “deliver a permanent increase” of about 1500 social housing dwellings over the next five years in partnership with community housing providers.
Property Council of Australia’s Hunter director, Anita Hugo, said the budget had not adequately addressed “severe” housing shortages. She felt market prices and rental strain would continue to skyrocket as a result.
“It is an issue across the state but when we look at the Hunter, housing is really critically needed,” Ms Hugo said.
“The Hunter used to have an advantage over bigger cities like Sydney and now we’re experiencing the same issues.”
The Property Council has been calling for $500 million Hunter Infrastructure Fund for about two years.
A regional infrastructure fund is included in the budget, of which the Hunter will get a slice, but it is unclear how much money will go to the area.
And Ms Hugo said continued reluctance from the government to clarify Newcastle as a regional or metro area worsened the strain.
“We can not continue to be put in a position where we have to fight for funding against places like Sydney,” she said.
The massive Hunter Park redevelopment – which would include a social housing supply – was not mentioned in the budget.
Committee for the Hunter president Alice Thompson said local MPs may be “ducking for cover” after major Hunter projects were “pulled” from the agenda.
“This includes Hunter Park where the business case for a new entertainment and conference centre has been completed and presents the obvious, shovel ready first stage of development,” Ms Thompson said.
Finance Minister Courtney Houssos and Treasurer Daniel Mookhey. Picture by AAP
Ms Hugo said it was disappointing Hunter Park had not been addressed.
“It has potential to be a fantastic mixed-use precinct, so it would have been great to see some funding,” she said.
Roads and infrastructure
There was some spending for Hunter roads allocated, including $355 million for the M1 across 2023-24 and $110 million for the Inner City Bypass.
Cr Fraser was pleased to see an additional $4.8 million for the Mandalong Road upgrade across both state and federal funding this year, which she said would “unlock” more transport and housing options.
The funding comes after the government promised $6 million ahead of the state election in March to the Speers Point roundabout.
“I think the Hunter is a powerhouse for NSW,” Cr Fraser said. “So these investments are [important].”