Newcastle Herald: By Michael Parris October 25 2022
The Committee for the Hunter says the government gets more “bang for its buck” in the region and should keep money flowing to key projects in Tuesday’s budget.
The government has said its “rorts and waste audit” will deliver $21 billion in savings, $2 billion of which will come from discretionary grant funds set up by the Coalition and $6.5 billion by delaying infrastructure projects.
Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce secured a $7.1 billion Energy Security and Regional Development Plan (ESDRP) last year in return for the Nationals supporting net-zero targets.
The Hunter is due $750 million from the fund, including $268 million for Muswellbrook bypass and $100 million for preparing the port for hydrogen exports.
Labor has not specifically named the Joyce plan among its targets, but Finance Minister Katy Gallagher said on Monday that the former regime had “used taxpayers’ money to cynically buy votes before elections by politicising grants funds and used the budget to land political deals with the Nationals”.
Shortland Labor MP Pat Conroy said on Monday that he would not pre-empt the budget but said the “rorts and waste” audit “doesn’t necessarily mean we will not proceed with” all the grants programs under review.
“Decisions will be announced in the budget,” he said.
Committee for the Hunter chief executive Alice Thompson called on the government to retain the $382 million balance of the region’s ESDRP allocation “to expand export capabilities and clean energy industries”.
“When budgets are tight, it is more important than ever to get bang for buck,” the former federal government infrastructure adviser said.
“Every public dollar invested in the Hunter will grow more jobs and industry and move Australia closer to the clean economy arguably cheaper, quicker and bigger than anywhere in the nation, because our assets give us a head start.”
Labor has vowed to honour its election promises in the budget, including $55 million for Newcastle Airport terminal, $56 million for Mandalong Road at Morisset, the hydrogen hub and $82 million for two hydrogen production projects.
The government also has committed $500 million to start preparing for high-speed rail between Newcastle and Sydney, $16 million for a clean-energy research centre at University of Newcastle and restored funding for Hunter GP Access.
On Monday, Labor announced it would fund an extra 967 teaching, nursing and engineering student places at University of Newcastle.
Business Hunter said the government must continue funding projects announced in previous budgets.
“The government has positioned high inflation as the primary influence on this budget, so we’re not expecting to see major new infrastructure programs,” chief executive Bob Hawes said.
“However, we do hope to see a continuation of focus and support for key infrastructure projects committed in previous budgets, including the M1 extension to Raymond Terrace, the Singleton and Muswellbrook bypasses, Newcastle Inner City bypass, runway works at Newcastle Airport and, crucially, commitments to a range of new energy economy initiatives.”
The Hunter’s rising population was placing increasing pressure on infrastructure.
“Attention to these areas is crucial if we are to realise the growth ambitions of the region and its communities. It’s important these projects are time-banded so we have certainty of their delivery.”
Mr Hawes said the budget should also address employers’ “immense anguish” over labour shortages.
“The skills priority list released this month offers sobering insight, with one third of Australia’s occupations facing critical shortages and our worst labour market conditions since the 1970s.
“The list details 286 occupations facing shortages, including child carers, construction, retail, mechanics, chefs and electricians.”
“We hope to see continued momentum on commitments that seek to fully engage the workforce, including cheaper childcare, fee-free training, apprenticeship and traineeship wage subsidies, visa processing and the permanent migration cap.”