Piper slams Government over Budget shortfall

17th November 2020

Source: Newcastle Herald | By: Matthew Kelly | Posted: November 17, 2020

Hunter MPs have blasted the lack of significant infrastructure spending in this year's state budget.

While $220 million was allocated for works at the new Maitland Hospital, precious little else received a major cash injection.

Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper said while the budget had provided a solid response to the economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, he was extremely disappointed the government continued to ignore major projects and needs in his electorate.

"Yet again we've seen $3.47million allocated towards the upgrade of Hillsborough Road. This is the same money and the same planning we've seen thrown around in every budget for the past five years, but nothing actually gets done," he said.

"Three years ago, the Transport Minister told us the long-awaited masterplan for Hillsborough Road would be released by Christmas. That was three Christmases ago.

"What is the Newcastle regional office of Transport for NSW actually doing? Every year that goes by, this project gets more expensive and seemingly no closer."

It was a scenario that was repeated across the region. The Fassifern to Hexham freight rail bypass, which would significantly ease chronic congestion at the Adamstown and Clyde St, Islington gates, is no closer to becoming a reality.

The $13million previously announced for planning and preservation has once again been rolled over.

Newcastle MP Tim Crakanhorp said the budget represented a missed opportunity to deliver jobs in the state's second-largest city.

"The John Hunter Health and Innovation Precinct remains largely unfunded and despite being in a global pandemic this project hasn't been fast-tracked," Mr Crakanthorp said.

"Yet again we've seen no funding allocated to the long-announced Hunter Sports and Entertainment Precinct (Hunter Park) or Newcastle Education Precinct."

The education precinct appears in the infrastructure statement under the heading of 'advanced planning and assurance review'.

No further information was provided. While the restoration of the Victoria Theatre and the redevelopment of the Newcastle Art Gallery missed out on funding, the government has created a $100 million arts maintenance and upgrade fund.

"I will certainly be advocating that Newcastle receives its fair share from the fund for our local cultural infrastructure," Mr Crakanthorp said.

Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison said the lack of progress on school upgrades in her electorate was appalling.

"There is no commitment for upgrades to the ageing high schools in the area, which have some of the highest numbers of demountable in the Hunter," she said.

"Ashtonfield School gets only $3.7million in this year but there is no start or completion date, and there is no estimated budgeted cost for the project.

"There is also no commitment for Gillieston Public School, which still only has two permanent learning spaces."

Port Stephens MP Kate Washington had similar concerns about education projects in her electorate.

"Instead of a new public high school in Medowie, we're getting a walkway to the new Catholic high school - which is positive, but it demonstrates that there's still a long road ahead of us before Medowie gets its much-needed public high school," she said.

Ms Washington said many of the electorate's major infrastructure projects remained stuck in the planning stage.

"For the sixth year in a row, the Nelson Bay Road duplication has been delayed yet again," she said.

Hunter Business Chamber chief executive Bob Hawes said while some budget allocations were less than what was hoped for, the amounts reflected the planning stages that the respective projects were at.

"There may also be opportunity to derive additional project funding from increased allocations made to the Regional Growth Fund, the Regional Job Creation Fund and the $600 million for Special Activation Precincts, of which Williamtown is one," he said.

"Unfortunately, some key projects have missed out, including Hunter Park and the Newcastle Airport upgrade, but we will continue to work towards securing support for those."

Mr Hawes said the chamber was pleased to see measures that would support business to lead the state into the next phase of economic recovery.

These included $2.4 billion worth of cuts to payroll tax. The payroll tax threshold will be increased to $1.2 million, the rate lowered from 5.45 to 4.85 per cent, and exemptions for businesses that create more than 30 jobs. 

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