The NSW Coalition government has brought down a budget designed to bedazzle NSW voters ahead of the 2019 March state election.
The Coalition’s election war chest is made up of a massive surplus from increases in revenue from Commonwealth grants, rising land taxes and the proceeds from the sale of state assets — boosted by the federal government’s Asset Recycling Scheme.
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet is boasting that the state has a surplus of $3.9 billion and expected average surpluses of $1.6 billion over the next four years.
The sweets in the budget include 100,000 free apprenticeships in high-demand industries, lowering parking fines, extending early childhood education access to 3-year-olds and initiatives like the $100 Creative Kids voucher to offset the cost to families of extra-curricular activities such as music and drama.
Reacting to community opposition to the reintroduction of tolls on the M4 Western Motorway, which help to fund the WestConnex project, the government has announced a “toll relief” program for drivers paying $25 or more a week on tolls (who may also be eligible for free car registration).
Since the Opal Card system was introduced in NSW, fares on public transport have skyrocketed and the government has privatised the inner west bus services. The government has responded by limiting fare increases on Opal cards to the CPI and capping pensioner Opal Card fares at $2.50 a day.
The budget contains transfer duty relief for first home buyers, but no relief for those experiencing mortgage and rental stress and little help for those on the waiting list for housing.
Only $15 million a year has been allocated to the NSW Homelessness Strategy, which will not reduce the number of homeless people, according to organisations within the sector. More than 74,000 people sought assistance from homelessness services in 2016–17 and as of June 2016 there were 60,000 people on the social housing waiting list in NSW, according to Homelessness NSW.
Continuing its law and order agenda, millions of dollars will be made available in additional funding for police and security infrastructure, including supporting the federal government’s biometric data matching program.
The most significant spending announcements were major infrastructure projects, funded through public-private partnerships.
The NSW government’s answer to increased traffic congestion is to build more tollways and it has allocated an additional $1.8 billion for the WestConnex toll road project and the new F6 tollway to the south. As well as being shrouded in secrecy, the WestConnex project has generated sustained community protest.
Just under $1 billion will be spent rebuilding the Western Sydney and Moore Park football stadiums, providing subsidies for the big construction companies and more pump-priming of the state’s economy. Meanwhile, public infrastructure like Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo will be relocated to Parramatta and the land sold off for a short term return on the real estate market.
A NSW Productivity Commissioner has been appointed with a mandate to “bust red tape and make NSW the easiest state to do business”, which will put a smile on the faces of developers, mining corporations and other corporate interests.
Continuing its assault on the public service, however, the government has announced that NSW public sector wages are only expected to rise by an average of 3.2% over four years, compared to wages growth average of 6.3% for the seven-year period 2003-04 to 2011-12.
According to the NSW Public Sector Association’s (PSA) Troy Wright, under the NSW government’s “efficiency dividend”, cuts to departments have previously been at around 1%, increasing to 2% a couple of years ago. But in the latest budget, the “efficiency dividend” is set at 3% a year for the next four years — equivalent to a massive cut in departmental funding. This, according to the PSA, could mean rolling restructures and the potential cut of 11,800 public sector jobs next financial year.