The New South Wales government is set to splash billions of dollars of taxpayer’s cash tomorrow when it hands down the state’s budget.
The aim is to forge a path out of the economic mire caused by the pandemic.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has said getting people back to work is the state’s top priority with 7.2 per cent of residents unemployed, a big rise from the 4.4 per cent looking for jobs this time last year.
“While we all wait for the COVID-19 vaccine to arrive, the NSW government is determined to treat the economic symptoms of the pandemic by saving and creating as many jobs as possible,” Ms Berejiklian said on Monday.
The Premier will be hoping the Budget will let her get back to business following the focus on her intertwining personal and professional lives.
But the opposition has slammed a cornerstone plan that aims to get women back into the workforce.
NSW Shadow Treasurer Walt Secord said only a small fraction of unemployed women will be helped as part of the $10 million Return to Work program which will be announced as part of the Budget.
“Labor will offer its bipartisan support when the program is genuine, but this is a cruel hoax and an outright lie,” he said on Budget eve.
STATE IN THE MIRE
COVID-19 has laid waste to hundreds of thousands of jobs in NSW even though the state exited lockdown earlier in the year and has been praised for keeping the lid on outbreaks without putting in place further restrictions.
The government had been expecting a budget surplus of around $2 billion over four years; tomorrow it will confirm the state has plunged into a large deficit.
Treasurer Dominic Perrottet is bullish, however. He reckons unemployment will peak at 7.5 per cent in the final quarter of 2020 and be down to 5.25 per cent by June 2024 with 270,000 people back to work.
The government has already flagged many of the big ticket items in the Budget. The focus will be on jobs, healthcare and infrastructure. But money will also be spent on expanding Taronga Zoo and doubling the state’s network of trade offices around the globe.
This is the NSW Budget biggie.
The threshold for payroll tax will be lifted from $1 million to $1.2 million which the government hopes will see tens of thousands of businesses pay less tax.
A $250m program branded Jobs Plus will seek to tempt businesses to relocate to NSW which it’s hoped will create 200,000 jobs in the process. $80m will ploughed into apprenticeships in the housing and construction sector.
Then there’s the Return to Work program which will provide grants targeted support to women who have been out of work for at least one month. The government has said industries where women are heavily represented have been some of the worst hit by the pandemic.
Grants of up to $5000 can be spent on things like transport, office supplies and childcare.
Labor has said that the $10 million program cap would mean only 2000 out of 132,000 unemployed women would benefit before the fund ran out of cash if the full grant was handed out to everyone who applied.
But Ms Berejiklian has said the grants will help women “overcome obstacles” to get back into the workplace.
“I encourage women from all walks of life to apply for these grants and use this springboard to jump back into their former career or even start a new one.”
Sydney is brimming with newly opened or under construction infrastructure projects such as the WestConnex and NorthConnex motorways and Metro underground system. Although some shiny new transport toys, like the light rail, have seen fewer passengers due to the pandemic.
More is in the pipeline as interest rates are low and people need jobs.
$650m will be spent in the next year on the $2.4b Parramatta light rail in Sydney’s west with the first tracks having being laid. The $17b extension to the Sydney Metro continues through the CBD and as does the M5-M4 tunnel and Rozelle interchange road projects.
New in the budget is almost $200m for upgrades at railway stations; $43m for a maintenance facility for regional trains in Dubbo; $35m to improve the accident black spots of south west Sydney’s Heathcoate Rd and $44m for planning towards the upgrade of Picton Rd in the Illawarra.
$100m has been earmarked to upgrade smaller local sporting facilities while planning funding will be announced for a stadium in Kogarah for use by NRL teams.
HEALTH AND EDUCATION
Stage two of the $1bn redevelopment of Penrith’s Nepean Hospital will be fast tracked with a new intensive care unit among other facilities.
A further $56m will spent of palliative care to allow more people approaching the end of their lives to die at home.
Around 100 new school-based nurses will be employed with $46.8m earmarked for the wellbeing needs of students. $100m will be spent on new ambulance stations in regional areas.
Thousands of staff will be taken on at schools to offer extra tutoring to students. The $337m cash boost aims to improve prospects for students whose education may have been set back by the pandemic.
NSW will double the number of pseudo-embassies is has across the globe from 11 to 21. Betting that Australia’s effective handling of COVID-19 will attract more students and business to NSW as well as boost exports, $273.6m will be put into the far flung offices as part of the Global NSW program.
Taronga Zoo will get $37.5m towards the building of a wildlife hospital that will operate from both its Sydney and Dubbo sites.
The Regional Growth Fund which aids community upgrades such as refurbished rural airports and sporting fields will topped up by $300m over two years to bring the total pot to $2b since it was created in 2017.
$192m will be set aside for initiatives emanating from the NSW bushfire inquiry including cash for more PPE, aerial firefighting equipment and mental health services for emergency service workers.
The NSW Police Academy in Goulburn will receive a $60m upgrade while a $29m boost will be given to the Together Home project that provides accommodation for people who have become homeless.