Hunter misses out on big Budget spends

MORE money has flowed for key election commitments but no new big spends have emerged for the Hunter in a state budget Treasurer Mike Baird said was about the state taking its ‘‘medicine’’ to rein in spending.

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Ongoing road projects, including the widening of Nelson Bay Road and construction of the Shortland to Sandgate section of Newcastle’s inner-city bypass, have been bolstered with more money, and there are funds for planning new projects such as the duplication of Cormorant Drive, Mayfield.

But in a major blow, there appears to be no funding set aside to bolster cancer services, despite a damning review of chemotherapy treatment in the Hunter that found services were stretched to breaking point.

Health Minister Jillian Skinner said the Hunter New England local health district had received extra funding overall this year, but it would be up to the district’s management to decide how to spend the money.

As well, the government used the budget to unveil plans to privatise Wollongong’s Port Kembla as part of a previously announced move to lease Port Botany, leaving the Port of Newcastle in public hands.

It probably spells the death of the former labor government’s three ports plan, which earmarked Newcastle as the state’s next container terminal, and assures Newcastle’s reliance almost entirely on coal exports.

The budget delivered on a major Coalition election commitment – to establish a Resources for Regions program and return some of the coal royalties to mining regions through infrastructure investment.

But just a trickle of money will flow at first, with an initial $9.9million allocated for Muswellbrook ($4million for Muswellbrook Hospital’s emergency department)

and Singleton ($5.9million for roads).

The program was promised as a four-year $160million spend, but is a year behind.

The centrepiece of yesterday’s budget was a series of initiatives aimed at kickstarting housing construction.

But no Hunter sites are among 10 in metropolitan NSW that the government would target in the first round of a new housing acceleration program, despite the region’s housing shortage.

Treasurer Mike Baird said the government estimated the lease of Port Kembla may reap up to $500million, and its proximity to the Moorebank freight hub made it viable for handling containers.

The lease proceeds would go into the government’s Restart NSW fund, of which 30per cent would be spent in regional NSW. It would also provide $100million specifically to the Illawarra.

Meanwhile, the Hunter Infrastructure Fund will receive $74million this year, out of its promised $350million, with much of the money to be spent on roads.

Allocations for the fund over its four-year period have been reshuffled since last year’s budget. Revised figures for 2011-12 shows $9.4million was spent through the fund in 2011-12 rather than $26.5million earmarked in 2011-12.

That may be due to delays with appointing its governing board, which occurred late last year.

The bulk of the fund will now flow in 2013-14, when the forward estimates show it would receive $159.8million, with a further $106.9million to follow in 2014-15.

There was no commitment in the budget papers to any action on the Newcastle rail line, and no discernible spending on Newcastle’s dilapidated former post office building nor a contribution to Newcastle City Council’s art gallery plans.

A further $15million was provided for the $94million Newcastle courthouse precinct.

The government’ $25million election commitment to an inner-city university campus is earmarked for 2013-14.

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