NSW Budget 2017: Foley's budget reply promises ambulances would be built in the Hunter

VOTE OF CONFIDENCE: NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley gave his budget reply speech on Thursday. PICTURE: James Alcock
VOTE OF CONFIDENCE: NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley gave his budget reply speech on Thursday. PICTURE: James Alcock

A state Labor government would require all of the state’s road ambulances to be “restored, assembled, re-built and manufactured” in Australia, a move that Opposition Leader called “a vote of confidence in the Hunter’s skilled manufacturing workforce”.

But the government has pointed out that there are no vehicle manufacturers in NSW and ambulances are already fit-out in the Hunter.

In his budget reply speech on Thursday Mr Foley also said a Labor government would re-regulate the electricity market, promised an “unprecedented school building program” and said it would only support selling the state’s share of the Snowy Hydro scheme to the Federal Government if 100 per cent of the funds were directed to regional and rural NSW.

But it was Mr Foley’s “guarantee” that ambulances would be built and repaired in Australia that contained a specific nod to the Hunter.

There are three major ambulance manufacturers in Australia, including Varleys in Tomago.

While the vehicles – which are either Mercedes, Volkswagen or Toyota brand – are built overseas, the job of fitting them out for the purpose of NSW Ambulance can be done domestically.

Currently Varleys is in the process of replacing about 300 ambulances before the end of 2017, the first time the company has been contracted to do the job.

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, whose budget on Tuesday revealed a massive $4.5 billion surplus, said the comments showed Mr Foley “would rather play politics than deal in facts”.

“And the facts are that we are already upgrading and fitting out our ambulances right here in NSW, including in the Newcastle and Hunter region,” he said.

But domestic companies like Varley currently compete against firms in New Zealand, Singapore and the United States for fit-out contracts, and Labor says it would limit ambulance contracts to domestic manufacturers.

“This is a vote of support for our world class manufacturers here in Australia. It is also a vote of confidence in the Hunter,” Shadow Minister for the Hunter and Port Stephens MP Kate Washington said.

“In the Hunter, we have some of the world’s finest ambulance manufacturers. Their workers take pride on their vehicles and pride in their work.”

Mr Foley also said Labor would seek to improve energy security by investing in renewable generation in regional NSW, increasing solar generation on government buildings and implementing a “fair minimum solar tariff”.

He used the example of Tomago Aluminium, which  was forced to power down to prevent load shedding across the state during February’s heatwave. 

“Tomago Aluminium, a major employer in the Hunter with 1,000 staff, had its power cut off for over three hours,” he said.

“The smelter only narrowly avoided catastrophe.”

Secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union Tim Ayres welcomed Labor’s decision to build ambulances domestically.

“We know that local industry can build the quality ambulances that our paramedics rely on to save lives.” he said.

“This pledge will be especially welcomed by the hundreds of manufacturing workers in the specialist vehicle sector,” said Mr Ayres.