EDITORIAL: Big spending NSW budget skips the Hunter

At his press conference on Tuesday, Treasurer Dominic Perrottet was asked whether the days of asset recycling – read: privatisations – were over now the government had completed the sale of its electricity network businesses.

The implication seemed to be; after raising some $29.8 billion through privatisation,  there’s not much left to sell, and when it’s all gone what will the government prop up its revenue base with? Mr Perrottet’s answer was that they’re not done yet. 

The government still plans to sell its $16.8 billion Westconnex motorway project, and is in talks with the Commonwealth about the so-called Snowy Hydro 2.0 scheme.

Since coming to power in 2011 the government has used privatisation - like the $1.5 billion lease of the Newcastle Port - as a base on which to fund its ambitious infrastructure budget.

But how long can it keep it going? 

With stamp duties expected to begin falling in coming years, debt from infrastructure rising, and GST receipts about to fall off a cliff, the government has a looming revenue problem. Mr Perrottet says the government’s dealing with it by controlling expenditure growth through wage caps and efficiency dividends – read: budget cuts – in the public service.

In 2014 when the government was in the process of privatising the Port of Newcastle for $1.5 billion, the Hunter was briefly at the centre of the state’s politics.

Since then, following the commitment to build a 2.7 kilometre light rail track down Hunter Street, we’re often told how lucky we are that the government is investing half a billion dollars into the region. But what of Lake Macquarie? Of Maitland? Of Port Stephens, Cessnock and the Upper Hunter?

Sydney infrastructure projects win billions in this budget, with a bottom line Mr Perrottet boasted was the “envy of the western world”. The Hunter’s most significant new funding announcement? A $1.7 million business case for a project that has been on the government’s radar for years.

This for a region which, as always, has done more than it’s share of heavy lifting. Coal royalties will deliver $1.5 billion to the budget – up $300 million on what was expected.

Schools, hospitals, roads and, yes, art galleries for Sydney, Sydney and you guessed it, Sydney.

Envy? Some might call it greed.

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