Interest in the Hunter from the state budget is not high. Picture: Gavin MorrisWHAT a difference 12 months makes.
This time last year the state government earmarked more than $300 million for new projects in the Hunter, including $280 million to complete the Newcastle inner-city bypass in a pre-election budget it hoped would keep Hunter seats in Coalition hands.
But it wasn’t enough.
Labor gained three Hunter seats and retained four others in March and now, without a single Liberal MP and just one National Party MP in the seat of Upper Hunter, the region may be overlooked when Premier Mike Baird announces details of the state budget on Tuesday.
On the surface it appears like a monumental snub for a region that turned its back on the Liberal Party in the wake of revelations aired in the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
But Hunter Labor MPs remain hopeful that some funding will be committed to the region and say they will hold the government to its pre-election promises.
They want money for road and transport projects, including the final stage of the inner-city bypass, the M1 to Raymond Terrace connection; work on the bypass for Singleton and Muswellbrook; a detailed plan and costing for the Wickham interchange, light rail in Newcastle and the Lake Macquarie Transport Interchange at Glendale. But with the Hunter unlikely to get its fair share on Tuesday, how many of these projects will be shelved? And where will the money come from?
The government is yet to receive any funding from the $20billion plan to privatise poles and wires, but is flush with cash from stamp duty receipts, courtesy of Sydney’s property boom.
Mr Baird has firmly opposed calls to scrap stamp duty and instead has announced the government will use Tuesday’s budget to plunge $400million into taking pressure off the overheated property market.
The funds will go into a Housing Acceleration Fund, which covers wastewater, electricity and road projects on land designated for housing development.
The lease of the Newcastle port will fill the government’s coffers and pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the Hunter Infrastructure and Investment Fund, but Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp said the Hunter should be seeing more from the sale of one of its greatest assets. He says it’s time Newcastle got what it deserves.
Indications are the government will fall short on Tuesday.
Last year, Mr Baird’s promise to dedicate significant funding for the ‘‘missing link’’ of the inner-city bypass so soon after the completion of the Jesmond to Sandgate section was seen as his government showing keen interest in the Hunter. If Tuesday’s budget comes and goes without any new major project funding then perhaps that will be a sign interest has waned.