Thin Pickings for Nothern Rivers in State Budget

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Not much of the state government’s highly publicised $60 billion infrastructure program has trickled up as far as the north coast, according to its critics.

The winners in this year’s budget have been health and roads, but even there concerns have been raised.

Health

Construction works on Lismore Base Hospital’s ‘stage 3a redevelopment’ is set to continue, but the $80 million required is already budgeted for.

A further $2.2 million has been set aside for improving car parking at Lismore Base Hospital, which a health department spokesperson said was, ‘complementary to the wider development at Lismore which is already underway’.

‘There’s $80.25 million of federal and state money approved for Lismore. The main works will be kicking off onsite there shortly. Maternity is already done. There is an allocation in this year’s budget of $24.7 million to continue works at Lismore [of the] stage 3a redevelopment,’ she told Echonetdaily.

Just $1.5 million has been budgeted to begin construction of the long-awaited Byron Central Hospital, which will be enough to cover final planning and tendering, remediation work on the site and the start of the build.

‘A lot of planning has gone into that site and we’ve obviously got the ambulance station at that new site as well,’ the spokesperson said.

‘We don’t have a time frame for completion as yet but I can say that the project is worth more than $80 million all up,’ she added.

‘With all of our hospital rebuilds, obviously we don’t allocate all of the funding in the first year. It’s a fraction of the money to start,’ she said.

North coast Greens MP Jan Barham said she was disappointed at the pace with which the Byron hospital was being funded.

‘Delivery of $1.5 million for a project of this size, that has been on the go for nearly 20 years, is a bit of a disappointment,’ she said.

Ballina MP Don Page said further funds were available but with tendering likely in the coming year it would be inappropriate to disclose how much.

‘If you have a look at the budget paper it identifies it as commercial in confidence. So the government likes to keep its powder dry in terms of how much money it’s going to pay but the bottom line is, the money’s in the budget,’ he told ABC radio this morning

But his comments were later contradicted by deputy premier Andrew Stoner who said that $1.5 million was the full amount budgeted for Byron Central Hospital this year.

Transport

Of $1.2 billion announced for the continuation of the Pacific Highway, just $390 million comes from the coffers of the state government as part of an 80/20 funding arrangement with the commonwealth.

The government says the highway will now be completed by 2020.

Some $220 million has been set aside for the construction of the controversial Woodburn section of the highway which, if the current plan is followed, will traverse through one of the last intact koala colonies in the region.

None of the $1.5 billion promised to build public transport infrastructure will come to the north coast.

Greens NSW MP and transport spokesperson, Dr Mehreen Faruqi MLC said, ‘more than $3.5 billion dollars is going into the WestConnex tollway in Sydney over the next four years, but not a cent is earmarked to reinstate the Casino to Murwillumbah line, expand XPT services or support community transport in regional NSW.’

‘Entire major regional centres, such as Lismore, are cut off from public transport and this government has no plan or funds to change this.

‘Enhancing public transport within and between regional towns is essential for future growth, prosperity and sustainability in NSW,’ she said.

Shadow north coast minister Walt Secord accused the National Party of ‘trying to hoodwink the north coast’ in the state budget.

He said the government was ‘recycling federal money into the Pacific Highway through accounting tricks and claiming it as state money; claiming that $1.2 million in “planning” money will build a new hospital for Byron Bay; leaving a $19 million funding black hole in the Tweed Police Station development plan by only providing $6 million towards the project; and [failing to fund] rail trail plans by the Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils (NOROC).

Mr Page said some money may be available for the rail trail via a $110 tourism million infrastructure fund.

But TOOT spokesperson and Byron Shire councillor Basil Cameron says that would be the wrong way to go.

‘Rail provides a broad range of benefits to many groups in the community. By comparison benefits from a rail trail go almost entirely to a few businesses, yet it is the public who will have to pay for it,’ he said

‘Byron Shire is set to wear the initial wave of impacts as the additional tourists will add to traffic congestion due to lack of public transport.

‘The suggestion that the $750,000 currently available for upkeep of the line will suffice to cover annual maintenance is bizarre given the amount of vegetation not currently being cleared with the same money,’ Cr Cameron said.

And The Rest

Additional state budget line items for our area include:

$1.5 million to Tweed Byron & Ballina Community Transport Inc Home & Community Care.
$115,000 to Tweed Byron & Ballina Community Transport Inc Community Transport Program.
$43,000 to continue the refurbishment of the Murwillumbah Government Office Building.
$674,000 new clinical nurse/midwife educators for Northern NSW Local Health District.
$1.6 million for water (Ballina and Lismore’s fluoridation program).

Source: Echonet

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