NSW Treasurer Matt Kean has handed down his first state budget since his party, the Liberals, lost the Federal Election in what has been described as a “big-spending, Labor-like” budget.
Big-spending is right, given that this budget will blow the state’s deficit out to $11.3 billion, almost four times as much as the projected deficit forecast in 2021.
Kean described the budget as a “once in a generation reform budget for the people of NSW”.
“It invests in helping them reach their hopes and dreams for tomorrow,” he said.
Not only is the budget the first after the federal election defeat, but it’s also the last of the current state government’s before it heads into an election in March of next year. As such, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet is pretty keen to be seen as this hip, young, down-with-the-kids dude who gets it, man. He’s definitely trying to distance himself from the politics of Morrison and the coal lobby that, more or less, got the last lot chucked out.
As such, there are big investments in all manner of things from childcare, school, Indigenous affairs, women’s rights, and, of course, climate action. Not all of it is going to be immediately felt, however. Many of the announced projects and investments are multi-year plans that will, the government hopes, see them through the next election.
Still, there are some big treats up front to sweeten the deal for voters and, rather than run you through them all, we’ve categorized the big ideas into an easy-to-digest tier list so you know what’s good and what’s not.
In the S tier (or ‘special tier’), we’ve got the following:
$150 Vouchers for Parents
As part of a massive cash injection into education, the NSW state government are promising $150 vouchers for every child enrolled in school. From the start of the next school year, parents and carers will get a financial top-up to spend on things like school uniforms, stationery, books, and other school supplies for their kids.
A New School Year
One of the biggest changes announced in the budget is the new school year which the government is describing as a once-in-a-generation change. $5.8 billion will be spent across 10 years to introduce universal pre-kindergarten to NSW by 2030. “Universal pre-Kindergarten will give every child in NSW access to a specialized year of play-based learning, smoothing their transition to school and solidifying their path to a brighter future,” Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said. The scheme is currently being trialled and the government are working with early learning experts to design the program but expect to hear a lot about this over the coming years.
Parental Leave Changes
The government is going to scrap the distinction between ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ carers, giving all workers in the public sector 14 weeks of paid parental leave. Certain women will also be able to access $5000 grants from a $32 million pool to help them rejoin the workforce. All around great news.
More Support for Women
$100 million has been allocated to domestic violence support networks and anti-street harassment initiatives to improve women’s safety. It’s part of a $4.9 billion package to increase workforce participation, support female small business owners, improve access to endometriosis and menopause treatment, and fund further IVF support.
In the A ranking we’ve got:
Stamp Duty Reform
Lauded as the savior of the housing crisis, partially winding back stamp duty is Perrottet throwing a bone at anyone (everyone) struggling to get onto the housing ladder. The new deal allows first home buyers acquiring properties under $1.5 million to choose between paying stamp duty upfront (a tax paid on property sales of roughly 5%) or paying $400 per year plus an upfront tax of 0.3% of the property’s value. It’s not quite S tier, as reduced stamp duty was already available to first-time buyers for new builds and it’s not available to those buying their next home.
Palliative Care Investment
The government will spend $743 million on palliative care, increasing beds, improving the quality of care, and hiring 600 new staffers across the state. $90 million will also be spent building new palliative care units at Westmead and Nepean hospitals. Good but not great given it’s going to take five years for all of this to go through but still, nice it’s being done.
$775 million will be spent over the next four years to drive down childcare costs and increase the number of places. The government is going to subsidize spots in state-run facilities which they expect will save Sydney families with one child up to $3,900 per year while regional families with the same can expect to save $7,800. Part of this however does involve paying private childcare centers to fix their prices at certain rates.
Renewable Energy Transition
$1.2 billion will be spent fast-tracking critical energy infrastructure for solar, wind, and hydropower stations to replace dying coal-fired stations. This was already announced earlier in the month and seems to be off the back of the energy crisis. While it’s going to take a while to get there, laying a good foundation now is better than not doing anything at all.
In the B ranks we’ve got:
The state government is funding free access to the Australian Museum and the Sydney Living Museum for the next year to the tune of $5.9 million. This is great, if you live in Sydney. The culture sector has also been on life support since the pandemic and we reckon more could have been done here. How about better support for live music venues, Dom? In fairness, the government is also committing a further $58 million to “ensure our museums, galleries, performing arts spaces and cultural institutions are world-class and fit-for-purpose” but again, this feels like it skews towards high culture and not the kinds of institutions that have made Sydney great in the past.
Close The Gap Initiative
$401 million will be given to community-led Indigenous initiatives to help ‘close the gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous life expectations and other key metrics. $250,000 grants will also be given to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organizations to promote language and cultural protection. It’s part of a $716 million package that will also go towards securing Indigenous housing and community services. Good but why has it taken this government 12 years to get around such projects?
Heading down we’ve got:
Okay, for a country with the highest rate of problem gambling in the world, anything to determine the practice is probably good. However, the new tax adjustment that will see online and track betting brought in line with other forms of gambling is only going ahead because the government has promised to compensate the gambling industry for lost revenue. They’re giving money to gambling organizations while also taxing gamblers. Doesn’t seem like a great strategy as it’s likely to hit problematic users hardest.
Drivers who spend more than $375 a year on road tolls can apply for rebates of up to $750 which is aimed at Western Sydney drivers who are generally hit hardest by road tolls. It seems a little like putting a baidaid on an open wound as Sydney is already such a mess of tolls and private roads. Better to buy them out and simply do away with the whole toll road thing altogether. The program is also set to replace an existing half-price registration scheme which will run out on July 1.
Getting down to the bottom of the list, we’ve got:
Public Sector Worker Pay
Public sector workers, like teachers and nurses, have been striking over the past year for a pay increase in line with inflation. The government have given them a rise of 3%, but this doesn’t really touch the sides when inflation is at 5.1%. Strikes are likely to continue as a result as this doesn’t address other union concerns around working conditions.
Also known as ‘fail’ tier, we’ve got:
Social Housing or Lack Thereof
Yes, the government is going to spend $300 million upgrading 15,800 social housing homes as well as building another 120 homes specifically for rough sleepers. But, with 50,000 people currently on the social housing waitlist, is this really the best we can do?
The NSW government does love to harp on about it’s incredible infrastructure projects and, sure, fine, the light rail is better than expected. However, these projects are always well over budget and deadline and it’s the same story here with a bunch of tunnels and connecting routes they’re building (or not building). The Sydney Metro City and South West tunnel, linking Chatswood, the CBD, and Bankstown, is expected to come in at $6 billion over budget and be finished a decade after it began. Parramatta’s own light rail is $475 million over budget while the Northern Beaches Link and the M6 extension to Kograh have also been put on pause. Come on, guys.
Higher Power Prices
The cap on the amount that retailers can charge for power has been raised in the latest budget by between 8.5 and 14.1%, depending on where you live in the state. The new policy will mean power bills are set to climb from the start of next month.
Read more stories from The Latch and subscribe to our e-newsletter.