Thu. Jul 18th, 2024

Federal Member for New England, Barnaby Joyce, and NSW Farmers President, Xavier Martin, have called for no cuts to regional infrastructure in the federal budget due to be handed down next Tuesday.

The budget speculation so far has focused on expected relief for the surging cost of living, an increase to some welfare payments – particularly increasing unemployment benefits for older people and widening the criteria for single parents pension – and changes to tax and super rules for the very wealthy. There is also expected to be a significant health focus, with Health Minister Mark Butler announcing yesterday a range of measures including banning the importation of vapes and increasing taxes on cigarettes, over $500m in cancer funding, and a number of Medicare reforms.

While governments often promote what will be in the budget, the real story is often what’s not there – axed programs, dropped initiatives, and broken promises. One promise of broader screening for rare and genetic diseases in newborns has already been broken.

Barnaby Joyce this week called for the Albanese Labor Government to not strip any more nation-building road, rail, and infrastructure funding in its May Budget for Regional Australia and the New England. He says Labor’s October Budget cut $9.6 billion from infrastructure programs, $7 billion from projects to build dams and $10 billion in regional development programs.

“We know from the Senate Estimates that the New England Highway Tenterfield Heavy Vehicle Bypass construction completion has been delayed by 3 years, and as a consequence will blow out cost from $20 to $66 million.”

“Every time a project has its funding deferred and its delivery delayed by Labor, the cost of delivering the project goes up, and Australians are left paying the price through higher taxes.”

“The Tenterfield to Newcastle (New England Hwy) Future Priorities Funding has also been cut by $30 million.”

Mr Joyce is particularly concerned about the Dungowan Dam project, which he says must go ahead. The controversial project has been criticised by Infrastructure Australia for having a price tag that outweighs the benefits. Federal Water Minister Tanya Plibersek said she would be taking a “careful look” at the Dungowan Dam project – while interestingly claiming that people in Tamworth would be surprised to know that water in Chaffey Dam was also used for agriculture. New NSW Water Minister Rose Jackson also has concerns with the project, unsure it would actually resolve Tamworth’s supply issues. In their last budget in October, the newly elected Albanese Government deferred funding for the project.

“Infrastructure projects such as Dungowan Dam must go ahead. The development of the Dam is an absolute priority for the people of New England.”

“We know what it is like to not have water, just as all Regional Australians do, and the cities will feel it too.”

“When we have less water we have less jobs and crops, that means a further increase in the cost of living,” said Mr Joyce.

NSW Farmers President Xavier Martin said reports of cutbacks in next week’s federal budget were very concerning to rural, remote and regional communities, because they would have a direct impact on safety and future productivity.

“There are a number of critical projects either committed to or under construction that are vital to our farmers and our farming communities,” Mr Martin said.

“The good, clean food and fibre we grow on our farms need good, safe, fit-for-purpose transport links, and that’s where these big projects are essential.”

“The agriculture sector needs this infrastructure investment to go ahead so we can keep driving economic activity and recovery across so much of the state.”

“We are very worried about reports of the Commonwealth scrapping or delaying projects,” Mr Martin said.

Senator Bridgette McKenzie said that hundreds of millions has been stripped away from New South Wales over the forward estimates across a range of important infrastructure projects including rail investment and bridge renewal programs.

“After discovering these hidden cuts and delays during Senate estimates, the Coalition has been calling on the Albanese Government to bring forward and reinstate funding infrastructure projects local communities are in desperate need of.”

“The Albanese Labor Government must provide clarity and reassurance that there will be no further cuts or delays from the infrastructure portfolio in the May Budget,” Senator McKenzie said.

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