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NSW's unashamedly big spending budget

The NSW treasurer says the future "is not built on austerity", signalling that his government's shift to big-spending measures and fiscal stimulus will persist continue until the pandemic has been seen off.

But the Labor opposition says the government has not done enough on debt, housing affordability, the cost of living or local manufacturing.

Aside from some important health spending in Wagga Wagga and Albury, investment in two major southern NSW schools and continued funding for the Moama-Echuca bridge over the River Murray, the budget offers little by way of substantial road or other infrastructure spending measures for the Riverina or southern NSW.

Tuesday's 2021/22 budget confirmed a deficit of $7.9 billion for the current year, jumping to $8.6 billion for the following 12 months.

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet - who four months ago pointed to a $13.3 billion deficit - said NSW's successful suppression of COVID-19 and government stimulus had prompted increases to GST, stamp duty and payroll tax receipts.

He said the government would continue to splash cash on projects and tax relief, aiming the state at a surplus of $466 million in 2024/25 thanks to an economy unshackled by COVID-related restrictions.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the 2021-22 Budget included important cost savings measures for families, including $43.9 million for a new $100 Learn to Swim voucher for children aged between three and six, and $150 million for the Free Preschool program to continue until the end of 2022.

Ms Berejiklian said in a statement:

“This is a Budget which supports and protects our families and communities through record investments in health, education and transport.
“The Government’s comprehensive response to the pandemic was only possible because of the state’s economic and fiscal strength going into the crisis built up over the past decade.”

Deputy Premier John Barilaro said more than $2.8 billion has been secured in this year’s budget for the Department of Regional NSW to help regional communities continue to grow, move through recovery and build on the benefits of regional living.

In a statement, Mr Barilaro said:

“Since 2017 the NSW Government has committed more than $2 billion to 2,100 regional infrastructure projects, and today I can announce 800 more projects will be added to that tally, putting more cash into local economies, creating new jobs and helping businesses thrive.
“Almost $64 million announced last week for the NSW Government’s Future Ready Regions package will help regional communities prepare for future droughts by investing in the latest technologies, data and tools to boost business productivity, while helping communities to plan ahead.
“This package includes $48 million for the Farms of the Future program, which will boost on-farm connectivity so producers can adopt agtech and compete with the best.
“We will also survey western NSW for new water sources to reduce pressure on other supplies during drought.
“We are also investing $50 million to fund a new Mobile Coverage Project, to improve infrastructure and boost emerging technologies.”

President of NSW Farmers, James Jackson, said:

“We welcome $1.9 billion to build and repair regional schools and hospitals.
“In order to have thriving regional towns, health and education infrastructure needs to be up to scratch.
“It’s also great to see the state government matching the federal government’s commitment to improving the Great Western Highway with $2 billion allocated to the project.
“NSW Farmers was also pleased to see additional funding of $268.2 million (co-funded with the Commonwealth Government) in response to the NSW bushfire inquiry.”

Ai Group’s NSW Head, Helen Waldron welcomed the declared pathway back to the budget being in the black:

“The path back to an operating surplus in 2024-25 is a sensible approach that combines continued stimulus with a return to greater financial sustainability.
"Investments in education and training infrastructure will expand access to high-quality, modern learning facilities for school children and people engaged in training.”

Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell said children from preschool, right through to primary and high school will benefit from this year’s $21.5 billion education budget:

“Regional families have one less financial concern with our government investing $150 million to provide free preschool in NSW, including more than 350 regional and remote preschools, saving families up to $4,000 a year per child.
“Regardless of where a student is located, we are committed to providing quality education and modern spaces to learn in.
“We want every student in the state to have the ability to learn and achieve their full potential, and this budget reflects that.
“To ensure regional communities continue to have a constant supply of quality teachers we are improving incentives and the midcareer pathways to teaching for professionals.
“We are also investing $125 million in a Teacher Supply Strategy, due for release later this year.”

The state government has also committed to helping regional councils build a stronger local road network, with $240 million for Fixing Local Roads in 2021-22 to help councils repair, maintain and seal priority roads in their communities.

A further $297.2 million will be allocated through a Fixing Country Bridges program to help councils replace hundreds of ageing timber bridges.

Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall confirmed that $374.5 million has been put towards building productive and sustainable agriculture and aquaculture, including enhancing the productivity of plant and livestock farming systems, with a focus on adapting to our evolving and unique climate. A further $262 million will be invested in biosecurity, including pest and weed management, to ensure we continue to knock down threats to our primary industries.

On trade, the government will spend $128.9 million over the next four years to expand NSW’s international network and $45 million overall to support NSW exporters through trade programs. Like the South Australian government, the NSW government had previously announced funding support for wine producers impacted by the loss of one third of their export market when China imposed punitive tariffs on Australian wine.

Minister Marshall also confirmed $8.8 million will be further invested on the new Murray River Bridge between Echuca in Victoria and Moama and an intersection upgrade of the Cobb Highway at Moama.

Mr Barilaro announced $100 million will be committed to the Regional Job Creation Fund, which aims to generate at least 5,000 new jobs alone.

A $30 million Regional Tourism Activation Fund will deliver high impact tourism and events infrastructure that helps to boost local economies and put towns on the map while the $20 million Regional Events Acceleration Fund is bringing visitor dollars to regional towns.

Minister for Sport Natalie Ward announced a new $200 million Multi-Sport Community Infrastructure Fund and $150 million for a new Centres of Excellence Program. Minister Ward said the boost to the sports budget would focus on getting communities across NSW active and more involved in local sports.