Budget breakdown: What does it mean for regional NSW?
The 2017/18 Budget is a win for our members, rural and regional Australians and our Party.
The depth of initiatives designed to support and grow our regions is a testimony to the strength of the Nationals and our commitment to imminently deliver services to the regions– with the Regional Australia Ministerial Taskforce, headed by Deputy Leader Fiona Nash, counting nearly 400 initiatives for the regions alone.
This Budget finally delivers on the Inland Rail. The project is the largest rail infrastructure project in 100 years and is expected to employ roughly 16,000 people to upgrade and build the 1700km of rail which runs through the National’s electorates of Parkes and Riverina.
In addition to the previous $1 billion earmarked for the project, $8.4 billion in funding has been secured allowing work to commence as early as this year on the tracks between Parkes and Narromine.
The Inland Rail will connect to the Transcontinental Rail and allow greater access to capital cities, ports and export markets for produce, making our agricultural exports more competitive in the international market. With freight volumes set to double by 2050, the Inland Rail will also take thousands of B-double trucks off the roads, preserving our roads and making our inland highways safer.
A $10 billion injection into the National Rail Program will also assist state and local governments with upgrades to improve rail facilities and maximise the benefits the Inland Rail will bring to regional communities.
Inland Rail wasn’t the only significant infrastructure announcement for the regions. The Building Better Regions Fund (BBRF) received an injection of $200 million bringing its total funding to nearly half a billion dollars. This fund supports local governments and non-government organisations in rural and regional Australia to carry out small-scale infrastructure and community projects.
$272 million in addition to the BBRF has been set aside to bankroll major transformational projects in conjunction with local and state governments valued at over $10 million. Regional councils will also benefit from an extra $836 million for key projects under the Financial Assistance Grants and community-led initiatives will gain access to a further $22 million in Stronger Communities Funding, enabling communities to get important local projects off the ground sooner.
As part of the Nationals' decentralisation push the Murray-Darling Basin Authority will be moved to Wodonga, allowing greater collaboration between Federal Government, State Governments and communities along the Murray.
A whopping $8 billion has been secured for the Great Artesian Basin Infrastructure Investment Program to fund important water infrastructure upgrades and improved management of the underground resource.
The National Landcare Program will benefit from a $1 billion investment. With farmers managing some 53 per cent of Australian acreage, this program is vital towards supporting sustainable farming practices into the future.
Regional employment was also high on the agenda with $220 million to be invested over four years as part of the Regional Jobs and Investment Package. This pilot program will roll out in 10 locations, including along the South and North Coasts of NSW, to stimulate our regional economies. The Skilling Australians Fund will also make $1.5 billion available over four years to support the vocational education sector upskill more than 300,000 young Australians.
Small businesses were big winners in the 2017/18 budget. Small business has been redefined from a turnover of $2 million to $10 million, improving cash flow for thousands of ‘new’ small businesses. The popular $20,000 instant asset write-off has been extended, allowing businesses to invest in vital tools and infrastructure, the small and medium business tax rate will be reduced to 25 per cent over the next 10 years, and there has been a $5.8 billion reduction in red tape.
The levy on Australia’s biggest banks is great news for rural and regional Australians, many of whom bank with smaller, community owned businesses. The levy will increase competition in the banking sector, long dominated by the Big Four and commit $6.2 billion towards eliminating the crippling debt left by Labor. The move has been welcomed by the Customer Owned Banking Association (COBA), which represents the Credit Unions and Mutual societies, many of which provide regional banking services.
Labor’s Mediscare campaign has been left in tatters with Medicare’s future secured via the Medicare Guarantee Fund. The increase in the Medicare Levy is due to fully fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), crucial for non-metropolitan areas that often struggle with support and respite services. The Federal Government has also committed to a needs-based funding model for our schools which will see additional consideration given to rural and regional schools and students.
Finally, the welfare system will be made fairer on all Australians by overhauling the compliance system to ensure job seekers fulfill their welfare requirements. A drug testing trial will also seek to identify at risk Australians and allow more timely and targeted government intervention in health and welfare.