NSW Budget estimates, 2011-2012

(22 November 2011, Parliament House Sydney)

The first budget of the O'Farrell Government presents mixed results for the Sydney electorate and the wider New South Wales community. Of particular interest to my electorate is how this budget will help reduce inner-city transport congestion, which currently costs the New South Wales economy $4.8 billion and is expected to cost $8 billion by 2020 if business continues as usual. Congestion impacts on quality of life by reducing time spent with loved ones, as well as through pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The budget includes welcome funding to expand light rail services through to Circular Quay via Barangaroo and to Dulwich Hill from Lilyfield. Light rail is the solution to the gridlock in the city as it moves high volumes of people. The capacity of one light rail carriage is equivalent to three fully laden buses or 50 cars. Light rail systems operate in over 400 cities worldwide, with more being added each year.

I have long advocated for a light rail link to connect the Barangaroo development to Central and the city centre. Recently, the City of Sydney committed $180 million to upgrade George Street to accommodate light rail in the city centre. The City of Sydney is keen to work with the State Government as it develops routes for its light rail network and with Randwick City Council on an extension to the sporting stadia in Moore Park and beyond. Clearly, a light rail route to Green Square is needed urgently as the major urban renewal area is developing and ultimately will provide for 40,000 residents and 22,000 jobs. I have urged successive governments to provide a city light rail network for around two decades and I congratulate the Minister on getting this significant project started.

A regional cycleway network would assist the increasing number of cyclists using the City of Sydney's separated network. A cost-benefit analysis for such a network spanning 15 council areas shows that just $179 million would create a 284-kilometre network covering 164 suburbs and servicing a population of 1.2 million people. By 2016 cycling will increase by 66 per cent and the network will generate $4 benefit for every $1 spent while, interestingly, motorways generate only $2. Other councils do not have the same resources for such a project and, given the benefits of alleviating congestion, reducing carbon emissions and providing a healthy transport option, it is important that State and Federal governments contribute to this project.

Community transport is an essential form of accessible and affordable transport for people who have difficulty using public transport and I strongly welcome additional funding for this service. The City of Sydney Community Transport Service provides transport for outings and excursions, and to medical appointments, shopping centres and local venues such as swimming pools and libraries. Our recent review of community transport found an opportunity to increase services by at least 50 per cent within the same budget allocation. Changes that the City of Sydney would like to discuss with the Minister include combining funds to enable integrated services for the existing Federal-State Home and Community Care service and the State Community Transport Program. Other good news for transport in the budget includes funding to develop the North West Rail Link, for continued work on the South West Rail Link and for electronic ticketing.

Of particular benefit to my constituents is additional funding to increase the NightRide bus service to help get home those patrons who come to the inner city late at night. I understand that two new lines plus 91 additional services will be provided. This is an absolutely essential service and I congratulate the Government and the Minister for Transport, who is at the table, on acknowledging the importance of providing transport from late-night entertainment precincts. Late-night trading in the City of Sydney area generates around $15.1 billion for Sydney's economy, of which 28.4 per cent is from inner-city jobs in late-night businesses and services, including restaurants, cafes, theatres, clubs and pubs. It is important for the Government to invest in that funding to sustain the contribution to our economy. Through our recent late-night economy consultations the City of Sydney identified lack of transport as a major source of dissatisfaction for customers, businesses and emergency services.

I have reported to the House previously about the volume of people that the City of Sydney counted late at night on a weekend last year between midnight and 1.00 a.m., including 6,000 pedestrians on Bayswater Road, 3,050 pedestrians at Oxford Square and 4,550 on George Street. Of course, those people had been drinking. For those in Kings Cross there is no rail transport. Taxis cannot cope with the volume of people and many people are not willing to pay the cost. This leaves thousands of mostly intoxicated patrons walking inner-city streets in the early hours of the morning, making noise and risking violence as they wait for buses and trains to restart. Additional NightRide bus services could make a real difference and the City of Sydney is contributing to publicising their availability. I welcome funding in this budget to plan and build a pedestrian tunnel link between Barangaroo and Wynyard. Existing pedestrian links between Wynyard Station and Barangaroo are close to capacity and will not cope with the expected increase in activity from the development, which amounts to about 30,000 in just the morning peak hour.

While this budget contains good transport news, overall transport funding pales in comparison with the $3.2 billion dedicated to roads, including $1 billion to the Princes Highway. I am disappointed that the Government will divert $1.75 billion—over half—of the Climate Change Fund to the Solar Bonus Scheme. A sustainable Solar Bonus Scheme is an essential part of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and electricity infrastructure expansions. Funding for the scheme should come from energy retailers who on-sell the renewable energy produced by households, freeing up government funding for other environmental initiatives.

I hope that the closure of correctional centres outlined in the budget is not just a cost-cutting measure but marks a new approach to offending that focuses on rehabilitation, intervention, support services, therapeutic help, local support to keep people out of the criminal justice system and programs that reduce reoffending. Filling prisons has been standard practice in New South Wales, with over 11,000 prisoners costing $966 million a year in custodial services. I welcome the Attorney General's commitment to reduce recidivism, with $21.3 million in funding over four years for another Drug Court, a specialist drug rehabilitation correctional centre, and education and training programs for inmates. Additional funding for more drug and alcohol services and for specialist child and adolescent mental health services will also assist some of the State's most vulnerable people, many of whom are in my electorate.

Disability funding, including payroll tax rebates for employers hiring someone with a disability, is a breakthrough, and I congratulate the Government on these initiatives. While the Government says that from 1 January it will retain stamp duty concessions only for newly constructed and off-the-plan homes in order to stimulate development, this will have little benefit in the inner city. Very few newly constructed homes bought off the plan in the inner city sell for less than $650,000, which is $50,000 above the maximum price for which concessions apply. I call on the Government to lift this concession for inner-city developments to at least $650,000.

I share the concerns of the Council of Social Service of New South Wales that this budget, like many before it, fails to address the escalating need for social housing or to encourage affordable housing. This is a particular concern given that the budget limits public sector wage increases below the consumer price index— including for frontline workers. These workers are needed for the proper functioning of the city but cannot afford to live in the city. I again ask the Government to exclude the 2009 single pensioner increase permanently from Housing NSW rent calculations. Single pensioners are already on some of the lowest incomes in the State and tenants will lose a quarter of their increase, which is unfair.

I join the Teacher's Federation in its opposition to the introduction of fees for most children attending public preschools. This goes against the principle of providing all children with access to a high-quality public education. I understand that under the plan most families who send their children to public preschool will incur a fee, including Aboriginal children, moderately disadvantaged children and children from families with a healthcare card. The Teacher's Federation estimates that only the most severely disadvantaged preschools will be exempt. I share the concern of the Teacher's Federation that fees will now prevent children who would most benefit from preschooling from attending, reducing opportunities for already disadvantaged children.

Of great importance to my constituents is funding for the Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust. Most park users come from the surrounding densely populated community and the parkland's primary role is to provide for their open space and recreation needs now and into the future. With an additional 40,000 residents expected to move to Green Square and live in apartments with little or no private open space, the Government should increase investment in parklands, ensuring that it can maintain landscaping and heritage without the need to raise revenue through commercialisation and alienation. While I welcome capital works funding in this budget to upgrade the ES Marks Athletic Fields and refurbish the pavilion in Queens Park, recurrent funding continues to constitute a measly contribution of around 7 per cent of expenditure. I call on this Government to increase funding in future budgets. I conclude by saying I congratulate the Government on its first budget and I look forward to working together in the future for the inner city, my constituents and the global city.