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Nothing for us

Wednesday, 4th June, 2008

By Branko Licul

The State Budget was a "disappointment" for Broken Hill and designed only to shore up Labor seats under threat from the government's proposal to privatise the electricity industry, according to local MP, John Williams.

The Member for Murray-Darling said he had concluded from his budget analysis that it was aimed at favouring Labor seats at the centre of the state's electricity industry. "This has been a budget opportunity to support those Labor members in electorates where they are going to be copping a backlash for privatisation of electricity," said Mr Williams.

"It's to shore up their chances at the next election. When you look at Bathurst, Maitland and Cessnock where the electricity generators are, the budget gives them fair favourability. "It's all about 'you would not have this if we don't privatise electricity'," he told BDT.

He said, for example, funding for the Broken Hill Regional Events Centre was knocked back by the Government because it said it could not fund a trust, but that a similar facility in Maitland run by a trust received a grant. "And you know what's in Maitland...a power generator. "This budget is to sweeten the pot for people to not make them feel uneasy about losing their seat in the next election."

Mr Williams said Murray-Darling has been overlooked by the Government. "This is a very, very poor budget for Murray-Darling residents...a bad blow for those seeking State Government help for projects and spending on infrastructure.

"Educational needs in regional, rural and remote areas have been completely ignored, as have public order and safety, transport and recreation and culture. "Where is the much needed money for the Menindee Lakes?"

The Government, however, said the Budget delivered a $7.1 billion investment for country NSW in hospitals and schools and $3.1 billion to roads.

Minister for Rural Affairs, Tony Kelly, said the Government was spending more per capita on country residents than their counterparts in Sydney.

"More than 45 per cent of capital spending is outside Sydney in rural and regional NSW, with only 41.5 per cent of population of the State."

Mr Kelly also said the budget includes a $44.9 million boost to regional development funding that will be used to entice business to country areas.

The money will be spent on encouraging businesses to relocate to regional areas, with plans to introduce services that make site selection, the purchase of land, and the planning process easier.

There are also plans to generate increased interest and growth in the regions through government programs, Mr Kelly said.

The only budget allocation specific for Broken Hill announced yesterday was $50,000 towards a $1.1 million project involving refurbishing the State Office Block.

Mr Williams said other budget allocations may come to light later in the week.

"It's bulk announcements of money. You won't get the detail where it's going until days after, when they start to leak it out." He said that included $16.5 million for projects outlined by the NSW Rural and Regional Taskforce.

"That's across regional Australia...the Premier announced that today, but with no specifics on where the money's going." Mr Williams said he was particularly disappointed that the budget did not fund a new oncology and renal dialysis unit for Broken Hill.

"We have raised that with the government, but there's no mention. It's an area we really deserve support with. "At the moment, the oncology department is an unsatisfactory environment. People receiving chemotherapy need privacy and comfort, and that's not happening."

He said the renal dialysis unit was cramped and "stuffed into not more than a broom closet". An "underfunded" Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Assistance Scheme (IPTAAS) service also missed out, said Mr Williams.

"IPTAAS needs a complete overhaul, with an amount of money that supports the needs of the people. It's underfunded and inflexible."Mr Williams said he expected specific budget announcements to be made by the Government as the week progressed.

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