Scott Morrison’s third budget failed to deliver critical investment in health, education and infrastructure to the Hunter region, according to federal Labor MPs criticising the document.
But a Turnbull government Hunter spokesman argues the budget guarantees essential services such as Medicare, medicine, hospitals and mental health.
In a joint statement, Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon, Newcastle’s Sharon Claydon, Shortland’s Pat Conroy, Paterson MP Meryl Swanson and Dobell MP Emma McBride said the Hunter and Central Coast regions were again outside the treasurer’s radar.
With no mention of infrastructure projects from the MPs’ wish list in the budget – including the Glendale transport interchange, the M1 link to Raymond Terrace or a Cessnock ring road linking the town to the Hunter Expressway – Mr Fitzgibbon said the region’s needs had been “frustratingly ignored”.
“There is very little in the budget for the Hunter region unfortunately,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
“They were talking about a big cash splash on infrastructure but we haven’t received our share. We have four projects desperately in need of funding that have been forgotten by this government.”
The budget earmarked $55.2 million over five years for drinking water programs in PFAS-affected areas but Ms Swanson said she “wanted this government to take action and responsibility and yet again they failed to deliver for the people of Williamtown and surrounds”.
Ms Claydon said the modest tax cuts did not make up for the loss of penalty rates, record low wage growth and job insecurity facing Newcastle workers.
Mr Conroy said the government had “locked in their $80 billion of tax cuts for the big end of town”.
But Senator Jim Molan rejected the Hunter MPs’ comments in response to the budget, saying the government had committed to an extra $30 billion for the nation’s hospitals over five years.
“From 2020-21 to 2024-25, the new agreement will deliver a record $130.2 billion in public hospital funding,” he said.
“This represents a more than doubling of public hospital funding under the Coalition government, rising from $13.3 billion in 2012-13 to $28.7 billion in 2024-25.”
Outside of Labor’s expected criticism, response to the budget in the Hunter has been muted, with even business groups arguing that more could have been done for the region or their constituents.
Hunter Business Chamber chief executive Bob Hawes said that while the budget gave “a solid economic blueprint for the nation, more needs to be done to support business”.
“While some sections of business will gain a net benefit, more should be done to encourage the growth of small business across our region,” Mr Hawes said.
“The majority of benefit for the Hunter will be a consequence of continuation of existing programs and unfortunately, not from new initiatives.
“This includes extension of the $20,000 instant asset write-off for another 12 months to June 30, 2019, as well as the boost and maintenance of existing programs and initiatives around infrastructure, innovation and research and development.
“We welcome the news of a $200 million boost to Building Better Regions funding and hope the Hunter will see its fair share of this.”
Leading affordable and community housing provider, Newcastle-based Compass Housing, was disappointed there was nothing in the budget for housing.
Spokesperson Professor David Adamson said the housing needs of Australians had been ignored despite widespread agreement and evidence that Australia’s housing system was broken.
Newcastle specialist health and elder care lawyer Catherine Henry said the budget had not tackled key issues for aged care residents.
Ms Henry, of Catherine Henry Lawyers, said the announcement of an extra 14,000 high-level home care support packages over the next four years was welcome but did nothing to to ensure the 170,000-plus Australians in aged care facilities received appropriate care.
Ms Henry said the government needed to increase regulation of aged care accommodation. It should require mandated staff-to-patient ratios to tackle the “woefully inadequate staffing arrangements that operate in the sector”.
The Master Builders Association endorsed the budget, saying it would boost confidence in the building and construction industry.
“Building and construction investment is a major driver of the improvement in the Budget position,” chief executive Denita Wawn said.
But industry think tank Infrastructure Partnerships Australia took aim at the budget’s professed capital works program, saying that infrastructure funding had actually been reduced by $2 billion over the forward estimates, meaning less cash for projects and more congestion for commuters.
“It’s concerning to see that the Federal Budget has cut real infrastructure funding by $2 billion over the forward estimates,” IPA chief executive Adrian Dwyer said.