The Hunter's bumper representation in NSW cabinet has not translated into significant new budget spending in the region as Treasurer Daniel Mookhey tries to rein in government debt.
The 42-page overview of Labor's first budget in 13 years refers to "Sydney" 22 times, but Newcastle, the state's second city, and the Hunter do not rate a mention.
The restored Hunter ministerial portfolio, vacated recently by Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp and handed to Yasmin Catley, has not earned its own budget paper.
The budget offers no substantial spending for the multibillion-dollar Hunter Park sport, entertainment and housing redevelopment at Broadmeadow, a project caught up in the Independent Commission Against Corruption investigation into Mr Crakanthorp.
After more than six years of agency planning, the government still has not made a strong budgetary commitment to the project nor resolved many of the challenges it presents for existing users of the 63-hectare site.
Mr Mookhey said during a media conference in Sydney that planning continued on the redevelopment and the Crakanthorp scandal had not diluted the government's commitment to it.
The budget also confirms a state review of infrastructure projects has shelved spending on fast or faster rail between Newcastle and Sydney, a project now exclusively under the auspices of the federal government's new High Speed Rail Authority.
The government confirmed last weekend that it had canned the Special Activation Precinct at Newcastle Airport.
The budget offers an additional $200 million for planning and construction of Parramatta's light rail second stage, but nothing for extending Newcastle's tram line.
Most of the projects highlighted in the Hunter section of the Department of Regional NSW budget paper are not new, including the John Hunter Hospital redevelopment, M1 Motorway extension to Raymond Terrace and already completed Maitland Hospital.
The M1 will receive another $355 million in 2023-24, the Newcastle Inner City Bypass $110 million and the John Hunter Hospital health precinct $251 million.
The budget says the government will build a new Medowie high school, but does not provide spending figures in forward estimates.
The government has assigned the Newcastle High School redevelopment $31 million in 2023-24, the Hunter River High School upgrade $23 million and Irrawang High School $10.5 million, though all three significantly underspent their 2022-23 allocations.
The Mandalong Road upgrade at Morisset will receive $4.8 million in state and federal funds this financial year, but a cost blowout of up to $46 million remains unresolved.
The 11-kilometre Nelson Bay Road duplication is marked for "continued planning" but no concrete budget allocations.
The budget does not mention the Resources for Regions Fund, which has distributed $560 million to mining-affected regional councils since 2012 and offered $140 million in its most recent round.
But it confirms the former statewide Regional Growth Fund has morphed into the $350 million Regional Development Trust Fund and expands two regional road funds by more than $700 million, partly by reassigning money from a defunct regional road reclassification program that achieved little.
The government says it will address social and affordable housing shortfalls, and the lack of housing supply in general, with a series of programs, though they fall short of what some housing providers have recommended.
The $2.2 billion Housing and Infrastructure Plan includes $1.5 billion for more roads, parks, hospitals and schools to support housing construction in Sydney, the Lower Hunter, Central Coast and Illawarra and another $400 million from the Restart NSW fund for infrastructure across the state.
Mr Mookhey said publicly owned housing developer Landcom would be thrust back into the property market as a symbol of the government's appetite for more housing development, though its construction targets were modest.
The budget says $610.1 million from the federal government under the Social Housing Accelerator Agreement will "deliver a permanent increase" of about 1500 social housing dwellings over the next five years in partnership with community housing providers.
The waiting list for social housing in the Hunter alone is 4500.
In the energy sector, the government will raise coal royalties by an estimated $2.7 billion over the next four years, use $1 billion to establish an Energy Security Corporation to invest in storage and firming projects and spend $804 million on transmission lines to connect renewable energy zones with the grid sooner in the Hunter and other parts of the state.
Mr Mookhey said the new government's first budget was targeted at providing pay rises to teachers, nurses and other public servants and bringing down rapidly escalating debt repayments.
"Despite our wealth, many people within our state are struggling to pay for essentials like transport, energy, and housing," the Treasurer said in his budget pitch.
"NSW confronts these challenges at a time when the former Liberal government had continued pandemic-level spending well after it was needed.
"Before this budget, NSW debt was projected to reach $188.2 billion by 2026, and higher interest rates are making many NSW debt repayments more expensive, limiting our ability to pay for important programs.
"In this budget, we reckon with these challenges and begin the rebuild."
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