Federal budgets typically commit big money to New South Wales roads, but instead of going to the Pacific Highway in the state’s north, this year some will be flowing south.
- There is $500m for roads in the southern Illawarra and $280m to help fix a major intersection west of Wollongong
- The budget builds on commitments to turn the Illawarra into a so-called hydrogen hub
- While there’s money for new apprentices, there’s little for those choosing to go to university
The Coalition’s second COVID-19 budget pledged $400 million to upgrade the highway between Jervis Bay Road and Sussex Inlet Road, plus $100 million for the Jervis Bay Road intersection where a flyover is being planned.
Since December 2017 more than eight people have died on the Princes Highway between Nowra and Ulladulla.
During the 2019 NSW election campaign the state government pledged $960 million to provide a dual carriageway from Jervis Bay Road south to Ulladulla.
NSW Liberal MP Shelley Hancock said the additional federal funds would “turbo-charge” the upgrades program and “strengthens our ability to build this vital upgrade now”.
Ms Hancock rejected Labor claims of funding duplication with the Commonwealth.
“The $400 million is in addition to the $960 million for the Princes Highway already committed by the NSW government,” she said.
But Labor’s Member for Gilmore, Fiona Phillips, said the money that had been promised could include re-announcements and there was no money to pre-plan for the Nowra bypass.
“I’m certainly going to be looking at the detail more closely and talking to the minister,” she said.
The $240 million for the long-awaited Mount Ousley Interchange west of Wollongong brings the total set aside for the project so far to $261 million once state funding is included.
Regional Development Australia Illawarra said just $39 million in additional funds was now needed to complete the project.
“We are delighted about the announced funding for the project,” chief executive Debra Murphy said.
Connection to south-west Sydney still lacking
But she has called for increased investment at the top of the hill where the M1 meets Picton and Appin Roads.
“The Mount Ousley interchange should be considered as just one link in the vital connection between Port Kembla, Wollongong and Western Sydney,” Ms Murphy said.
There was no funding to progress the South West Illawarra Rail Link, formerly known as the Maldon-Dombarton rail link.
Hume MP Angus Taylor announced a further $18 million for Appin Road to “deliver improved design elements identified during community consultation to improve the road upgrade”.
Mr Taylor, as Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, also announced up to $30 million for the Andrew Forrest-proposed 635-megawatt hydrogen-ready gas-fired power station at Port Kembla.
And adding to the region’s growing status as a future hydrogen gas provider, $5 million was added to the government funding package for Energy Australia’s Tallawarra B gas-fired electricity plant on the edge of Lake Illawarra.
Business Illawarra executive director Adam Zarth said the commitments helped cement the Illawarra’s future as a “hydrogen hub”, though he would like to see that confirmed.
“There was an acknowledgement of our important role in the energy future of the nation,” he said.
Apart from infrastructure, aged care provider Warrigal Care has welcomed as “a great start” an extra $17.7 billion over the next five years in response to the aged care royal commission.
Mark Sewell, Warrigal Care chief executive and regional chair of Aged and Community Services Australia, said he was delighted overall with the announcement.
It included money for regional and rural areas to improve buildings, access to care and to recruit staff, plus an additional $10 per resident per day in funding.
Mr Sewell said an additional 80,000 in-home care packages was also welcome but not adequate to meet the growing demand.
“The royal commission recommended more than that — they said it should be uncapped,” he said.
“And people should get that need when they need it, like Medicare, but unfortunately the government has not done that, it’s just supplied a big boost but it is still not enough.”
Slice of training pie for apprentices
Another key area of funding to come out on budget night for apprenticeship training is likely to provide a significant boost to the Illawarra.
University of Wollongong economist Alex Frino said the subsidy promised to newly starting apprentices would go a significant way to helping the 20,000 15- to 17-year-olds living in the Illawarra region.
But for those choosing to finish school and go to university, Professor Frino said there was not much for them.
“Nothing noteworthy at all for higher education,” he said.
It is a significant letdown for an institution that is calculated to contribute in the order of $2 billion in gross domestic product or around 10 to 15 per cent of the region’s GDP.