NSW councils give State Budget a qualified tick of approval

NSW’s peak body for councils has welcomed around $1.5 billion support for local government in today’s State Budget and says the funding will empower councils to drive a locally led economic recovery and help them create tens of thousands of new jobs for their communities.

Local Government NSW (LGNSW) President Linda Scott said the NSW Government had responded positively to the association’s advocacy to help councils lead their communities through the previous 18 month’s raft of disasters, headlined by the COVID pandemic.

“The announcement of $550 million funding granted directly to councils and organisations to fund infrastructure and foster economic growth in 2021-22 through the Restart NSW is set to create around 8000 jobs,” Cr Scott said.

“The Budget commits more than $2 billion to almost 3000 regional infrastructure projects, which will inject cash and create jobs in local communities, including an estimated 5000 new jobs through the Regional Jobs Creation Job Fund.

“In terms of job-creating infrastructure, funding for local roads, cycleways and footpaths is set to create an estimated 12,000 jobs.

“There’s $240 million set aside to improve road and connectivity conditions and help support jobs through the Fixing Local Roads and Bridges program, a significant win for councils.

“The Budget includes a welcome new $250 million fund to support upgrades to regional roads as part of the Regional Road Transfer and Road Classification Review.

“This funding shows the Government listening to our calls to act on its previous promise to take back 15,000 kilometres of roads from councils.

“There is almost $332 million budgeted in 2021-22 for road safety investment such as audio tactile markings, wide centre lines crash barriers. This is a big win for regional road safety.”

Among specific Budget for the wins is $490 million over four years to increase the uptake of electric vehicles purchases by cutting taxes and reducing barriers for their use, such as increased charging stations.

“With the transport sector contributing around 18 per cent of New South Wales’s total greenhouse gases, the push towards EVs is a major breakthrough,” Cr Scott said.

“I am passionate about protecting our environment and proud of the leadership role local government has provided in actively doing something about it. Today’s announcement reflects LGNSW advocacy and motions at our 2019 annual conference from Mosman, Shoalhaven City and City of Liverpool councils.”

The pressing issue of affordable housing was also addressed in the Budget following councils and LGNSW concerns over the impacts on vulnerable members of local communities and the threat it presented to economic recovery.

“I welcome the commitment of $852 million in capital expenditure in 2021-22 to support the delivery of social and affordable housing and capital upgrades across the State, which will support an estimated 8000 new jobs,” Cr Scott said.

“LGNSW has been advocating for more social and affordable housing very hard over the past 12 months. It is foundational to supporting critical jobs growth in our communities. This funding will help, but with housing stress set to increase by around 24 per cent across Australia this year, more needs to be done.”

The Budget includes around $149 million in 2021-22 for waste and recycling as part of the State Government’s long-awaited 20-year waste strategy, something councils have been pushing for years through LGNSW’s Save Our Recycling action plan to address the growing waste crisis.

“The funding for the Government’s waste strategy is a long-awaited step forward, but we will continue to urge for even greater investment in areas such as effective recycling education,” Cr Scott said.

“If the State invested the $800 million it collects annually into waste and recovery, it could help to divert more than 10 million tonnes of waste from landfill and create a staggering 10,000 jobs Australia-wide and 6500 in NSW alone.”

Other significant Budget announcements for councils and their communities included:

  • $268 million responding to the Bushfire Inquiry, bringing the total to $460 million with Commonwealth funding, which will result in equipment upgrades and implementing a new National Fire Danger Ratings System. This will build resilience in the regions and is a key outcome of LGNSW advocacy;
  • $64 million over four years to strengthen regional resilience through the Future Ready Regions strategy, which is consistent with LGNSW advocacy and policy positions on drought resilience and in line with 2020 LGNSW Conference resolutions from Tenterfield and Warren Shire councils;
  • An extra $380 million over four years to help expedite investment into the State’s five renewable energy zones and smooth the way for an increase in solar, wind and storage projects, in line with LGNSW’s climate change statement;
  • $109.5 million for 25 child and adolescent mental health response teams to cover every local health district across NSW, which directly addresses LGNSW recommendations in the rural and regional health inquiry submission;
  • $150 million in 2021-22 to extend the free preschool program for NSW families for the two year before school;
  • $80 million to establish new multiday walks across NSW, which LGNSW advocated directly to Environment Minister Matt Kean for following a resolution from Shoalhaven City Council at the 2020 LGNSW Annual Conference;
  • A $27.9 million commitment over four years to fund the expansion of the NSW Drug Court to Dubbo in an effort to tackle the ice epidemic that has particularly afflicted regional communities;
  • $36 million to fund 57 mental health specialists in rural and regional areas through the Response and Recovery Specialists program.

“While we do not live in a perfect world and we didn’t get everything we asked for in our State Budget submission, there were a lot of positives,” Cr Scott said.

“These outcomes will contribute to councils’ goal of leading local recovery and building future resilience for their communities, and I congratulate the NSW Government on handing down this Budget.”

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