Sunshine Coast Council Mayor Mark Jamieson said the focus in the 2021-2022 Federal Budget on reinforcing the nation’s economic recovery from the impacts of COVID-19 was both understandable and necessary, but the scale of spending and unsustainable level of debt should be concerning for all communities.
The Federal Budget was introduced in the House of Representatives last night (May 11), forecasting net Federal debt at 30 June 2022 to be $729 billion, increasing to nearly $1 trillion (or nearly 41 per cent of Gross Domestic Product) at 30 June 2025.
“I have always said that it is at times like this, governments must do the heavy lifting to support economic growth and boost confidence – and that is what our Council has done and continues to do for our community,” Mayor Jamieson said.
“But when you are incurring significant levels of debt like this, there needs to be a clear plan on how it will be paid back and I haven’t seen that in the Budget papers so far.
“This is debt that will likely be a burden on a number of generations – my little granddaughter who turns one in August will likely be still repaying it in decades to come.”
Mayor Jamieson has however, welcomed some of the long overdue social policy measures included in the Federal budget.
“For our Sunshine Coast residents, the commitment of an additional $17.7 billion over five years to aged care and nearly $1 billion towards reducing domestic and family violence and supporting survivors will be greatly welcomed,” Mayor Jamieson said.
“The Royal Commission into Aged Care highlighted significant inadequacies in this system across Australia.
“For our many older residents on the Sunshine Coast, this significant commitment to re-orient the aged care system and make it better focussed on the needs of residents will be genuinely appreciated.
“I am also pleased to see $2.3 billion committed to implement the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan – although this is an area that still remains underfunded and has done for years.
“We know the COVID-19 pandemic and the public health response measures will have resulted in a sharp increase in demand for mental health services – so while the new funding is appreciated, this will remain an area where more needs to be done.
“What we haven’t seen in this budget however, is the type of support needed to respond to the housing crisis which is impacting communities like ours, such as providing some commitment to continue the National Rental Affordability Scheme.”
Mayor Jamieson said council certainly welcomed the $1 billion for a further round of the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program and the $250 million for a further round of the Building Better Regions Fund (BBRF).
“Late last year we received $11.06 million from the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Fund which we are using for a wide range of local road upgrades and associated infrastructure improvements right across our region,” Mayor Jamieson said.
“The BBRF has also been a useful funding source for Council in the past – having provided nearly $3 million towards the $8 million upgrade of The Events Centre in Caloundra that we completed last year – although it remains to be seen whether any of the BBRF funding gets allocated to Sunshine Coast projects.
Mayor Jamieson said the extensive infrastructure commitments nationally across the Federal Budget were critical to supporting economic recovery, but he remained concerned at the lack of detail on when funding would be provided.
“Three projects were announced by the Federal Government on Monday for the Sunshine Coast – $160 million towards a $320 million first stage of the Mooloolah River Interchange; $7 million for the Nicklin Way/Third Avenue, Caloundra upgrade; and $5 million for a further study on rail duplication between Beerburrum and Nambour – which our Council appreciates,” Mayor Jamieson said.
“But there is a lack of clarity in the budget papers on when this funding will be available – or even if it is in the four-year period of the forward estimates,” Mayor Jamieson said.
“It shouldn’t be too hard to get some level of certainty from the Federal Government and our community should be at least afforded the respect of being informed of when the funding will become available.
“I also note that despite the repeated claims by the Sunshine Coast State and Federal Members over recent months that a rail connection from Beerwah to Maroochydore should be the highest public transport infrastructure priority for our region – there is not one cent allocated to this project in what is probably the highest spending Federal Budget in recent history.
“Naturally, our council – and many others – find the decision not to contribute $20 million towards the Sunshine Coast Stadium upgrade inexplicable.
“This was an outstanding partnership where two very generous local philanthropists, Council and the State Government had all locked in their funding.
“The Federal Government only had to make up the final $20 million – and they chose not to.
“That partnership is now lost, the philanthropists have withdrawn their $11 million and the State’s $20 million is potentially at risk given it was contingent on the Federal Government contributing $20 million.
“Our Council would like to publicly thank Mr Thompson and Mr Forrester for their generous offers – which were unparalleled in comparison to any other sports infrastructure project in Australia.”
“The upgrade of our stadium is needed now to meet the needs of our community – all of the evidence points to this.
“The Deputy Prime Minister and the Federal Member for Fisher were given plenty of notice of our funding request and of the intention of the two philanthropists to withdraw if the money wasn’t provided in the Federal Budget.
“The loss of this opportunity is 100 per cent, entirely due to the inaction of the Federal Government.
“To get the project back on track, our council and our community will be expecting the Federal Government to cover the lost $11 million in addition to the $20 million we have sought from them for this project.
“Filling this gap should not fall onto the shoulders of our ratepayers when neither they, nor our council, created this problem.”