State welcomes Canberra Budget
Tasmania missed centre-stage in May's Commonwealth Budget (in fact, the State wasn't even mentioned in the Budget Speech), but Government in Hobart was satisfied with the outcome and an absence of nasty surprises.
Critics lamented a lack of positive surprises and pointed out that Tasmania's share of $70 billion in national infrastructure spending amounted to only $1.1 billion.
If population had been Treasurer Scott Morrison's only criterion, Tasmania could have expected 2 per cent, or $1.4 billion.
The Premier, Will Hodgman, didn't think we were hard done by, suggesting that the Budget's detractors were "either being dishonest or delusional".
“People may have short attention spans if they think that significant announcements made in the last month or so ‒ $1 billion in investments for Tasmania ‒ aren’t significant and aren’t real money going into supporting our community,” he said.
Recent announcements include the $730 million in a decade-long funding deal for the Mersey Community Hospital and the Launceston City Deal, which provides $130 million for the relocation of UTAS's northern campus to Launceston CBD, $7.5 million for the City Heart project and $2 million for UTAS's National Institute for Forest Products.
The State Treasurer, Peter Gutwein, described Mr Morrison's document as "a welcome no-surprises Budget for Tasmania."
Mr Gutwein said: "Our additional education funding under Gonski 2.0, which means an extra $200 million for our schools, has been confirmed, as has funding for the University of Tasmania northern transformation projects."
Tasmania's share of infrastructure funding includes $60 million over four years for the Roads to Recovery program, $9.2 million over four years for black spots and $5 million until 2019-20 for bridge renewal.
There is $96.5 million towards the progressive $400 million upgrade of the Midland Highway.
The 500m extension of the Hobart Airport runway receives its final instalment of $13.25 million next year after expenditure of $22 million in 2016-17.
Complementing that is a $5 million allocation towards the $24 million cost of upgrading the Hobart Airport roundabout.
Tasmania also receives $12.9 million in 2017-18, and $15.3 million in 2018-19 in the final two years of rail line upgrades under the $59.8 million Freight Rail Revitalisation program.
The Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme will receive $171 million in 2017-18 including the extension announced in 2015 for north-bound export goods from companies such as Nyrstar, Cadbury, Bell Bay Aluminium and Norske Skog.
The most notable omissions include UTAS's $400 million STEM (science technology engineering and maths) project in Hobart, the $535 million Bridgewater Bridge replacement and about $730 million in water and sewerage improvements for Launceston, Devonport and Hobart.
UTAS's Acting Vice-Chancellor, Mike Calford, told The Mercury: “The STEM proposal is the only Tasmanian project on Infrastructure Australia’s priority list for the country ‒ it is disappointing not to see it as part of the Budget."
Mr Hodgman said the STEM project and Bridgewater Bridge were still priorities and he was committed to ensuring “they start as soon as possible".
“[These] are part of a priority list and we will continue to work with the Federal Government to not only develop the planning, but the funding of those commitments into the future," he said.
Tasmania receives $40.1 million over the next two years under the Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure Program to keep its ambitious irrigation projects rolling out.
Importantly for many in Hobart's scientific community, the Budget confirms Canberra's $49.8 million commitment to provide year-round access to the State's sub-Antarctic outpost, Macquarie Island, with funding over 11 years.
Leading economist Saul Eslake said the Budget contained some bold and worthy initiatives, but was in some ways a surprisingly unambitious document in terms of seeking to improve the nation's bottom line.
Mr Eslake said: "By the standards of previous pre-election Budgets, this was a sober, responsible effort on the part of the Government ...
"But the Government is unnecessarily, and perhaps dangerously, blinded by its ... belief in the inherent nobility of small businesses, and to the property industry. Both have prevented it from delivering a better Budget."
The Advocate summed up in an editorial: "Losers include employed Tasmanians, who will get hit with a higher Medicare levy, purportedly to contribute to the NDIS [National Disability Insurance Scheme].
"People with disabilities are among the winners, given the NDIS commitments.
"Bank shareholders (most working Tasmanians, either directly or through super, and many retired ones) will lose from the new tax on the big banks.
"University students get a whack on degree costs and earlier student-loan repayments.
"Schools will get extra cash, while housing affordability measures will make a difference for some Tasmanians.
"Welfare recipients who avoid job opportunities or Centrelink commitments will be penalised, while health patients will benefit from improved bulk-billing incentives."
The three major international rating agencies confirmed the Australian Government's AAA credit rating after considering the Budget's content.
Image courtesy of The Daily Mail
6 June 2017, Edition 184