The Gillard government’s relentless pursuit of a surplus has left enough spare cash to fund just a handful of new projects in the Illawarra.
Only a smattering of local initiatives made it into a budget designed to deliver a modest surplus, and the troubled government back to office, by next year.
The measures are focused on the Illawarra’s transitioning economy, its long-term infrastructure needs and helping reverse entrenched social disadvantage.
Shellharbour will be one of 10 troubled areas subject to a new Jobless Families trial, where long-term unemployed parents risk losing their welfare benefits unless they attend compulsory meetings with the Department of Human Services.
Under the $71 million, four-year scheme, parents aged 23 and over who have been unemployed or not studying for more than two years will have to front mandatory interviews so the department’s community workers can assess the child’s health, wellbeing and development.
Once the child turns four, the parents must complete a mandatory workshop where a plan for the child’s schooling is mapped out in conjunction with the department.
The trial, which also includes Wyong, on the Central Coast, and Bankstown, in Sydney’s south-west, will also give children of long-term unemployed parents better access to early development opportunities such as playgroups.
About 22,000 jobless families will be affected.
The program is modelled on the success of another, announced during last year’s budget, in which teenage mothers are encouraged to go back to school or risk having welfare payments withdrawn.
That trial began in Shellharbour and nine other areas in January this year, and within three months, about 400 young parents signed up to go back to school.
Teenagers involved in the trial have participated in around 160 parenting programs, while their children have attended 370 early childhood activities such as playgroups and child care.
In a separate measure, Kiama residents stand to benefit from a three-year, $22.2million telehealth pilot program which will provide in-home health care services to the elderly, people living with cancer and those requiring palliative care. An additional $8.1million will be spent over four years on a separate program targeting war veterans suffering from complex, chronic conditions. The programs are aimed at reducing hospital visits by encouraging remote consultations.
Both initiatives will be rolled out in towns already connected to the National Broadband Network, although the final recipients have not yet been announced. Kiama Downs is one of eight areas which have access to the NBN, and one of only two in NSW, alongside Armidale. Kiama will also host a further home-based health trial targeting mental health services for young people.
The Government is also trying to leverage the power of the NBN to make it easier for ratepayers to access council services. The first 40 councils to benefit from the NBN, including Wollongong and Kiama, can apply for grants of up to up to $375,000 for initiatives which allow council officers to meet ratepayers via the internet.
In a blow to the University of Wollongong, its application to build a major health precinct failed to score funding from the fourth and final round of the $1.8billion Health and Hospital’s Fund. The snub, the second in a year, casts fresh doubt over whether the $300 million proposal will become a reality.
Of the 76 projects awarded funding, a number involved hospital expansions or upgrades in seats held by key independent MP’s Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott. As revealed by the Mercury yesterday, the budget touted the Government’s decision to further investigate land near Wilton, north-west of Wollongong, as the location for Sydney’s second international airport.
However, the budget papers did not note how much money had been set aside for a scoping study because the job has been put out to tender and applications are being assessed.
The study will determine whether the airport can be built in the environmentally sensitive area and if so, what that would mean for the Illawarra in terms of noise impact and economic growth.
The long-awaited Maldon-to-Dombarton rail link also moved one step closer to becoming a reality with $25.5 million earmarked for final engineering studies. Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the funding when she visited the Illawarra in October 2011, but it has taken seven months for the Government to set aside the funds.
The proposed 35km rail line would link the network at Maldon, near Picton, to an existing 15km track between Dombarton and Port Kembla.
Funding will go towards determining a final alignment, along with design and geotechnical work. The project will be put forward for final construction funding in the 2014-2015 budget.
Some $20 million over four years has been earmarked for a specialist rail unit to explore the viability of a high-speed rail line stretching across Australia’s eastern seaboard. Conceptual plans have already canvassed the idea of a Wollongong spur line.
The Illawarra could also be considered for a $29.8 million Manufacturing Technology Innovation Centre, announced last night by Industry and Innovation Minister Greg Combet.
The centre would bring together the ‘‘best and the brightest’’ of manufacturing and provide information about new design and engineering breakthroughs to the rest of the industry. A location is yet to be determined.