BUDGET | THE ILLAWARRA
Illawarra residents have been short-changed from the sale of Port Kembla, with Newcastle citizens set to receive three times more money from the long-term lease of their port.
The Newcastle port lease was the centrepiece of NSW Treasurer Mike Baird's budget announcement and aims to capitalise on $5 billion received for Port Botany and Port Kembla.
Half of the anticipated proceeds of the sale - $340 million - will be spent on revitalising Newcastle's CBD, including replacing the heavy rail line running through the city with a newly announced light rail system.
This is in addition to $120 million already committed to Newcastle's revitalisation and takes the Hunter Infrastructure and Investment Fund to $690 million.
Just 14 per cent - or $100 million - of the $760 million from the lease of Port Kembla has been earmarked for the Illawarra Infrastructure Fund.
Additionally, yesterday's budget indicated projects planned for the Illawarra could be years away as the NSW government delivered just $20 million of the promised amount for the next financial year.
Illawarra Labor politicians were furious about the government's neglect of their region yesterday, with Keira MP Ryan Park saying residents were being treated like "second class citizens".
"I am gobsmacked that they would make an announcement that separates two cities that are very similar in economic conditions and are going through similar economic challenges by such a huge amount of money," he said.
"We are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars of difference for the sale of similar assets, and that is simply a disgrace."
He said it was unfair that the Illawarra's $100 million would be spread over five local government areas, while $340 million would be concentrated in Newcastle's CBD.
"We've got to remember that this money [from Port Kembla] is going to be spread from one end of the region to the other and all the way out west to Picton and beyond," he said.
"Newcastle's money is concentrated in and around where their asset was, which always should have been the case in Port Kembla.
"I have never seen a government treat two communities - which are very similar in their economic challenges and in the types of forecasts they face - so very differently when it comes to funding of infrastructure."
In another blow for Wollongong, the government delivered just one fifth of its promised $100 million yesterday.
Mr Park said this would lead to further delay when it came to getting vital Illawarra projects up and running.
"This flies in the face of what the Minister for the Illawarra - who is off duty - said a few weeks ago," Mr Park said.
"He categorically said that these projects would be up and running and at least commenced by the end of this year."
A NSW Treasury spokesman said the government had not allocated the total $100 million next year because a consultation process was currently under way to decide how to spend the money.
He said the remaining money would be delivered in future years.
Kiama MP Gareth Ward said Labor MPs were "misrepresenting the situation" relating to the sale of Newcastle's port, because the Illawarra had actually received $270 million from the long-term lease of Port Kembla.
He said $170 million set aside last year to build the Berry Bypass was also part of the region's allocation.
"When we went to tender for [Port Kembla] we expected to gain $500 million and before we even went to tender we made it clear we would return $100 million for a new infrastructure fund and $170 million for the Princes Highway," Mr Ward said.
Mr Ward denied Illawarra residents had been treated worse than those in Newcastle, saying central Wollongong electorates had received roads and infrastructure funding under past Labor governments.
He said this was why the $100 million needed to be spread across the whole region rather than being concentrated as it was in Newcastle.
"I make absolutely no apology for the fact that I lobbied exceptionally hard to ensure that not only did the port return an upgrade to the Princes Highway ... but that $100 million went to suburbs like Shellharbour, Kiama and Shoalhaven," he said.
He said the allocation of $20 million did not represent a delay in Illawarra infrastructure funding, but was simply a matter of accounting.