Tuesday night's federal budget contains large spending measures that will boost small businesses, support key industries across the Illawarra and aid the region's ongoing economic recovery, according to the region's peak business advocacy organisation, Business Illawarra.
Importantly, the Commonwealth has used the rapid recovery of the budget bottom line to address the underfunding of the aged care sector and to increase spending on childcare, which will benefit two of the largest employing sectors in the Illawarra and all the local families that rely on these services.
Executive Director of Business Illawarra, Adam Zarth, said the region also scored a major win as part of a significant national infrastructure spend that includes $740 million for transformative road projects across the Illawarra-Shoalhaven.
"We have all worked hard to manage the pandemic in Australia, and are being repaid with an rapid economic recovery that can support a big-spending budget containing measures that will see businesses grow across the Illawarra," Mr Zarth said.
"The funding of the Mount Ousley Road Interchange is a regional highlight, with $240 million to complete the funding of a vital road project that is the gateway to our region and follows $21 million from the NSW government, which we worked hard to secure with our members the University of Wollongong and NSW Ports.
"Aside from the $48 million in annual economic benefit that our 2018 research identified, this project, together with the $500 million set aside for the Princes Highway upgrades between Jervis Bay Road and Sussex Inlet Road, is a win for community safety," Mr Zarth said.
"It is time to let the private sector resume its role as the driver of growth in the Illawarra economy and the budget supports this through both the extension of the temporary full expensing measure, which allows businesses to deduct the full cost of eligible assets up front, and the loss carry back provisions that allow them to write off COVID-19 losses against previous profits."
"Combined with the extension of the low and middle-income tax offset, which provides rebates of up to $1080 to eligible workers, these measures will keep us out there spending in the Illawarra economy which will ensure our recovery continues."
Aged care and disability support
"The budget includes a long-awaited, lasting response to the underfunding of the aged care sector, with a dual boost to both home care packages and the daily subsidy for residential care. Additional funding to the National Disability Insurance Scheme will ensure our members in that sector, their employees and clients can feel more secure in their funding arrangements also," Mr Zarth said.
"As a knowledge economy that thrives on innovation we also welcome the announcement of a $1.2 billion for the Digital Economy Strategy that contains a range of measures to support digital skills and $130.4 million to improve digital connectivity in regional, rural and remote communities.
"However, we caution that significantly more funding may be required to address capacity pressures resulting from migration to regions like ours due to the pandemic."
"Of course we can't deliver our region's now-enviable infrastructure pipeline without the workforce, and with skilled migration limited by border closures our members are concerned about a shortages of key workers across a range of sectors, including construction and hospitality.
"To this end, the government has doubling its commitment to the JobTrainer Fund, which will support new training places to upskill job seekers and young people, at the same time creating more than 170,000 new apprenticeships and traineeships."
Business Illawarra also said budget commitments to support new gas and hydrogen projects at Port Kembla were further confirmation of the Illawarra's bright future as an energy hub.
The budget provided funding of $30 million over two years to support Australian Industrial Power - a division of Dr Andrew Forrest's Squadron Energy - to undertake early works on its proposed 660 megawatt dual fuel (gas and green hydrogen) power station at Port Kembla.
It also included $25 million over three years to support the development of hydrogen ready gas generation infrastructure; $5 million of which will go towards ensuring EnergyAustralia's 316 megawatt Tallawarra B gas power plant, planned near Lake Illawarra, will be able to use green hydrogen as a fuel into the future.
"These welcome funding commitments provide clear confirmation of the Federal Government's support of Port Kembla as a hub of future energy and industry," Mr Zarth said.
"They follow a string of good news for energy projects in the Illawarra, including most recently the $83 million funding agreement for Energy Australia's Tallawarra B project announced by the NSW government.
"Combined, these projects will be vital to securing dispatchable electricity capacity when the Liddell Power Station is decommissioned in 2023 and should also help reduce energy costs for Australian industry, businesses and consumers.
"Importantly, they will also be set up to support the transition to hydrogen and a cleaner energy future.
"The Illawarra has incredible potential as a source of new energy production, with its highly skilled technical workforce, established industrial supply chain and associated distribution infrastructure."