City-centric budget fails us: MP

Friday November 13, 2020

Published by The Border Watch

By Raquel Mustillo

MEMBER for Mount Gambier Troy Bell has labelled the State Government's 2020-21 big spend "high-vis" budget as city-centric for failing to deliver little targeted funding initiative for the Limestone Coast.

Treasurer Rob Lucas unveiled a plan to spend billions on road infrastructure, health facilities, sport stadiums and schools as the State Government responds to the ongoing impact of COVID-19 and bushfire events.

The government will spend a record $16.7b on infrastructure over four years, with the completion of the North-South Corridor and multimillion dollar upgrade of two metropolitan sports facilities centrepieces of the budget.

"But minimal spending has been allocated specifically for Limestone Coast priorities, with regional funding comprising mainly of grant programs and sustainability works at schools and hospitals." Mr Bell expressed disappointment for the lack of specific projects for Mount Gambier, with the government allocated $800,000 towards the heritage listed Varcoe Foundry building for infrastructure works and the reannounced $5.1m to complete the $6.3m upgrade of Grant High School in the budget.

The Yahl CFS fire station and upgrades to the Riddoch Highway have also been earmarked, but no dollar figure has been attached to either project.

"If you look at the state budget, most of the billions of dollars are in the CBD and we need to invest in the regions to grow the state," he said.

"There's parts in it that will benefit the whole state such as the small business payment of $10,000 and the $3000 cash grant for sole traders - they are good initiatives and they will benefit everybody," "But it's almost on repeat - we are the state's second largest city, we don't get the second largest share of the budget. "It seems it is always concentrated in the CBD and from that point of view, it is a disappointment.

"This is still a city-centric budget and a city infrastructure budget." Mr Bell said while some of the infrastructure spend would benefit freight and vehicle movements in the north of the state, no funding had been allocated to boosting safety on key Limestone Coast transport routes.

"I am disappointed most of the massive spend on road infrastructure does not take into consideration the part from Tailem bend to Keith and Bordertown, which should be dual lane all the way," he said.

"There's an economic benefit to our state, there's a safety benefit for people who live in our region not having to overtake trucks all the time.

"In terms of return of investment, to me that seems like the logical spend and yet it is not even mentioned in this budget." "However, Mr Bell welcomed the government's education investment measures including grants of up to $100,000 for all government schools to undertake priority maintenance works." Government preschools will receive $30,000 grants to engage businesses and tradespeople for works.

The former educator welcomed a $805m spend on boosting staff numbers, with the government hopeful of adding 1768 more employees to the sector.

"There's some direct investment straight into schools, including the non-government sector - there's $320m for non-government school loans, with the first year being interest free and the second year being at a very minimum rate," he said.

"There's a direct cash injection into schools of between $20,000 and $100,000 per school for priority maintenance which will go direct to the school, principals can then employ contractors direct so there's no bureaucratic loss of money." Mr Bell raised concerns about the government's major infrastructure and building focus and the availability of qualified tradespeople.

"We already have the Federal Government's massive housing stimulus, now we have a massive infrastructure stimulus and I don't know where these tradespeople are going to come from," he said.

"There is a $850m tradie package in the budget, but it takes time to train staff and I think it is going to be a very busy time for tradespeople and skilled workers over the next three to four years." Mr Bell welcomed the government's major health spend, including $15.1m over two years for COVID-19 mental health services.

The initiative will include increased alcohol and drug service capacity, a greater use of digital technology for maintaining delivery of services to individuals with a severe mental illness and initiatives for children and young people affected by social isolation and the economic impacts of COVID-19.

The independent MP said he was in discussions with the government to fund regional mental health as a priority for the Limestone Coast.

"I want regional health to entail early intervention and early support before someone progresses to hospitalisation and need that more acute support," he said.

"I think it would need to include the Matrix outpatient addiction recovery program that is being trialled in the Riverland because there is a strong correlation between substance abuse and mental health.

"If we could achieve the Matrix program, funding for our grassroots support services and a one-stop mental health shop, I think it would be a really good start."