Budget's regional investment to assist recovery

BUDGET: Treasurer Rob Lucas delivered the 2021-22 State Budget on Tuesday. Photo: File
BUDGET: Treasurer Rob Lucas delivered the 2021-22 State Budget on Tuesday. Photo: File

This week's State Budget will look to push South Australia out of its COVID-19 downturn and includes funding for regional areas and infrastructure, although there are concerns about the level of investment in the regions and primary industries.

The State Budget was announced on Tuesday and Treasurer Rob Lucas says the goal is to continue the state's economic recovery, yet the Opposition says most of the funding allocated to the regions is for existing rather than new projects.

Mr Lucas said the budget was not a "pre-election spending splurge", rather it was a responsible budget "in terms of managing the impacts of COVID, setting us up for recovery and making important strategic decisions in priority areas".

A total of $786.4 million in funding has been committed to regional roads across the next four years, with many allocations to fund the next stages of projects.

These include $180m for the Augusta Highway Duplication, $80m for sealing of the Strzelecki Track, and $60m for the Heysen Tunnels.

The state government is also providing $202m across three years to construct a bypass of Truro and Accommodation Hill on the Sturt Highway, while Playford Highway and Hog Bay Road are among key routes on Kangaroo Island to receive a $40m upgrade over three years, and the old bridge at Murray Bridge will be allocated $36m.

Money has also been allocated to business cases for future road projects, with $5m for the duplication of the Augusta Highway from Port Pirie to Crystal Brook, $2m on the widening and upgrade of Eyre Highway, $10m for a Greater Adelaide freight bypass and $5m to duplicate the Princes Highway and Swanport Bridge between Murray Bridge and the Mallee Highway.

"We are investing record amounts in regional infrastructure including roads so people can travel faster and safer, hospitals to provide better healthcare, schools to inspire our next generations and community space for people to enjoy," Primary Industries Minister David Basham said.

The budget is also focussing on biosecurity and the agriculture sector, with fruit fly eradication to receive $33.3m in additional investment over two years to help tackle outbreaks, plus $18.7m across a range of agricultural initiatives to help support economic recovery, grow the industry and create local jobs.

But budget papers project the primary industries budget will decrease by $54.61m for the coming financial year, due to less funds being allocated to bushfire recovery, the marine scalefish fishery reform, and the once-off regional growth stimulus spending, while the budget for regional development will dip slightly from $72.8m to $70.13m in 2021-22.

Opposition primary industries spokeswoman Clare Scriven was concerned primary industries did not seem to be a priority.

"There doesn't seem to be very much that is truly new in the budget for primary industries," she said.

"The continuation of programs such as the Rural Financial Counselling Service (additional $2.2m over three years) and the AgTech Adoption program ($1.3m a year) is great, but they are not necessarily new initiatives."

She wanted to see more investment at ground level in regional areas to help with services.

Regional health care and education have also been considered, with $46.7m invested for major health infrastructure upgrades, including at the Mount Barker Hospital emergency department, Port Augusta Ambulance Station and Strathalbyn Aged Care, while $6m has been allocated to completing a detailed business case, land acquisition and the start of early works at a new public hospital in the Barossa Valley.

A total of $115.6m has been invested in major capital projects at school and preschools, including the replacement of existing learning areas at Eastern Fleurieu R-12 School at Langhorne Creek campus and the relocation of Elliston Kindergarten to Elliston Area School.

"These investments support the state government's recently released South Australian-first Regional Development Strategy which recognises the importance of our regions to the state economy and identifies key areas to focus on to help deliver key projects to create local jobs," Mr Basham said.

Despite investment in rural health, 86 jobs across the six rural Local Health Networks are set to be cut.

"While claiming to make investments in one area, the Liberals are making much bigger cuts elsewhere," Opposition treasury spokesman Stephen Mullighan said.

Labor leader Peter Malinauskas said that rather than proceed with an inner city stadium, Labor would invest that money into the state's health system, including $100m specifically allocated to country health.

Mr Lucas said the budget's priorities were jobs, health and education.

"We said all along, the $4bn economic stimulus would be time-limited, it would be two years, but after that we would have to spend no more than we earn," he said.

"I am as excited about our state's future as I have ever been in the past 40 years.

"We are on the dawn of some really exciting times ahead."

This story Budget's regional investment to assist recovery first appeared on Port Lincoln Times.