NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet has handed down a state budget that includes an allocation of more than half-a-billion dollars over four years to boost digital connectivity and improve internet services in regional areas.
The Treasurer announced a surplus of $802 million for the current financial year, with that number forecast to hit an average surplus of $1.7 billion each year over the forward estimates until 2022-23.
While the forecast surplus is significantly smaller than last year’s figure of $3.9 billion, Mr Perrottet outlined a series of big ticket expenditures in infrastructure, hospitals and schools, and characterised the 2019-20 budget as a “state building budget” that’s setting NSW up for the future.
“We want to make sure not only does our Budget deliver for today, but it also builds for generations to come,” the Treasurer said.
As part of this commitment, the NSW government has put a heavy focus on investing in regional NSW, allocating $518.8 million over four years for the Regional Digital Connectivity program.
This will provide mobile black spot towers and data centres in regional areas to improve internet connectivity and reliability in the state’s regions.
First steps of this program includes a $90 million down-payment in 2019-20 to be used to set up data hubs in Dubbo and Wagga Wagga, and to investigate building new fibre cables for faster and more reliable internet connectivity.
The Regional Digital Connectivity Program is funded as part of the Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund, which was established by the state government in June 2018 – all of which will form part of a broader economic blueprint due to be released later this year.
The economic blueprint will outline a strategic framework for the government about forward-looking plans around regional growth, innovation, productivity, small business and transport.
“Changes to the economy are on the horizon. The disruption of advancing automation and robotics is already occurring, changing the nature of workplaces, lifestyles and jobs,” Mr Perrottet said.
“While this technology has enormous potential to improve living standards and create new jobs, there are also transitional challenges that will weigh on parts of the economy,” he said.
“The future economy must also continue to support individual freedom and aspiration – providing all people with a fair opportunity to work, make a living and support their families.
“The Government is well advanced into preparing a blueprint to take account of these challenges and opportunities, and lay out a long-term vision for New South Wales.”
The state budget also revealed new funding for drone rebates will be made available to farmers in regional NSW. The program offers farmers a rebate of up to $500 to purchase drone technology, in a move to encourage farmers to embrace new technologies.
The state government has also revealed it will deliver $12.5 million over five years to create a precinct for business, scientists and startups at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) in Sydney.
The new Nuclear Medicine and Technology Hub will act as an incubator for nuclear medicine and technology businesses; help establish a graduate institute, including 25 new scholarships for PhD students; and drive collaboration between startups, researchers and industry to grow advanced technology businesses in NSW.
This year’s budget also provides continued support for areas that will deliver more jobs for citizens in the state, such as the NSW government’s $35 million Sydney Startup Hub that now has more than 480 startups in residence.
Rental discounts will continue to be offered to tenants who meet subsidy criteria, with the government setting aside $3 million for next financial year, the same amount that was allocated for 2018-19.
However, the same support has not been retained for the Jobs of Tomorrow Scholarships designed to give eligible students a $1,000 scholarship for training in STEM-related courses.
The amount that government will invest in this will only be $3 million – half the amount of the current financial year.
Technology-focused funding will be delivered to Marine Rescue NSW. It will receive $37.6 million over the next four years to enhance its rescue capabilities with 38 new rescue vessels, an upgraded operational centre and improvements to the marine radio network to eliminate black spots along the South Coast of NSW and the Hawkesbury River.
Within this amount, $6.6 million over four years will be used by Emergency Management for an Emergency Alert System, which is a warning system used by emergency services to issue voice messages to landlines and texts to mobile phones.
This comes after Surf Life Saving NSW received $16 million from the government that was partially used for additional emergency response beacons and a new beach Wi-Fi project to educate tourists.