Unwanted budget gifts for inner city

As the lanky NSW Treasurer gave his budget speech last week, grinning from ear to ear and spruiking a record-spend on infrastructure, you could be forgiven for mistaking him for that guest who brings an unwanted gift to a party. You know the one – where the recipient can’t help but reflexively grimace and then actually means it when they say, “You really shouldn’t have.”

Because just like a series of unwanted gifts, the treasurer’s budget dispositions to the Inner West more readily cause a grimace than bring out a smile.

Take for instance the atrociously misnamed Campbell Road and Euston Road “upgrades”. With a budgeted spend of $323 million, these road changes are to make way for the discharge of traffic from the planned WestConnex St Peters Interchange. In reality they will mean tree removal on a large scale, road widening to within two metres of existing homes, and tens of thousands of additional cars into Erskineville, Alexandria, Newtown and surrounds.

Or take the $1.7 billion going to the Sydney Metro construction and additional $276 million going to building a new Rail Operations Centre to run it. These are the epitome of unwanted gifts.

In an area crying out for true investment in public transport infrastructure, the Sydney Metro south of Sydney Harbour is a tragedy. Just as WestConnex masquerades as an “upgrade” to existing transport infrastructure, so too does the Sydney Metro. In truth, it’s nothing of the kind.

Sydney Metro’s downgrade of the Bankstown line is developer-driven privatisation writ large, massively increasing building heights and densities in heritage suburbs. It will not increase the reach of public transport to any of the myriad public transport blackspots in the south and south west, nor create one additional station south of Central Station. That is, of course, except for the new station at Waterloo, where an entire community of our most needy and vulnerable neighbours are being treated as though they are expendable and being moved out of their homes of many years.

It would not have been a difficult task for the treasurer to find a better use for those wasted billions: creating more affordable housing for critical workers; clearing the disgraceful backlog of maintenance and repairs in public housing; mobility upgrades to Redfern, Erskineville and Macdonaldtown Stations; and, addressing the long-standing shortfall in childcare places.

And then there is the odd omission from the budget of the much-needed upgrade of the Alexandria Park Community School, which was promised by former Education Minister Adrian Piccoli in May 2016.

While the senior campus, formerly on Mitchell Road, has now been relocated as a “pop up” school next to the junior campus on Buckland Street, there is no specific reference in the budget papers to the further work necessary to increase the school’s combined capacity to over 2,000 students.

It would seem that all the community has to go on is a line item in the budget allocating $2.2 billion to “various” new major works across NSW. There may be a good reason for this unclear budgeting for Alexandria Park Community School even when other schools are expressly provided for, but repeated enquiries to the Department of Education have not yet unearthed it. We will need to keep a close watch to make sure this promise is kept. After all, any further disappointments from the treasurer and the government could see their invitation to stay permanently revoked.

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