Funding irregularities are a symptom of a deeper, systemic issue in this state

Post No. 4 'Funding irregularities are a symptom of a deeper, systemic issue in this state' was published on 12 April, 2021.

Newcastle was shut out of more than $170 million in government grants in 2019. This funding irregularity is a symptom of a deeper, systemic issue that has long been present in the Hunter\: Newcastle is not treated as an equal in this state. We never have been, and given the size of Sydney, we never will be.

The idea of the Hunter going it alone may seem radical, but it has been floated many times in the past, and was once more mainstream. A statehood referendum encompassing the Hunter and New England regions was narrowly defeated in 1967.

But what is wrong with NSW? The state of NSW is almost as large as France and Germany combined and there is a growing disparity between the needs of metropolitan Sydney and regional urban centres.

Despite its vast physical size, NSW is centrally administered from Macquarie Street. The Sydney government inevitably places high priority on capital city needs at the expense of the regions. The needs of Sydney greatly overshadow those of regional NSW. Residents in regional urban centres have good reason to complain of many years of neglect.

The Liberal government in power at the state level since 2011 has certainly made strides in paying attention to Newcastle. Towering new buildings are popping up all over the skyline and we have a schmick new tram. However, I doubt this is because of some new-found sense of obligation to support Newcastle and not just a cash-grab for the government’s developer mates.

Key infrastructure projects in the region constantly take a backseat to projects in Sydney. Stage 5 of the Newcastle Inner City Bypass will finally begin construction next year and open in 2025, a mere 30 years overdue. Former Labor premier Bob Carr announced in 1998 that a railway station and bus interchange at Glendale was to be built by 2003. This 23-year-old promise remains unfulfilled despite its importance to growing the Lower Hunter’s economy.

Looking towards our salient port, coal makes up 96% of the port’s trade but increasing shifts away from thermal coal globally shows the need for diversification as soon as possible. Despite this, the state government’s agreements as part of the privatisation of our port make it virtually impossible for a container terminal to be profitable as Newcastle would have to subsidise Sydney’s ports as “compensation”. This blatant anti-competitive stipulation was kept secret from Parliament and the public until after the sale.

Unemployment in the Hunter has historically been much higher than the state average and this has not been helped by the state government’s decision to build the new intercity fleet of trains overseas instead of here in Newcastle. Newcastle has a long and proud history of manufacturing the state’s trains including the OSCAR and Tangara fleets. The state government has shunned __ by manufacturing the new intercity fleet overseas.

Our public transport network remains minuscule with the Hunter having one of the largest usage of cars for transport with just 3% of trips using public transport compared to 11% in Sydney. Despite this, Macquarie Street has ruled out extending the Light Rail network leaving us with a toy train to nowhere. Agitation for a ferry stop at the new Newcastle Interchange at Wickham has been met with silence from the state government and our rail network is limited and too infrequent to be viable as a turn-up-and-go service.

Newcastle Airport has struggled to get $65 million in funding to upgrade the runway to Code E which would deliver $12.7 billion in regional economic benefit and 4,410 full time jobs. The Airport remains disconnected from the rail network, forcing tourists onto buses and rideshare cars to get into the city centre, and calls to preserve the corridor have once again been met with inaction by Macquarie Street.

The state government has refused to fund the expansion of Newcastle Art Gallery despite Newcastle Council agreeing to contribute $16 million, leaving the state government needing to pay just $10 million, while the Wagga Wagga conservatorium of music got $20 million in funding without even a business case.

These projects are crucial for continued economic growth in the Hunter region yet the government in Macquarie Street drags its feet at every opportunity. The state government treats Newcastle like a cash cow with its attempts to drain $100 million from Hunter Water, loading up the corporation with debt and making Hunter people pay more to make up for blowouts in costs of recent Sydney infrastructure projects.

The Hunter Valley is the largest regional economy in the country, contributing over A$34.7 billion to the NSW economy and ranking above Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory in terms of economic output.

In the 21st century, Newcastle and the Hunter faces an enormous challenge as we transition our economy away from coal and into less carbon intensive industries. I don’t want to see that transition happen while we’re under the control of a metropolis that does not care about us. The Hunter should exercise its right to self-determination and chart our own path, forming the State of Hunter Valley, with decisions on our future being made right here.

It’s time to put our future into our hands.