Billions of dollars have already been announced ahead of Tuesday’s NSW budget, with childcare, women and health the biggest benefactors so far.
- An expert says the state government has learnt from the Coalition’s federal election loss
- He says the shift away from “high-vis vest” spending reveals the Premier’s social agenda ahead of the state election
- The state election is due next year, on Saturday, March 25
The early childhood sector is set to receive more than $12 billion, including $5.8 billion over 10 years to introduce universal pre-kindergarten for all children across the state by 2030.
Professor Andy Marks from the Centre for Western Sydney said the initiatives were part of an effort to sell the Premier Dominic Perrottet’s social agenda ahead of the state election next March.
“The Premier will be looking at the recent federal poll. He’ll be looking to appeal to the groups that felt disaffected by the Coalition nationally,” he said.
“Treasurer Matt Kean has said this is a budget for women. It is very focused on social agenda issues, big spending on health, palliative care, free preschool, all of those measures that you normally wouldn’t associate with a Liberal National Coalition.
“They’re really focusing on moving away from hard infrastructure. So, putting down the hard hats and the high-vis vests and going more for something that reveals the Premier’s social agenda.”
A $4.5 billion spend in health over four years is for the hiring of 10,000 new staff, including 1,048 doctors and 3,517 nurses.
There’s also $743 million over five years to improve palliative care, including employing an extra 600 nurses, allied health professionals, doctors and support staff.
However, the NSW opposition and the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association have questioned how all those people will be found.
“They can’t meet [those targets], because there’s not enough nurses in the system today to meet the demand. There’s not enough teachers in our classrooms today to meet the demand,” Opposition Leader Chris Minns said.
The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association says the challenges go beyond recruitment and are also to do with retention.
“There’s thousands of nurses out there … who hold a qualification, who are not working in the system today because the workloads are not tenable,” the union’s Michael Whaites said.
Mr Perrottet this week acknowledged the shortages of staff in a variety of sectors, saying skilled migration would be key to filling those jobs.
“Naturally, over time, now that our borders are open, people will be coming back into Australia,” he said.
On Friday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the current visa backlog was being addressed, with extra staff pulled from other duties to help clear it.
Professor Marks said skilled migration would be one way to fill those gaps, but longer-term reforms would also be needed.
“I think reforms to accelerate skilled migration are inevitable. They’re very much needed, particularly in the health and allied health workforce,” he said.
“But there are other triggers that we can pull and other structural reforms we can make, domestically, and we should have been making for a long time.
“Anything that frees up the participation of women in the workforce is a very immediate way to accelerate the uptake of key positions in health, in particular.”
Balancing hip pocket and reform
While most of the major announcements so far are long-term reforms, the Treasurer argued that there’s still enough in the budget to ease the short-term cost-of-living pain.
“We know many families are doing it tough. We’re seeing household bills increasing,” Mr Kean said.
“We’ve announced a 40 per cent discount on tolls. We’ve announced cost-of-living relief on energy bills.
“We’ve announced a number of initiatives to ease cost of living for families already but we also need to focus on the future.”
Professor Marks said it would be a challenge to get the balance right between reform and urgent, hip-pocket measures.
“There’s a slow burn with really serious reform. It takes time: reforms to stamp duty, reforms to the federation around health. Those things really are long-term goals,” he said.
“What we’re seeing now, though, in the economy, is real urgency around cost of living, so people will expect him to act.
“He has to learn through this budget process and ahead of the election, how to manage both sets of expectations.”
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