Monday, May 9, 2011

A Gift From Above

Tonight's Federal Budget promises to be a good one for New South Wales.

It seems utterly ridiculous that there are two different levels of government responsible for the funding of major projects this state, but that's another matter.

According to a report in the Herald the following projects are going to be funded by the Federal government:

  • $900 million on four highway bypasses and duplications
  • $840 million on upgrading the freight rail network from the North Shore to Newcastle and
  • Studies on "the Scone railway level crossing and the Richmond Bridge"

The $2.2 million should be contrasted with the $600 million that Victoria received.

The funding is trumpeted by the Herald as a triumph for O'Farrell, although precisely what he did to secure the funding is not clear.

There can be little doubt that he would have loved to see an allocation for the North West Rail link, an enormous funding headache he will need to address down the road.

One would have thought that the Premier of New South wales would have some say in how the Federal Infrastructure funding is distributed, but that would require a level of cooperation we seldom see between different levels of government, especially when the main players are from different parties

The allocation of Federal funding for such vital infrastructure projects should be above politics, but one only need think back to the joint announcement Kristina Keneally and Julia Gillard made during the election regarding the completion of the Epping Parramatta Rail link.

The difficulty that Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese has is that, on one hand, he wants to please NSW voters (especially those in the coveted Western SYdney seats) whilst doing as little as possible to help the NSW Coalition government.

It has been no secret that Tony Abbott was disappointed in the number of seats that the Coalition picked up in the 2010 Federal election, going so far as to insist that Arthur Sinodinos take over as the President of the NSW Liberal Party.

By implication, if Abbott was disappointed in the number of seats he picked up last time round, these will be first seats he eyes off next time we go to the polls.

Federal Labor of course realises this.  By the same token however, they don't want to deliver O'Farrell any more victories than the have to - every completed project in NSW (no matter who funds it) will help portray the Coalition as the party who actually gets stuff done in NSW.

I understand that here are a fair whack of people in NSW who refused to vote for the Coalition because the debacle that was the Greiner government.  Before my time, but I hear that things got pretty dire for a while back there.

If O'Farrell can really nail this goal of his to be the man who fixed NSW's transportation system, he will win a new generation of voters who vote Coalition at the state level.  In a state where the Coalition have seldom been in power, and have in the past not covered themselves in glory when they have been, this could be a major game changer.

The result of this is a Federal Labor who has to try to work out a way to fund NSW infrastructure without giving O'Farrell more than they have to.

So, you can rest assured that the North West Rail Link will almost certainly never get Federal funding whilst Labor holds the purse strings - there is no project that the Coalition government is more firmly wedded to.  O'Farrell is going to have to find that money elsewhere.

Of course, every other project that is funded Federally frees up more of NSW's budget to spend on said North West Rail Link, but not much can be done about that.

There's no knowing how much longer Labor will stay in power Federally (it's difficult to see them lasting longer than O'Farrell - that's for sure) - but you can be sure that for the rest of their reign we will see continued frosty relations, predictable sniping and little in the way of productive cooperation.

And, if we're lucky, a little bit of infrastucture building.

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